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Cryptonomicon | [Neal Stephenson]

Cryptonomicon

Neal Stephenson hacks into the secret histories of nations and the private obsessions of men, decrypting with dazzling virtuosity the forces that shaped this century.
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Publisher's Summary

Neal Stephenson hacks into the secret histories of nations and the private obsessions of men, decrypting with dazzling virtuosity the forces that shaped this century.

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

What the Critics Say

  • Locus Award, Best Novel, 2000

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.2 (2059 )
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4.4 (1411 )
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  •  
    Michael United States 01-26-13
    Michael United States 01-26-13 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Disappointing..."

    This is the first book by Neal Stephenson I've read. Based on other reviews I had high hopes for a good, interesting story full of twists and turns. The twists and turns are there. Stephenson is a gifted story teller. Unfortunately it is ruined by poor writing and character stylization.

    Much of this book sounds like it has been written by a horny thirteen year old boy who has never learned an ounce of personal discipline. The author assumes the male thought process revolves around sex and that it is commonplace for anyone to lace language with the word "f---". I don't mind characters being identified with certain language and expressions but when all the, supposedly differing, characters have a disturbingly common language and feel, it grows quite tiresome.

    The story, though intricate, fails to deliver anything serous or thought provoking. It seems that after writing about half the book the author though, "oh, there better be some higher reason for this than a treasure hunt." and brought in some ideas of a new economy that would prevent future war but the concepts are fraught with holes for anyone much studied in economics.

    The characters are generally unappealing. Most have few attractive features. I like characters to be real and have failings but these characters are very hard to care about much less like. The feel flat.

    The story is very long at 40 hours. I like long stories when they are tight and keep me interested. Unfortunately the length is mainly because the author likes to take long periods of time meandering through sub-stories that take pages, even full chapters, when a paragraph would do. Again, Stephenson is good at story telling and these vignettes are well structured but they seriously impact story pacing and are often just gratuitous bringing nothing to the main thread of the tale.

    Put simply, Stephenson needs to study writing so his writing will catch up with his story telling ability. He needs an editor to keep his ego in check. I'm not sure how one adjusts their personal values so that the characters reflected through their thoughts are more attractive redeeming but that seems necessary as well.

    Narration: Dufris made up some rather hackneyed voices for the various characters. Perhaps that is because he found the characters as hackneyed as I did. Nevertheless I would have liked more mature voicing.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joy Framingham, MA, United States 08-19-12
    Joy Framingham, MA, United States 08-19-12 Member Since 2004
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "I got really into it, but not until late"

    I've read a lot of Neal Stephenson, so I knew to expect brilliant writing that didn't necessarily go anywhere for a while. I'll say this, for once he didn't write a terrible ending. Maybe it's not brilliant, but it wasn't one of his books that falls apart at the end.

    I really liked the book, but I really went on faith through hours, and hours, of narration. I commented a number of times to my husband, a computer scientist, that I'm not really enough of a geek for this book. Also, that I knew he'd love it, because he is.

    I was engaged in the story, but not in that ignore my family and responsibilities way, until the middle of the second to last download. At that point, the characters finally took on life for me, and I really cared about what was happening.

    I would be cautious in my recommendation to read this. For Stephenson fans or for those very interested in the history of computers and cryptology, I'd say it's a definite read. For others, I'm not sure they would want to get through the long descriptions.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Colin atascadero, CA, United States 09-12-11
    Colin atascadero, CA, United States 09-12-11 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Trying WAY too hard"

    Unwrap the unnecessarily *sassy* and *irreverent* talk, 12 minute long tangents on math problems that have no bearing on the story, military inaccuracy, lack of character depth and narration that overly emphasizes these attributes and you have a tedious exercise in writing that never quite gains momentum. After 16 hours I could take no more; quite painful to do to a 2 credit book but my cheapness only goes so far.
    Easily in the bottom 5 books of my past 50.

    5 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    W. R. Jaeckle 07-31-11 Member Since 2006
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Importance of good narration"

    The narrator almost entirely ruins listening to this book, which was a tremendously good read. Glaringly he mispronounces the frequent Philippine words and place names. He narrates sentence by sentence rather than appreciating the developing line of the story being expressed. I would not have used up two credits for this if I had payed enough attention to sample the quality of narration beforehand. My bad.........

    5 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    ACT1 Australia 05-06-11
    ACT1 Australia 05-06-11 Member Since 2004
    HELPFUL VOTES
    23
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    "Sloooow"

    This came very highly recommended but with the best will in the world I just could not get into it. To me the narrator sometimes comes across as a synthesized voice and I was not grabbed in the slightest.

    7 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    hermanous Frederick, MD, United States 04-02-11
    hermanous Frederick, MD, United States 04-02-11 Member Since 2009
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    "A really good, long, involved, gripping audio book"

    I read Cryptonomicon years ago, but downloaded the book to give it a listen -- and it was an absolute joy. It's a generations-long story that has kept me company on the road for many hours. Never has math been more interesting and intriguing.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David Statesville, NC, USA 02-04-10
    David Statesville, NC, USA 02-04-10
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "So Slow To Get Going"

    As a 30 hour per week traveler and over 12 years on Audible.com, I seldom write a negative or neutral review. However, I felt compelled to advise my fellow listeners about this title.

    The book is sooooo slow to pick up speed and I am talking 10 to 15 hours here to pick up speed.

    Even then, it rambles on. It sounds like it is about to get interesting only to shift gears once again.

    It is a novel about interesting issues that span the course of generations of family members. It starts in World War 2 (about 1941 or 1942) and comes close to present day times.

    It contains many interesting tidbits if you have a strong math/technology background.

    Trying to seperate the generations of family is a bit difficult as the names and functions are so similar.

    If you want a really long book where the engagement and excitement is spaced long enough for you to calculate your tax return in your head without missing a beat, then this is for you.

    It has it's high spots but I can not recommend it to the listener that wants a fast paced, exciting, easy to follow read.

    23 of 34 people found this review helpful
  •  
    William Wisconsin Rapids, WI, United States 03-05-10
    William Wisconsin Rapids, WI, United States 03-05-10 Member Since 2004
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    "Long and boring"

    I guess I was supposed to like this book, judging by most of the other reviews here, not to mention the awards it won after the print edition was published. I didn't like it. I didn't like the narrator (although I have to hand it to him for getting the pronunciation of "Oconomowoc" correct after flubbing it on his first attempt). The mix of fictionalized historical characters and actual fictional characters consistently left me wondering what was fact and what was fiction. The constant jumping from World War II to the 1990s, along with the similar names of many of the characters from both eras, made it very difficult for me to follow. To be honest, I was really glad when I finally heard "We hope you have enjoyed this McMillan audio production of Cryptonomicon." For the most part, I did not.

    10 of 15 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ken Millbrook, New York, United States 02-05-12
    Ken Millbrook, New York, United States 02-05-12 Member Since 2010

    Say something about yourself!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Learn a little math and history with your fiction"

    This book is chock full of a lot of real history and mathematics, and as something of a WWI history buff and a fan of the work of people like Turing and Shannon, I really enjoyed the clever ways in which Stephenson wove these realities into his fiction. A lot of the technical material is actually explained pretty well at a general level even if you haven't encountered it before, but some of it is more opaque, and this is probably better read than heard unless you already know the history and the math because you'll want to be looking things up all the time to get the full meaning of the story. In addition, the actual technology of telecommunications is rapidly moving beyond what was considered cutting edge when this was written, so it seems dated in places. On the other hand, "The Crypt" actually anticipates certain features of "The Cloud" in a spooky sort of way, and Stephenson's rants about politics and culture are both entertaining and thought provoking. The style is pure Stephenson -- flip, glib, smart, funny, sarcastic, cynical, upbeat -- and for the most part the narrator captures that well, but many of the soldiers and marines are voiced as if they were stupid, and a surprising number of technical terms are mispronounced, which is distracting (I'd give it 3.5 stars for performance). I enjoyed it, but in retrospect I think that, even knowing a lot of the non-fiction on which it is based, I would have enjoyed this more as a reader than I did as a listener.

    4 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Brian Lexington, KY, United States 09-10-12
    Brian Lexington, KY, United States 09-10-12 Member Since 2011

    Authors I like: Patrick O'Brian, Frederick Forsyth, Jane Austen, John Le Carre, Alan Furst, Jon Krakauer, Ernest Hemingway.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "interesting themes, somewhat juvenile execution"

    Cryptonomicon's themes of WW2, cryptology, and buried treasure are certainly interesting enough, but the writing overall is only fair. The tone of the book and the quality of the writing make it seem more like Young Adult fiction aimed at a bright, mainly male audience that is more gifted in mathematics than the average kid. If there were an engineering and mathematics boarding school for junior and senior high school students, one could imagine this being the most popluar book on campus. Another way of putting it is that it comes off as a book written expressly to ignite an interest in cryptology among young minds at an impressionable age. (Which IMO is not a bad idea.)

    As an adult reader/listener, I found some sections tedious and others interesting. Occasionally I would fast-forward through bits that were especially bland or digressive. And yet I did come back to it each morning on my commute despite its flaws. It is the sort of work that, if it were ever made into a movie or TV miniseries, the filmed version might end up better than the book, in that an experienced team of Hollywood script writers could pare down the extraneous bits and distill it into a tighter narrative.

    Would I listen to another work by Neal Stephenson? Maybe, maybe not. I did add a few of his titles to my Audible wishlist, but I am more inclined to seek out more works on the same themes by different authors than more works by Stephenson.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 21-30 of 138 results PREVIOUS123414NEXT
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  • Chris
    Whitstable, United Kingdom
    6/5/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Treasure Island updated"

    Cleverly weaving together action from WW2 and the present day with humour, visceral war images maths and cryptology ( yes a bit over my head but not essential to understand) he tells a terrific tale that keeps you listening through 42 hours

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Caroline
    London, United Kingdom
    5/12/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Brillant book"

    I loved this book. If you have any interest in mathematics, codes, the second world war and so many other things, this is a brilliant book for you. I don't rate many books highly but this is 5 out of 5. It kept me spellbound for days and I couldn't wait to return to it. My husband felt a bit left out! But I got so much done whilst listening to it!

    A thoroughly good book. The style of narration takes a little getting used to, but persist, you'll soon love it.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Amazon Customer
    Winchester, United Kingdom
    4/10/13
    Overall
    "Nerd Nirvana"

    I'm helplessly in love with this book in dead tree form, and it's no different in audiobook form.



    The narrative jumps between a Marine Raider and a codebreaker in World War Two, and a computer hacker descendant in the present time. This is an precursor to the much more ambitious Baroque Cycle in many ways, and shares lots of the same themes (and surnames) with that: currency as an abstract concept, computers, codes, war, information theory, maths.



    It also shares the usual Stephensonian tropes: lengthy (but fascinating) digressions, snarky, dialogue, a plot somewhat less important than the prose, digs at the soft sciences, and sumptuous period detail.



    It also finally tells you what that scroll lock light on your keyboard is useful for.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Ian
    East Sussex, United Kingdom
    12/24/12
    Overall
    "Entertaining and intelligent."

    An excellent book, well read (lieutenant pronounciation aside.)

    A long and interesting story spanning decades, piles and piles of research thrown in, some of which can be slightly heavy listening unless you're a maths junkie or a little crowbarred in.

    Even managed to make computing interesting which was a novelty for me.

    Again surprisingly, it's a very funny book.

    Well worth 40 hours of anyone's time.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • alan
    Canvey Island, United Kingdom
    2/3/12
    Overall
    "Great story!"

    I loved this book!
    Arguably Neal Stephenson can be a little verbose but this can be forgiven in this really interesting and fascinating book.
    Spanning the period from WW2 to the present day it is an epic well researched story and includes key appearances of real-life people as diverse as Alan Turing and Douglas MacArthur.
    The characters are believable and the humour remincient of Joseph Heller's Catch 22.
    Well worth the nearly 43 hours listen,

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Paul
    Boston, United Kingdom
    4/16/11
    Overall
    "Still Reeling"

    I can't pretend to have understood all of this amazing novel but I enjoyed every minute of it. From deeply poignant moments to laugh- out-loud funny moments it contained more information about cryptography, the second world war and technology than I could absorb but it kept me enthralled.
    The narrator, William Dufris, was superbe. He created identifiable characters without being over the top about it and must have enjoyed the book to have conveyed the humour in it so well.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Martin
    Cheltenham, Glos, United Kingdom
    11/22/10
    Overall
    "I was glad when I got to the end of this."

    This was far less technical than reviews on Amazon etc have suggested, and seemed to ramble from one scene to another with little narrative direction as if chapters from different books had been put together. I bought it because it has been described as some seminal work everyone ought to read but it is not. It requires intense concentration, as if you get distracted for a few seconds you'll find you've jumped into another book. I did get sort of interested in some of the characters, so listened to the end, but was glad when it was finished. I am now reluctant to try any other N.S. books, though from the reviews they alsolook enticing. As a techno thriller, The Blue Nowhere is much better.

    I didn't mind the overall length, or the detailed descriptions as such,they just didn't hang together in a coherent story.

    So don't feel as I did that if you haven't heard this you are missing out on a major work, and go pick something else with your credit.

    4 of 9 people found this review helpful
  • PL
    Bradley Stoke, United Kingdom
    12/9/11
    Overall
    "Waffle"

    Waffle, waffle, waffle, waffle, waffle, waffle, waffle, waffle, waffle, waffle, waffle, 40 hours later... more waffle.

    2 of 6 people found this review helpful
  • Mrs
    Chelmsford, United Kingdom
    8/26/12
    Overall
    "Long and Convoluted"

    I can't say I hated the book and I did listen to it all as I got interested in a couple of the characters. The problem was I got lost, I forgot which generation and which part of the story. I tend to listen to books when doing a meaningless task that takes no concentration and yet still I felt I had missed bits, stop listening if you will, and therefore maybe did not get the point. I am not sure whether it would have been better written as separate books in a saga then maybe you could grasp all the intricacies of the different stories. The reader though was flat and maybe that's why at times I switched off.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • d h keen
    3/1/10
    Overall
    "Cryptonomicon (Unabridged"

    I gave up after nine hours I could just not get myself to understand or care about the charecters or the ??plot ,the narration was poor and seemes to lack any gaps to indicate a change or scene ot place or time maybe I m a little thick for this novel.

    5 of 17 people found this review helpful
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