Cryptonomicon

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Cryptonomicon is a novel that is a mix between a historical fiction and techno-thriller by Neal Stephenson, published in 1999. The story jumps between two primary stories, one of WWII cryptography and espionage, the other of late-1990s entrepreneurs trying to become both extremely wealthy and change the world by introducing a new electronic crypto-currency. There are several other characters with back-stories that converge on the primary stories.

Something Stephenson created for the book is an ancient book called the Cryptonomicon, a dense tome discussing the growth and progress of cryptography over the centuries. I would love to see such a book created in real life!

Status

I do not own this book, but have listened to an audio book recording.

Review

Good

  • The story is extremely engrossing, and telling the two stories at once is a great way at keeping everything fresh.
  • I found practically all of the characters very interesting. The ones I liked, I really liked, the ones I hated, I really hated. Even the villains were quite human and relatable.
  • There are plenty of moments when you want to cheer from a victory, cry from something heart-breaking, and laugh out loud from a clever joke.
  • I enjoyed the numerous detailed forays into technology and math.
  • The idea of a cryptographic currency was really ahead of the curve in 1999 (although Stephenson didn't count on something like Bitcoin which doesn't need gold backing).

Bad

  • Stephenson's use of jumping back and forth between plot lines effectively keeps suspense, while also teasing the reader with premature information. However, the disjointed chapters require the reader to infer a fair amount information and often becomes confusing.
  • Stephenson tends to go on and on about unrelated topics that seem to only exist to pad the book. However, he has such a wonderful writing style, it's forgivable.
  • The ease at which Van Eck phreaking is implemented is far too easy to create.
  • I didn't much care for how the book finishes in such an open-ended fashion.

Ugly

  • Nothing really. This book was always a joy to read.

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