Monday, August 23, 1999


Book: Cryptonomicon (1999)
Writer(s): Neal Stephenson

I first heard of this book in a review in Newsweek. The review was written by Steven Levy, an author I've read for years, and I respected his opinion. Based on his positive review, I bought the book and instantly became a Neal Stephenson fan. His books are not for all tastes -- they deal heavily with computers and technology, sort of like sci-fi for computer geeks. He even includes programming code in his books, making them attractive to hard-core UNIX types. This particular book is broader in scope, and while the plot is entertaining, I found two things made this book a classic. The first is Neal's unusual method of following two plots simultaneously in different time periods -- we follow several people during World War II and also deal with their grandchildren today. Fascinating. The second is Neal's style of writing, which, while it occasionally overachieves, is remarkable both for its varied diction and unusual yet precise metaphors, and its humor. This is a very funny book. There are passages where I had to stop reading I was laughing so hard. It's not that funny things happen -- it's just the way he writes about them makes the slightly unusual outrageous. The plot is far too complicated to explain here, and learning about it is half the fun: it basically deals with secret codes in World War II and modern cryptography. It's a huge read -- nearly a 1,000 pages (and probably 250 pages too long) -- but it's terrific entertainment, dealing with history, computers, cryptography, finance, romance, language, travel, Eastern culture, and spies. Don't read for the lukewarm plot; just sit back and enjoy the ride.