Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson, has been one of my favorite books for years. Since I discussed it at length with my father – when we were close – this book has a good amount of sentimentality for me. I still have the same copy that he bought for me back when I was 13 years old. I recently re-read it, and figured I would do a review for you guys. I cannot stress enough how incredible this book is, and I always have a different experience each time I read it. Let’s get started!
Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon can really be described as War and Peace for geeks. Being a lifelong geek, myself, I have loved this novel since the first time I plowed through all 1, 168 pages. Neal Stephenson takes his readers on a humorous adventure that braids together tales of geeks battling it out in WWII with the entrepreneurial geeks of the 1990s.
This massive paperback has something for everyone: Cryptanalysts to treasure seekers, soldiers to submariners, mathematicians to priests, and even hackers to litigators. It even shares some timeless wisdom that only becomes increasingly pertinent in this age of technology. This novel explains that
“Arguing with anonymous strangers on the Internet is a sucker’s game because they almost always turn out to be – or to be indistinguishable from – self-righteous sixteen-year-olds possessing infinite amounts of free time.”
There are a vast array of characters and intense, intricate plot lines that are set out before us in a breezy, irreverent manner – It’s humorous, should the reader have that sense of humor. Luckily, I do. It just amazes me just *how* intricate and crazy these intersecting plot lines, are especially considering the fact that he writes all of his drafts out by hand. There is no shortage of detail in these pages.
In this geeky War and Peace, the WWII geeks are mathematicians who manage to break German and Japanese codes while commandos create ruses to fool the Axis into thinking they are losing a startling amount of convoys and battles due to the horrible luck, rather than chalking it up to deciphered codes.
The main character of the WWII plot is Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, a math genius who uses a pipe organ to learn that a machine could produce results of infinite complexity, all due to the simplicity of its design. Waterhouse teams up with Corporal Bobby Shaftoe, a haiku-writing marine who has some incredibly trippy morphine-drip nightmares. Together, they use logic and muscle to help the Allies defeat the Axis powers, which labor under the stupidity of dogma.
Eventually, we come across the geeks of the 90s, as Cryptonomicon alternates between WWII and the present era. In this latter time period, hacker Randy Price Waterhouse is a descendant of the genius cryptanalyst Waterhouse previously mentioned in the WWII plot-line. Randy Waterhouse designs encrypted email systems and constructs a data network while working with the descendants of Shaftoe in order to finish the work in the Philippines that their ancestors began. This data haven/network may seem irrelevant at first, but Stephenson slowly reveals the real purpose of it. Prepare for your mind to be blown.
Cryptonomicon is an algorithmic beast of a novel that just further proves that geeks shall inherit the earth. It is also one that you really do not want to miss out on experiencing. Neal Stephenson makes me fangirl hardcore, and it the reason will be obvious when you read this book.
Obviously, this book receives 5/5 stars from me. Always has, and always will.