Joe's Reviews > Cryptonomicon

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
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's review
Dec 27, 2011

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Read in December, 2011

This novel is a tale of action, encryption, and romance, told around the world through multiple generations. The book describes the advent of modern encryption and codebreaking in World War II, focusing on a few mathematicians that have to develop new algorithms and embrace new technology to analyze ever-more-complex codes. The story also includes people that do more traditional soldiering, that serve as near-pawns in the back-and-forth game between the cryptographers.

The book switches between the older storyline and modern time, when descendants of the people in the other story are involved in pushing the limits of cryptography again: this time, in the "war" of world economics and business. They plan to create a new data haven, free from the control of any government. This data haven, combined with the mathematical security of strong encryption, will let them create a new currency.

Neal Stephenson does a good job with this book, but it has a few problems. The first problem I had is that I just couldn't shake the feeling that this book is absolutely designed to appeal to crypto-libertarians, to the point of making the characters match the cliched physical appearance of a cypherpunk. It's not terrible, but some of the paranoid conspiracies, and naive assumption that strong encryption can free us from all government tyranny, are distracting. The bigger problem is that it's just too long: the story becomes less appealing as it plods along, and the biased undertone just becomes more annoying over time.

If this book could have been tightened up considerably, and written just to tell a good story -- not to push a worldview -- it would have been better.

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