In 1942, Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse - mathematical genius and young Captain in the U.S. Navy - is assigned to detachment 2702. It is an outfit so secret that only a handful of people know it exists, and some of those people have names like Churchill and Roosevelt. The mission of Watrehouse and Detatchment 2702 - commanded by Marine Raider Bobby Shaftoe - is to keep the Nazis ignorant of the fact that Allied Intelligence has cracked the enemy's fabled Enigma code. It is a game, a cryptographic chess match between Waterhouse and his German counterpart, translated into action by the gung-ho Shaftoe and his forces.
Fast-forward to the present, where Waterhouse's crypto-hacker grandson, Randy, is attempting to create a "data haven" in Southeast Asia - a place where encrypted data can be stored and exchanged free of repression and scrutiny. As governments and multinationals attack the endeavor, Randy joins forces with Shaftoe's tough-as-nails grandaughter, Amy, to secretly salvage a sunken Nazi submarine that holds the key to keeping the dream of a data haven afloat.
But soon their scheme brings to light a massive conspiracy, with its roots in Detachment 2702, linked to an unbreakable Nazi code called Arethusa. And it will represent the path to unimaginable riches and a future of personal and digital liberty...or to universal totalitarianism reborn.
A breathtaking tour de force, and Neal Stephenson's most accomplished and affecting work to date, Cryptonomicon is profound and prophetic, hypnotic and hyper-driven, as it leaps forward and back between World War II and the World Wide Web, hinting all the while at a dark day-after-tomorrow. It is a work of great art, thought, and creative daring.
©1999 Neil Stephenson (P)2009 Macmillan Audio
This was just a great book. It's my third Neal Stephenson (after Snow Crash and Seveneves) and I can now comfortably call Stephenson one of my favorite authors. Both storylines were great, and my preference of one over the other swapped several times throughout. I also liked that the 90s storyline gave me a little taste of the kind of computer intrigue that drew me to Snow Crash years ago. This book gets very technical at times, but it's very intuitively written so that I think any tech or math literate person shouldn't get lost. It never really gets stuck on obtuse terminology, and always lets the reader get the gist through context even if the minutiae goes over their head.
As for the performance, I thought it was generally pretty good. Some occasional pronunciation stumbles here and there (a minor Japanese character's surname gets consistantly mispronounced at one point) but overall the reader did a great job. I thought the voice he chose for Bobby Shaftoe was a bit annoying at times, however.
The narrator was awesome. He has some impressive voices. But the author seemed to believe that he couldn't tell a simple treasure hunting story without first telling the entire life stories of the six people most involved with it. It takes 24 (of 34) chapters before he actually gets to the plot. He displays no concept of pacing, nor is the climax all that exciting. Several times he goes into long wandering narration for things which have nothing to do with the plot at all. They often took 5 to 10 minutes of narration before coming to a pointless end.
The book IS good for one use, however. Several times I used it to put myself to sleep, for which it served admirably.
First of all, I like long books. However this one was just long to be long. There was back story and more back story. Which is fine if it helps to understand a character and help move the story along. But really there were long sections that were really boring. I'm pretty sure he could of cut 10 or more hours and made this a tighter book.
I just couldn't get into it. It just goes on, and on, and on. Seemed like there was a whole chapter on when I chain would come off a bike cog...might have been two chapters. I love math and a good story but I gave up on this one after about 18 hours. Maybe there's a story in there but I can't keep going to find out.
After reading Stephenson's Seveneves and loving it, I thought I had found an author whose books I could consume for the next few months. That may still be the case, but Cryptonomicon is just way too slow for me.
After 14 hours, I'm giving up. The plot takes way too long to unfold, and the story is just too slow to drive a good listening pace, so I end up finding all kinds of excuses to avoid listening to this. Stephenson does a good job with character development, but there is only so much I want to know about a character before they do something interesting.
I was pretty disappointed with the narration as well. The accents, especially European, are good, but all the other characters are a little drab.
There are many good reviews for this book, and several friends recommended it as well, so I think my suggestion would be to try this as a read rather than a listen. That way, you may be able to accelerate through the slow parts and get to what seems to be a good concept.
Was really looking forward to this book, disappointed I ran out of steam, but I think a half day is enough slack to give an author & narrator before deciding whether another 20 hours of life is worth it. In this case, my answer is no.
"The many levels of understanding and deception"
War is not just about bullets but concealment and secrecy, we are living proof of this reality, the the war on terror is fought in the networks and in communications and messages, in lies and half truth. This book works within all this elements but begins at beginnings of the second world war exposing what effect cryptography, Allied Codebreakers and tactical-deception had on the european and pacific fronts, and how those ideas changed our world. We are introduced two to sets of characters one set in WWII and the others in in the late 1990s this group is related through blood to the first ones and share some the interest of their relatives in cryptography and communications. We are exposed to history at its most brutal, and intelligent, some truly funny episodes and dialog mixed with high adventure, mathematics, ideas, philosophy, programing, geeks, super geeks, dentists, soldiers, submarines and lawyers. There are plots, subplots, ramblings and thoughts expounded in all seriousness and some just taking the piss.
This is more than a book it is an experience. A work madness and genius; madness because of its reach genius because of it erudition and entertainment value.
The reader manages to create voices for all the characters and move through the book with amazing ease. .
I loved this book.
Sure, it was massive. And I take what the other reviewers said about there being unneccessary diversions though the book.
But the fact is that, despite its size, I didn't want it to finish. I love Neal Stephenson's style. He can capture a complicated mesh of emotions with a single sentence- sometimes a single word. His writing style is loose and very very funny. The story itself rambles around in a massively entertaining meander through the decades- but it gets you there in its own good time.
I disagree with comments that it's so full of technical jargon that you need to have a degree, an anorac, or a specialist knowledge of Dungeons and Dragons esoterica to get it. All the technical stuff is explained for non-technical folks like me, and it's nearly always very daft, and very funny.
It being funny and daft doesn't mean that it is without a moral compass. There is a strong 'under-story' that will, at times, capture your heart by creeping up while you're not expecting it, and getting in there by stealth. Neal S's writing style makes this happen seamlessly.
A word for the narrator. He pulled the story along with a slick and beatifully timed delivery. Good at accents, so you know who's saying what. It's an understated delivery, but it's exactly how it should be. He presents the words without imposing himself onto them.
However: This is not a life-changing book. It is enlightening, but never profound. It is a book that will entertain you rather than tranform you. You may think that 42hours (or 900+ pages) is too much of an undertaking merely to be entertained. I'd argue that you'll know whether you like it or not within the first hour of reading it- so the commitment is only until then. By the time Bobby Shafto and his team have knocked over the money carriers you should have an idea of whether you want to keep reading.
So- go on. You've nothing to lose!
"A milestone in fiction"
Where to start...who but Neal Stephenson could write a book so epic in scope, seamlessly weaving a tale from the hayday of computing, WW2 wartime espionage and contemporary eCommerce underpinned by the fascinating field of cryptography. To call the book gripping is like describing the South Pole as "a bit nippy" Superlatives are rarely merited. In this case they are.
"Deep and technical, but accessible."
Underneath all the cryptography and tech, Cryptonomicon has a great story with well rounded, modern characters. The original novel features graphs and diagrams to explain pretty technical topics like frequency counting and van eck phreaking, but you don't notice them missing in this audio book, as the narrator carries you along with the in depth descriptions while progressing the narrative.
It's ensemble cast, split across two timeframes, provide plenty of variety, the occasional laugh, and lots of relatable geeks. It's a very long book, but it never drags. Once it's over, you want to find out what the characters are up to.
"wonderful if very long book"
This is a superb book which I enjoyed listening too very much but it is not without flaws and peculiarities.
To start with it is arguable that it is unnecessarily long. One or two reviewers on Amazon have suggested that the author could have done with a good editor, and there is some truth in that; in some places the detail is mind-boggling and quite difficult to follow, particularly in an audiobook. However, I confess that I liked the detail - it must appeal to the inner nerd in me I think - and I do like books that explore the byways of history away from the main road, as it were. And the storyline is satisfyingly complicated and hooks you in gradually; do stick at it as it improves a lot after the first section.
Narration is excellent - indeed it makes the book. I do like William Dufris' style, amused and kinda laid-back, and he brings the book brilliantly to life, and his characterisations are perfect.
Not everyone's cup of tea, I'm sure, but five stars for me.
"Excellent capture of the book"
I first Cryptonomicon around 10 years ago, and find myself rereading it every couple of years. Part WW2 spy thriller, part modern day geek drama, part introduction to basic cryptography, it is all brain candy.
On my last reread, I tried this audiobook version, and was extremely happy with how it captured both the tone and the charcters of the book.
William Dufris tone and consistent delivery manage to capture the underlying humour and bring life to Neal Stephenson's baroque prose. He manages to evoke the different settings and characters through subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) use of accents
I definitely recommend this.
Like a piece of cryptography, patterns and associations begin to emerge the more you delve into this story. About two thirds of the way in, the disparate strands of the timelines and characters begin to come together in the most riveting way.
Worth 40 hours of your life? - Absolutely.
"There is a good book somewhere"
I really tried hard with this book. I listened to it for about 6 hours before I gave up. There is a good story in here somewhere, but the narrative is plagued with pointless epic similes that add little to the enjoyment and deviations leaving the listener wondering where they are in the tale. I wonder if the author was paid by the word count?
I really enjoyed Cryptonomicon. It's a dense story which requires the reader to involve themselves in a bit of brain work. Suprisingly, for an author who has a reputation as a cyberpunk I found the narrative of this book reminded me of authors such as Ken Kesey and predictably Joseph Heller. For some reason it reminded me alot of Kesey's 1992 book Sailor Song, which is hardly a bad thing.
Only down point; about half way through Neal starts recounting a letter a character is writing for Playboy, which goes on wayyyy too long. Stephenson obviously enjoyed writing that part too much.
"Needlessly long and geeky"
The length was the worst bit. It was gratuitous. I like long books, deliberately seek them out, but this was pointlessly long. There was SO much that was unneeded.
Also the link up between the younger generation retreading the older generations' footsteps wasn't played out in the story. They should've made more of the fact they were hanging around with the same people their grandparents were, in the same countries.
I like the war stuff the most. Rudy, Laurence and Arthur.
The narration was immense. Very good. Only a couple of times did it slip, where I wasn't instantly sure who was talking.
The scene when Randy was doing a memo to his team. I HATED it. It was pure drivel and I had to skip the chapter. By this point I was tearing my hair out with the book, just wanted it to end. I had spent over 30 hrs on it, so wasn't going to give up but I so wanted to. This send was almost the tipping point.
The last few scenes with Laurence were good, the one when last complex code gets programmed was particularly pleasing.
Steer clear of Neal Stephenson.
The complexity of the story was mind blowing. Hats off to the author for putting it together.... BUT there was no need. It could have been half the size (it is LONG) and it would have been twice as enjoyable. There were whole chapters I had to skip as the drivel was mind numbing.
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