CRYPTONOMICON, by Neal Stephenson
1999. Rating: 9 1/2
Who ever would've thought that you could make a stunningly good novel out of
mathematics? Stephenson, who has already written several popular computer books
and science-fiction novels, will certainly be best remembered for Cryptonomicon, which traces the history of codes and code-breaking (along with a
lot of computers and math in the process) from just prior to World War Two
up to the present day.
The novel does take some getting used to at first: it's extremely detailed,
though in most cases this is an asset, and in the beginning the math may seem
intimidating to most people. But don't lose heart; everything is broken down
and explained (eventually), and though the chapters bounce back and forth
between different time periods (primarily WWII and today), all is tied
together by the end. Primarily we follow characters from two families:
the Waterhouses and the Shaftoes, and through their eyes we watch how the
science of secret codes and computer encryption has progressed and, very
likely, where it's going.
The book does run slowly on occasion, and even a normally-fast reader like
me had to decelerate my reading pace so that I didn't miss anything. Along with
being packed full of information, the book is full of interesting quirks, some
less obvious than others. More obvious are the footnotes, which can cover
everything from cultural details to what the character is thinking. Less
obvious is the fact that parts of the book are written to match computer
Both in fiction and non-fiction, Stephenson has a proven track record of his
details either being completely accurate, or his near-future predictions
coming true. The size of the book will put a lot of people off--917 pages,
including an appendix on a Solitaire encryption algorithim--but it's an
intriguing read if size and detail aren't problems for you. It will definitely
leave you feeling that, no matter how complex you imagined the world of
the Computer Age to be, it's even moreso.
Click here to return to the reviews,
Click here to return to Danny's main page.