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
The story unfolds in parallel threads, existing in the past and the recent-present, that reveal the plot in a fun way. Stephenson takes you all over the world and across time while letting you get to know some fun personalities. All of this happens at a brisk pace that will keep the listener engaged.
If you enjoy the idea of cyphers, the pre-history of computers and learning about some contemporary technology this book will entertain you. But don't assume that it's all about the tech. It's full of activity, from diving, combat, digging, hacking and excellent conversation.
William Dufris is a gifted narrator (I rarely encounter anything less with Audible these days) who expertly reads while inhabiting a large variety of characters of different sex and nationality. He's a one-man acting troupe, but you won't be cognizant of his efforts. You'll just enjoy the narrative.
The bottom line is that I looked for opportunities to listen to this whenever I could and I was sad when it was all over.
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.
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.
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.
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.........
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.
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.
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.
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.
Say something about yourself!
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.
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!
"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.
"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.
"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.
"Outstanding Translation of a Classic"
I'd already read Cryptonomicon, a couple of times, prior to listening to it. I couldn't have been more pleased. Dufris captures the essence of this weighty journey admirably, and his intonation and studied understanding comes across with real heartfelt sympathy for the motley collection of characters and rich locations both historical and contemporary. I couldn't have been happier at the treatment of what I believe to be Stephenson's finest book.
"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?
"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.
"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.
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.
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.
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