Mari's Reviews > Cryptonomicon

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
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Nov 05, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: science-fiction-fantasy
Recommended to Mari by: Mike
Read in September, 2003 , read count: 2

** spoiler alert ** There are two stories being told simultaneously - one taking place during World War II beginning just after Guadalcanal and one taking place in the present (more or less).

Here's the summary from BN, which does a far better job than I can of describing the book's premise:

"Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, a brilliant mathematician at Princeton, is eventually lured away from luminous fellow students Alan Turing and Rudy von Hacklheber and enters the U.S. Navy. There he is considered so dim that he's only given the task of playing the glockenspiel in the Navy band. After the disaster of Pearl Harbor, however, Waterhouse's skills as a cryptoanalyst are finally noticed, and he's immediately sent to Bletchley Park, England, the base of the Allied code-busting operations. The "unbreakable" German code, Enigma, has been cracked, and the Allies want to use their newfound information without alerting the Germans and Japanese to the fact that their plans are no longer secret. It's Waterhouse's job, as a member of the ultra-secret Detachment 2702, to make all oftheAllied actions from this point on look "randomized," so that the Axis powers won't realize Enigma has been broken.

"Paired up again with Turing, who is on his way to developing the first computer, Waterhouse learns that their old friend Rudy is now the chief German cryptographer. Waterhouse's insight into the peculiarities of fellow mathematicians might allow him to stay one step ahead of the enemy. Meanwhile, U.S. Marine Raider Bobby Shaftoe, a survivor of Guadalcanal and a generally unstable personality, is brought in to make contrived events appear to be genuine. His missions include putting corpses into wet suits with fake documentation and flying into the heart of enemy territory. He's left in the dark as to the details of Detachment 2702's work, but that's what he's come to expect from his superiors.

"When the novel shifts to the present, Waterhouse's grandson, Randy, an Internet commando and computer genius, is trying to make a bundle of money by setting up a so-called data haven in the Philippines, along with his paranoid partner, Avi. They envision a place where all data is safe from government interference, corporate attack, or hacker assault. Randy eventually hooks up with Bobby Shaftoe's granddaughter, Amy (short for America), who is interested in helping Randy lay deep-sea cable between the islands and make whatever she can from this new enterprise. In this area of the ocean floor, there is a sunken German submarine that carries the still undeciphered Axis code named Arethusa; investigated in the past by Waterhouse and Shaftoe, the code is eventually nabbed by Randy and America. The pair must outwit their nemesis, a wealthy, calculating criminal called the Dentist, and do whatever they can to decipher Arethusa and stay alive in the meantime. "

The book is fanatastic! It also led to me doing loads and loads of research into WWII cryptography and has led to me reading Applied Cryptography which is not only a wonderful introduction to the subject, but also, because it includes so much information, an excellent resource and guide for intermediate study in cryptography. This will, paired with Cryptonomicon, serve to make you very paranoid - if you're not already. Just a little warning. It will also lead to watching WWII programs on the History Channel, Discovery Channel and Biography. (As if you weren't doing that already! ;-) )
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