Cryptonomicon

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Overview

With this extraordinary first volume in what promises to be an epoch-making masterpiece, 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 ...

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Cryptonomicon

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Overview

With this extraordinary first volume in what promises to be an epoch-making masterpiece, 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 Waterhouse 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 granddaughter, 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 mostaccomplished and affecting work to date.|

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Neal Stephenson's latest novel, Cryptonomicon, is an immense and extraordinary tale that unwinds with all the stylistic grandeur his fans have come to expect. With Cryptonomicon, the reader is quickly plunged into a bizarre, breakneck-paced story that interweaves World War II code making and code breaking with computerized global corporate takeovers, one that melds elements of Catch-22, A Man Called Intrepid, and a hefty dose of cyberpunk reality. Stephenson leaves behind the science fiction worlds of his previous novels — Snow Crash and The Diamond Age — to depict the madness involved in many of World War II's top-secret missions and to offer a view of how 1940s cryptography eventually led to technological developments in the world of computers.

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.

Told in present-tense narratives from three points of view — those of Waterhouse, Bobby Shaftoe, and Randy — the overall story arcs, bops, and weaves in an engrossing and challenging way. The shifts between plots and timelines are abrupt but engaging, and the style is flashy, cool, and sharp. The author's stylistic pyrotechnics are never so blinding or distracting that the reader can't appreciate the skill of his craftsmanship. The characters are credible, if extreme, and are often placed in situations that are funny, exciting, outrageous, but believable. Here we see how mathematics can consume our brightest scholars to the point where they can barely function in the world and how, for them, even a look out the window at the city of London isn't a real view but a chance to graph and chart the ratios of building heights. Stephenson's juxtaposition of the real world with a virtual world of unseen numbers and equations adds a sense of near-fantasy to the work.

Despite his many forays into deeply technical jargon, Stephenson never takes on a lecturing tone — more often than not, such romps are meant to underscore the mathematician's character traits to humorous effect. Case in point: Waterhouse and Turing go into several pages' worth of equations to figure out the probability of when the chain will fall from Turing's bike. Stephenson's snappy, hip delivery adds new bombastics to the World War II scenery, and as past and present are blended into a single story thread, the reader discovers a genuinely diverting and wholly entertaining experience. Cryptonomicon is a must-read, don't-miss extravaganza that the world will be talking about for years to come.

—Tom Piccirilli

Tom Piccirilli is the author of eight novels, including Hexes, Shards, and his Felicity Grove mystery series, consisting of The Dead Past and Sorrow's Crown. Tom divides his time between New York City and Estes Park, Colorado.

Minneapolis Star Tribune
There is a scope here, a wildness, that you rarely find in fiction today. Buckle up.
Wall Street Journal
Suspenseful...moves along at such a fantastic clip.
New York Post
Stephenson's new book proves that he is the rarest of geniuses.
Seattle Post Intelligencer
A powerfully imagined story revolving around a vast conspiracy affecting history and different generations in one family who attempt to unravel its secrets.
Locus
...[E]normous and exhilarating....[I]f a noveleven as brilliant and sheerly enjoyable as this oneplays all the tunes but never quite turns the pageis it SF or non-SF SF? Or is it something new entirely?
From The Critics
Riding a local bus for the first time in six months, I sat across from a man reading Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson's cyberpunk classic, up and out there with William Gibson's Neuromancer. Steph enson's new book, Cryptonomicon, may be the first cypherpunk novel—and at more than nine hundred small-font pages, it's designed for a cross-country Greyhound ride. As the crypto-Greek title suggests, the plot is rife with secrets, and every chapter has stylistic bells and whistles to keep you awake across the Great Plains.

Snow Crash and Stephenson's more recent novel, Diamond Age, are set in the future. Half of this new book takes place during World War II and mixes historical figures such as Alan Turing, Douglas MacArthur and Herman Goering with American mathematical prodigy Lawrence Water house, gung-ho Marine Bobby Shaftoe and Japanese soldier-engineer Goto Dengo. While Turing and Waterhouse decipher Axis codes, Shaftoe, a mysterious priest named Enoch Root and minor characters spread disinformation around Europe to cover the code-breaking.

After numerous heroic acts and close calls, Shaftoe and Waterhouse discover gold bullion on a wrecked German submarine. At about the same time, Dengo is burying much more gold—billions of dollars worth—in a Philippine tunnel. After helping win the war with his proto-computer, Waterhouse decrypts the location of the tunnel but leaves it unexplored because it's a literal crypt: Most who drilled it were killed and buried there to preserve the secret.

Historical chapters alternate with chapters set in the present day. Waterhouse's grandson Randy, a former hacker and designer of role-playinggames, stumbles into his family past while setting up an offshore data haven—a bank for electronic money called The Crypt—in Kinakatou, an Asian island-sultanate resembling Brunei. The thirty-something Randy and his cipher-obsessed business associates, who coincidentally include Shaftoe's granddaughter Amy, have to repeat the war heroes' actions: investigate a sunken sub and decrypt codes to locate the buried gold. But it's not until the old, old hands—Dengo and Father Root—help the cyber generation that the gold can be found and the bad guys—ancient and new, a Chinese general and an American lawyer—defeated.

Cryptonomicon has already been compared to Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. Also set in World War II, also about the birth of the Information Age, full of conspiracies real and imagined, Pynchon's book has at the end of its rainbow a rocket's ground zero, a metaphor of nuclear apocalypse. At the end of Stephenson's novel is a literal pot of gold.

Pynchon fused low comedy and high art. Cryptonomicon is info-tainment, Tom Wolfe as historian, Umberto Eco as hacker. Stephenson has the info on vacuum tubes, zip drives, tunnel engineering and other esoterica. He also knows that fictional entertainment needs to imitate the special effects of movies such as Saving Private Ryan and Matrix. Stephenson's action sequences—jungle battles, U-boat dives, even business forays—are hyperkinetic. Between actions, his prose is hyperbolic—"biggest,' "best,' "most'—no matter what he's describing. As in movies, everything is in the present tense, even the World War II chapters.

Almost all of Stephenson's major characters are male, and the one who isn't—the muscled and tanned adventuress Amy, short for "America'—may be, Randy thinks, a lesbian. Only Dengo, who sees the error of Nipponese ways, and Randy, who understands the advantage of being a billionaire, are much changed by the physical and digital tests they pass. After the novel admits most computer jockeys are male, the characters in Cryptonomicon seem like nerd fantasies or game-boys, if there's a difference.

Pynchon quoted Rilke, referred to Brecht, imitated Joyce and Nabokov. Steph enson refers to Tolkien, Star Trek and Star Wars, and quotes Neuromancer on the "hive mind.' His title recalls H. P. Lovecraft's invented book of secret lore, Necronomicon, and Cryptonomicon has Superman's planet en coded within it, which may account for the book's cartoonish quality. Gravity's Rainbow was meant to frighten; Cryptonomicon is meant to please. Appended to the novel is a professional cryptographer's essay. It and Stephenson's hyper text components—formulas, graphs, illustrations and e-mail documents—will have to be cut from the film version. Since the novel seems engineered for the screen and since few people still bus across America, one wonders why Stephenson chose to extend Edgar Allan Poe's code-making and code-breaking short story, "The Gold Bug,' by nine hundred pages.

To be successful, Enoch Root ex plains, a crypto-system has to be published, tested, attacked. Encryp tion programs work by combining information with massive amounts of randomness. The more unpredictable the noise, the better. Much postmodern fiction—and especially Gravity's Rainbow—seems encrypted. Fictive unpredictability, like Pynchon's, both disturbs and rewards readers, perhaps points them to a new cognitive paradigm, some mysterious relation of order and chaos such as fractal patternings. But just as a pistol in the first act of a play has to be fired later, a pot of gold in a novel has to be found. Energetic, learned, sometimes cryptic, Stephen son is never enigmatic, not the way Pynchon is. Despite its page-to-page noise and plot twists, Cryptonomicon is, on the whole, as predictable as a bus route. —Tom LeClair
Library Journal
Stephenson's 900-page epic would have been impossible to release unabridged, so the abridged version still clocks in at the length of some unabridged audios. Dove also will feature a chapter a week on its web site, audiouniverse.com. The reader is Scott Brick. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Seattle Weekly
Stephenson [is] a literary visionary of the technological future.
Kim Fawcett
Cryptonomicon is the best book Stephenson has ever written...His plots are unbelievably complex; a treasure hunt that could easily take up a book in itself is just one more strand in Stephenson's web of looping, whirling, tangled storylines...I'll grant that it gets pretty technical at times...Neal Stephenson has produced a brilliant, involving, painstakingly researched and lovingly constructed novel that I'll be re-reading more than once.
SF Site
Wired
...[A] heck of an action/adventure story....Stephenson...lives up to his reputation as a steely-eyed word hacker....a hell of a read.
Entertainment Weekly
An engrossing look at the way the flow of information shapes history.
Steven Levy
...[R]ambling and revelatory....[He is] the hacker Hemingway....Cryptnomicon is his most ambitious, a Pynchon-esque tour de force with a David Foster Wallace playfulness....The tech set will devour it...but its ambition, style and depth might well win over newbies, too.
Newsweek
USA Today
Fascinating and often hysterical.
Dwight Garner
Electrifying...hilarious...a sprawling, picaresque novel about code making and code breaking, set both during World War II...and during the present day....Dickensian brio is part of what makes Cryptonomicon distinct from the other outsize slabs of postmodern fiction...it wants to blow your mind while keeping you well-fed and happy.
The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Stephenson's prodigious new yarn (after The Diamond Age, 1995, etc.) whirls from WWII cryptography and top-secret bullion shipments to a present-day quest by computer whizzes to build a data haven amid corporate shark-infested waters, by way of multiple present-tense narratives overlaid with creeping paranoia. In 1942, phenomenally talented cryptanalyst Lawrence Waterhouse is plucked from the ruins of Pearl Harbor and posted to Bletchley Park, England, center of Allied code-breaking operations. Problem: having broken the highest German and Japanese codes, how can the Allies use the information without revealing by their actions that the codes have been broken? Enter US Marine Raider Bobby Shaftoe, specialist in cleanup details, statistical adjustments, and dirty jobs. In the present, meanwhile, Waterhouse's grandson, the computer-encryption whiz Randy, tries to set up a data haven in Southeast Asia, one secure from corporate rivals, nosy governments, and inquisitive intelligence services. He teams up with Shaftoe's stunning granddaughter, Amy, while pondering mysterious, e-mails from root@eruditorum.org, who's developed a weird but effective encoding algorithm. Everything, of course, eventually links together. During WWII, Waterhouse and Shaftoe investigate a wrecked U-boat, discovering a consignment of Chinese gold bars, and sheets of a new, indecipherable code. Code-named Arethusa, this material ends up with Randy, presently beset by enemies like his sometime backer, The Dentist. He finds himself in a Filipino jail accused of drug smuggling, along with Shaftoe's old associate, Enoch Root (root@eruditorum.org!). Since his jailers give him his laptop back, he knows someone'slistening. So he uses his computing skills to confuse the eavesdroppers, decodes Arethusa, and learns the location of a huge hoard of gold looted from Asia by the Japanese. Detail-packed, uninhibitedly discursive, with dollops of heavy-handed humor, and set forth in the author's usual vainglorious style; still, there's surprisingly little actual plot. And the huge chunks of baldly technical material might fascinate NSA chiefs, computer nerds, and budding entrepreneurs, but ordinary readers are likely to balk: showtime, with lumps. (Author tour)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060512804
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/1/2002
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 1168
  • Sales rank: 113,033
  • Product dimensions: 4.18 (w) x 6.75 (h) x 1.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Neal  Stephenson

Neal Stephenson is the author of Reamde, Anathem; the three-volume historical epic the Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World); Cryptonomicon; The Diamond Age; Snow Crash, which was named one of Time magazine's top one hundred all-time best English-language novels; and Zodiac. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

Biography

In Neal Stephenson's 1992 novel Snow Crash, human beings can immerse themselves in a computer-generated universe, and computer viruses can infect human bodies. This blurring of the boundaries between silicon and flesh seems characteristic of Stephenson, a writer whose interests in technology and engineering are inseparable from his skills as a storyteller.

Here is a novelist who talks about the "data management problem" of writing a historical novel, and who apologizes for not responding to fan mail by explaining that he has an "irremediable numerical imbalance between outgoing and incoming bandwidth."

Indeed, Stephenson seems to have a computer metaphor for almost every aspect of the writing life, even when he's not using a computer to write. He wrote the manuscript for Quicksilver in longhand, using a fountain pen. With this slower method of putting words to paper, he explained in an interview with Tech Central Station, "It's like when you're writing, there's a kind of buffer in your head where the next sentence sits while you're outputting the last one."

"Paper," Stephenson adds, is "a really good technology."

As the author of Snow Crash, Stephenson became a cult hero to cyberpunk fans and an inspiration to Silicon Valley start-ups. His Metaverse was the Internet as cutting-edge carnival, a freewheeling digital universe where a pizza-delivery driver could become a samurai warrior. "This is cyberpunk as it ought to be, and almost never is," wrote David Barrett in New Scientist.

Stephenson followed Snow Crash with The Diamond Age, which Publishers Weekly described as "simultaneously SF, fantasy and a masterful political thriller." Stephenson then broke out of the science fiction genre with Cryptonomicon, a 928-page doorstop of a book that drew comparisons to Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. Cryptonomicon interweaves two cryptography-themed plots, one set in the 1990s and the other during World War II. "What cyberculture needs right now is not another science-fiction novel but its first great historical novel, and Cryptonomicon is it: an intimate genealogical portrait of the 20th century's computer geeks, great and small, and of the technosocial landscape they have more and less knowingly shaped," wrote Julian Dibbell in The Village Voice.

Hefty though it is, Cryptonomicon is a quick read compared to Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, which begins with Quicksilver and continues in two more volumes, The Confusion and The System of the World.

In Quicksilver, a historical novel set in the 17th century, Stephenson explores many of the roots of modern science, mixing meditations on calculus, chemistry and cryptography with a cast of oddball characters (and many of the real-life historical figures, including Isaac Newton, turn out to be very odd indeed).

"At first it feels like Stephenson is flaunting how much time he spent at the library, but the lure of the next wisecracking history lesson becomes the most compelling reason to keep going," wrote Slate reviewer Paul Boutin.

So how did Stephenson manage all that historical data?

"I started with a bunch of notebooks, just composition books, in which I would write notes down in chronological order as I read a particular book, or what have you," he explained in an interview on his publisher's Web site.

"Those are always there, and I can go back to them and look stuff up even when it's otherwise lost. Then, I've got timelines and timetables showing what happens when in the story. I've spent a while monkeying around with three ring binders, in which I glue pages here and there trying to figure out how to sequence things. It's a big mess. It's a big pile of stationery. Many trips to the office supply store, and many failed attempts. But in the end, as long as you can keep it in your head, that's the easiest way to manage something like this. You can move things around inside your head more easily than you can shuffle papers or cross things out on a page and rewrite them."

The three-pound processor inside the author's head, as it turns out, is a really good technology.

Good To Know

Stephenson comes from a family of scientists: His father is a professor of electrical engineering, and his mother worked in a biochemistry lab. Both his grandfathers were science professors. Stephenson himself majored in geography at Boston University, because the geography department "had the coolest computers."

Stephenson co-wrote two political thrillers, Interface and The Cobweb, under the pseudonym Stephen Bury with his uncle George Jewsbury (whose own nom de plume is J. Frederick George). "The whole idea was that 'Stephen Bury' would be a successful thriller writer and subsidize my pathetic career under the name Neal Stephenson," he told Locus magazine. "It ended up going the other way. I would guess most of the people who have bought the Stephen Bury books have done so because they know I've written them. It just goes to show there's no point in trying to plan your career."

In the Beginning... Was the Command Line, Stephenson's book-length essay on computer operating systems, complains that graphical user interfaces distort the user's understanding of computer operations. On his current Web site, Stephenson dubs the essay "badly obsolete" and notes: "For the last couple of years I have been a Mac OX user almost exclusively."

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    1. Also Known As:
      Stephen Bury (co-author pseudonym, with J. Frederick George)
    2. Hometown:
      Seattle, Washington
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 31, 1959
    2. Place of Birth:
      Fort Meade, Maryland
    1. Education:
      B.A., Boston University, 1981
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Barrens

Let's set the existence-of-God issues aside for a later volume, and just stipulate that in some way, self-replicating organisms came into existence on this planet and immediately began trying to get rid of each other, either by spamming their environments with rough copies of themselves, or by more direct means which hardly need to be belabored. Most of them failed, and their genetic legacy was erased from the universe forever, but a few found some way to survive and to propagate. After about three billion years of this sometimes zany, frequently tedious fugue of carnality and carnage, Godfrey Waterhouse IV was born, in Murdo, South Dakota, to Blanche, the wife of a Congregational preacher named Bunyan Waterhouse. Like every other creature on the face of the earth, Godfrey was, by birthright, a stupendous badass, albeit in the somewhat narrow technical sense that he could trace his ancestry back up a long line of slightly less highly evolved stupendous badasses to that first self-replicating gizmo-which, given the number and variety of its descendants, might justifiably be described as the most stupendous badass of all time. Everyone and everything that wasn't a stupendous badass was dead.

As nightmarishly lethal, memetically programmed death-machines went, these were the nicest you could ever hope to meet. In the tradition of his namesake (the Puritan writer John Bunyan, who spent much of his life in jail, or trying to avoid it) the Rev. Waterhouse did not preach in any one place for long. The church moved him from one small town in the Dakotas to another every year or two. It is possible that Godfreyfound the lifestyle more than a little alienating, for, sometime during the course of his studies at Fargo Congregational College, he bolted from the fold and, to the enduring agony of his parents, fell into worldy pursuits, and ended up, somehow, getting a Ph.D. in Classics from a small private university in Ohio. Academics being no less nomadic than Congregational preachers, he took work where he could find it. He became a Professor of Greek and Latin at Bolger Christian College (enrollment 322) in West Point, Virginia, where the Mattaponi and Pamunkey Rivers came together to form the estuarial. James, and the loathsome fumes of the big paper mill permeated every drawer, every closet, even the interior pages of books. Godfrey's young bride, nee Alice Pritchard, who had grown up following her itinerant-preacher father across the vastnesses of eastern Montana-where air smelt of snow and sage threw up for three months. Six months later she gave birth to Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse.

The boy had a peculiar relationship with sound. When a fire engine passed, he was not troubled by the siren's howl or the bell's clang. But when a hornet got into the house and swung across the ceiling in a broad Lissajous, droning almost inaudibly, he cried in pain at the noise. And if he saw or smelled something that scared him, he would clap his hands over his ears.

One noise that troubled him not at all was the pipe organ in the chapel at Bolger Christian College. The chapel itself was nothing worth mentioning, but the organ had been endowed by the paper mill family and would have sufficed for a church four times the size. It nicely complemented the organist, a retired high school math teacher who felt that certain attributes of the Lord (violence and capriciousness in the Old Testament, majesty and triumph in the New) could be directly conveyed into the souls of the enpewed sinners through a kind of frontal sonic impregnation. That he ran the risk of blowing out the stained-glass windows was of no consequence since no one liked them anyway, and the paper mill fumes were gnawing at the interstitial lead. But after one little old lady too many staggered down the aisle after a service, reeling from tinnitus, and made a barbed comment to the minister about the exceedingly dramatic music, the organist was replaced.

Nevertheless, he continued to give lessons on the instrument. Students were not allowed to touch the organ until they were proficient at the piano, and when this was explained to Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, he taught himself, in three weeks, how to play a Bach fugue, and signed up for organ lessons. Since he was only five years old at the time, he was unable to reach both the manuals and the pedals, and had to play standing-or rather strolling, from pedal to pedal.

When Lawrence was twelve, the organ broke down. That paper mill family had not left any endowment for maintenance, so the math teacher decided to have a crack at it. He was in poor health and required a nimble assistant: Lawrence, who helped him open up the hood of the thing. For the first time in all those years, the boy saw what had been happening when he had been pressing those keys.

For each stop-each timbre, or type of sound, that the organ could make (viz. blockflöte, trumpet, piccolo)-there was a separate row of pipes, arranged in a line from long to short. Long pipes made low notes, short high. The tops of the pipes defined a graph: not a straight line but an upward-tending curve. The organist/math teacher sat down with a few loose pipes, a pencil, and paper, and helped Lawrence figure out why. When Lawrence understood, it was as if the math teacher had suddenly played the good part of Bach's Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor on a pipe organ the size of the Spiral Nebula in Andromeda-the part where Uncle Johann dissects the architecture of the Universe in one merciless descending ever-mutating chord, as if his foot is thrusting through skidding layers of garbage until it finally strikes bedrock. In particular, the final steps of the organist's explanation were like a falcon's dive through layer after layer of pretense and illusion, thrilling or sickening or confusing depending on what you were. The heavens were riven open. Lawrence glimpsed choirs of angels ranking off into geometrical infinity.

The pipes sprouted in parallel ranks from a broad flat box of compressed air. All of the pipes for a given note-but belonging to different stops-lined up with each other along one axis. All of the pipes for a given stop-but tuned at different pitches-lined up with each other along the other, perpendicular axis. Down there in the flat box of air, then, was a mechanism that got air to the right pipes at the right times. When a key or pedal was depressed, all of the pipes capable of sounding the corresponding note would speak, as long as their stops were pulled out.

Mechanically, all of this was handled in a fashion that was perfectly clear, simple, and logical. Lawrence had supposed that the machine must be at least as complicated as the most intricate fugue that could be played on it. Now he had learned that a machine, simple in its design, could produce results of infinite complexity.

Stops were rarely used alone. They tended to be piled on top of each other in combinations that were designed to take advantage of the available harmonics (more tasty mathematics here!). Certain combinations in particular were used over and over again. Lots of blockflötes, in varying lengths, for the quiet Offertory, for example. The organ included an ingenious mechanism called the preset, which enabled the organist to select a particular combination of stops-stops he himself had chosen-instantly. He would punch a button and several stops would bolt out from the console, driven by pneumatic pressure, and in that instant the organ would become a different instrument with entirely new timbres.

The next summer both Lawrence and Alice, his mother, were colonized by a distant cousin-a stupendous badass of a virus. Lawrence escaped from it with an almost imperceptible tendency to drag one of his feet. Alice wound up in an iron lung. Later, unable to cough effectively, she got pneumonia and died.

Lawrence's father Godfrey freely confessed that he was not...

Cryptonomicon. Copyright © by Neal Stephenson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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First Chapter

Chapter One

Barrens

Let's set the existence-of-God issues aside for a later volume, and just stipulate that in some way, self-replicating organisms came into existence on this planet and immediately began trying to get rid of each other, either by spamming their environments with rough copies of themselves, or by more direct means which hardly need to be belabored. Most of them failed, and their genetic legacy was erased from the universe forever, but a few found some way to survive and to propagate. After about three billion years of this sometimes zany, frequently tedious fugue of carnality and carnage, Godfrey Waterhouse IV was born, in Murdo, South Dakota, to Blanche, the wife of a Congregational preacher named Bunyan Waterhouse. Like every other creature on the face of the earth, Godfrey was, by birthright, a stupendous badass, albeit in the somewhat narrow technical sense that he could trace his ancestry back up a long line of slightly less highly evolved stupendous badasses to that first self-replicating gizmo-which, given the number and variety of its descendants, might justifiably be described as the most stupendous badass of all time. Everyone and everything that wasn't a stupendous badass was dead.

As nightmarishly lethal, memetically programmed death-machines went, these were the nicest you could ever hope to meet. In the tradition of his namesake (the Puritan writer John Bunyan, who spent much of his life in jail, or trying to avoid it) the Rev. Waterhouse did not preach in any one place for long. The church moved him from one small town in the Dakotas to another every year or two. It is possible thatGodfrey found the lifestyle more than a little alienating, for, sometime during the course of his studies at Fargo Congregational College, he bolted from the fold and, to the enduring agony of his parents, fell into worldy pursuits, and ended up, somehow, getting a Ph.D. in Classics from a small private university in Ohio. Academics being no less nomadic than Congregational preachers, he took work where he could find it. He became a Professor of Greek and Latin at Bolger Christian College (enrollment 322) in West Point, Virginia, where the Mattaponi and Pamunkey Rivers came together to form the estuarial. James, and the loathsome fumes of the big paper mill permeated every drawer, every closet, even the interior pages of books. Godfrey's young bride, nee Alice Pritchard, who had grown up following her itinerant-preacher father across the vastnesses of eastern Montana-where air smelt of snow and sage threw up for three months. Six months later she gave birth to Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse.

The boy had a peculiar relationship with sound. When a fire engine passed, he was not troubled by the siren's howl or the bell's clang. But when a hornet got into the house and swung across the ceiling in a broad Lissajous, droning almost inaudibly, he cried in pain at the noise. And if he saw or smelled something that scared him, he would clap his hands over his ears.

One noise that troubled him not at all was the pipe organ in the chapel at Bolger Christian College. The chapel itself was nothing worth mentioning, but the organ had been endowed by the paper mill family and would have sufficed for a church four times the size. It nicely complemented the organist, a retired high school math teacher who felt that certain attributes of the Lord (violence and capriciousness in the Old Testament, majesty and triumph in the New) could be directly conveyed into the souls of the enpewed sinners through a kind of frontal sonic impregnation. That he ran the risk of blowing out the stained-glass windows was of no consequence since no one liked them anyway, and the paper mill fumes were gnawing at the interstitial lead. But after one little old lady too many staggered down the aisle after a service, reeling from tinnitus, and made a barbed comment to the minister about the exceedingly dramatic music, the organist was replaced.

Nevertheless, he continued to give lessons on the instrument. Students were not allowed to touch the organ until they were proficient at the piano, and when this was explained to Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, he taught himself, in three weeks, how to play a Bach fugue, and signed up for organ lessons. Since he was only five years old at the time, he was unable to reach both the manuals and the pedals, and had to play standing-or rather strolling, from pedal to pedal.

When Lawrence was twelve, the organ broke down. That paper mill family had not left any endowment for maintenance, so the math teacher decided to have a crack at it. He was in poor health and required a nimble assistant: Lawrence, who helped him open up the hood of the thing. For the first time in all those years, the boy saw what had been happening when he had been pressing those keys.

For each stop-each timbre, or type of sound, that the organ could make (viz. blockflöte, trumpet, piccolo)-there was a separate row of pipes, arranged in a line from long to short. Long pipes made low notes, short high. The tops of the pipes defined a graph: not a straight line but an upward-tending curve. The organist/math teacher sat down with a few loose pipes, a pencil, and paper, and helped Lawrence figure out why. When Lawrence understood, it was as if the math teacher had suddenly played the good part of Bach's Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor on a pipe organ the size of the Spiral Nebula in Andromeda-the part where Uncle Johann dissects the architecture of the Universe in one merciless descending ever-mutating chord, as if his foot is thrusting through skidding layers of garbage until it finally strikes bedrock. In particular, the final steps of the organist's explanation were like a falcon's dive through layer after layer of pretense and illusion, thrilling or sickening or confusing depending on what you were. The heavens were riven open. Lawrence glimpsed choirs of angels ranking off into geometrical infinity.

The pipes sprouted in parallel ranks from a broad flat box of compressed air. All of the pipes for a given note-but belonging to different stops-lined up with each other along one axis. All of the pipes for a given stop-but tuned at different pitches-lined up with each other along the other, perpendicular axis. Down there in the flat box of air, then, was a mechanism that got air to the right pipes at the right times. When a key or pedal was depressed, all of the pipes capable of sounding the corresponding note would speak, as long as their stops were pulled out.

Mechanically, all of this was handled in a fashion that was perfectly clear, simple, and logical. Lawrence had supposed that the machine must be at least as complicated as the most intricate fugue that could be played on it. Now he had learned that a machine, simple in its design, could produce results of infinite complexity.

Stops were rarely used alone. They tended to be piled on top of each other in combinations that were designed to take advantage of the available harmonics (more tasty mathematics here!). Certain combinations in particular were used over and over again. Lots of blockflötes, in varying lengths, for the quiet Offertory, for example. The organ included an ingenious mechanism called the preset, which enabled the organist to select a particular combination of stops-stops he himself had chosen-instantly. He would punch a button and several stops would bolt out from the console, driven by pneumatic pressure, and in that instant the organ would become a different instrument with entirely new timbres.

The next summer both Lawrence and Alice, his mother, were colonized by a distant cousin-a stupendous badass of a virus. Lawrence escaped from it with an almost imperceptible tendency to drag one of his feet. Alice wound up in an iron lung. Later, unable to cough effectively, she got pneumonia and died.

Lawrence's father Godfrey freely confessed that he was not...

Cryptonomicon. Copyright © by Neal Stephenson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Interviews & Essays

barnesandnoble.com: Given that your novel is 928 pages long and extremely complex, it's not easy to briefly summarize. But if you were being held up at gunpoint, and your life depended on giving a two-to-three sentence description of Cryptonomicon, what would you say?
Neal Stephenson: My first sentence would be that Cryptonomicon is meant to be a good yarn, because I believe that if a novel doesn't work on the good yarn level, then it won't work on any other level either. Then I would try to explain why I think crypto is interesting and relevant. So sentence two would probably be used to point out how crypto played a major role in winning the Second World War and how it is of great importance today for anyone who needs to keep secrets from powerful entities such as governments. But that would seem a bit too simplistic to me, and so in sentence three I would try to explain the importance of crypto on some deeper artistic level, and with any luck my interrogator would either wander off to find a copy of my book, or fall asleep long enough for me to make my escape.

bn: What is that thing on the cover, anyway? And why is it there?
NS: It is an alchemical symbol for gold. Gold ends up being pretty important in this book. If we tried to come up with a single cover illustration that depicted every character, setting, and event in the book, it would end up looking like a Where's Waldo? poster, so we decided to go with simplicity.

bn: The science -- or is it an art? -- of cryptography plays an extremely important role in this novel. Where did you research the codes that play a part in this story?
NS: Cryptography -- the invention of new cryptosystems -- is definitely a science. People who go about it artistically are likely to get their lunches eaten. Cryptanalysis -- breaking into someone else's cryptosystem -- seems to be more artistic. At least that was the case during World War II, when it was done with pencil and paper, and cryptanalysts relied heavily on a kind of sub-rational approach. I have some old U.S. military crypto manuals on my shelf here, and they state explicitly that it's no good trying to do this sort of work rationally, that all the important breaks come as sudden, unexplainable flashes of insight. It is pretty high-flown stuff for an old military manual.
Cryptonomicon has two storylines, one set during World War II and one set during the present day. The crypto world changed enormously during that span of time. For researching the codes of the 1940s, it was easy enough to consult literature such as Andrew Hodges's Alan Turing: The Enigma and David Kahn's book The Codebreakers. Researching modern-day crypto is almost hopeless because the field changes too fast. Fortunately I got to know Bruce Schneier, a crypto expert and author of Applied Cryptography. He and I came up with the idea of incorporating a new, original cryptosystem that he has invented, called Solitaire, into the actual text of the book. The novel has a technical appendix written by Bruce that explains how the system works. Crypto changes so fast that this was the only way I could think of to include modern-day crypto content that would not be obsolete by the time the book was published.

bn: Cryptonomicon seems to suggest that in the future, cryptography may be one of the main tools or weapons used in global power struggles. To what extent is this a fictional device?
NS: No extent whatsoever, because it has already happened in World War II. It is a bit difficult for many of us to appreciate just how important crypto was in that war. I think that this is partly because the breaking of the Enigma code was not made public until 1974, after most of the Baby Boom had already gone through its formal education, and so the books that we read when we were in school never mentioned it. We learned about Patton and Rommel, the Battle of Stalingrad, the development of the atomic bomb, and U-Boats, but never a word about crypto. Now that the secret is finally out, we're in an era when nobody learns any history at all, and so the Enigma story has largely been buried.
In the future, the circumstances may not be quite as dramatic as they were in World War II. But the Internet and other technologies can give a lot of power to certain organizations, such as governments and corporations, that have been known to behave malevolently. Crypto is a defensive weapon that everyone who uses the Internet should know something about.

bn: How was the experience of writing this novel different from the experiences of writing Zodiac, Snow Crash, and The Diamond Age? What do you feel you have learned about writing fiction over the course of these four novels?
NS: I guess like one of those World War II cryptanalysts, I've come to accept that in writing a novel, most of the good stuff happens in some nonrational, preverbal way, and that there's no point in fighting it.

bn: We hear that Cryptonomicon is the first of three related novels that you are working on. Can you give us any hints about where the story will go from here?
NS: It might be three. The number isn't fixed. But I can tell you that it's going to start out by going backwards. The next one to be published takes place farther in the past.

bn: What's your favorite color?
NS: I'm sort of fascinated by '50s colors right now -- not the bright colors used in interior decorating but the stuff that they picked out when they wanted something to be unobtrusive, like an IBM card reader or a piece of lab equipment. I guess that means metallic, industrial grays. But now, if you want to make something unobtrusive, you make it a sort of off-white. What causes our definition of "unobtrusive" to change with time, I wonder?

bn: How do you really feel about Captain Crunch breakfast cereal? (Note from the interviewer: If you are wondering why we asked Neal this question, it's a fair bet that you haven't yet read Cryptonomicon.)
NS: Before I dig into the bowl, I feel animal craving. After I'm finished, I feel ashamed. While I'm eating it, I feel generally happy, but with a continual nagging sense of anxiety that the cereal in the bottom is going to get mushy before I can reach it.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 268 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 270 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Simply wonderful

    This is one of those books that never seems to end, and when it finally does, you wish it would go on forever. The writing of Neal Stephenson is absolutely second to none. It is intelligent, dense, and full of metaphors that make one laugh out loud. It also traverses multiple timelines in a compelling fashion. The characters are unforgettable -- similar to those found in Catch-22, these characters will be with me forever.

    If you are into straightforward plots, do not like tangential meanderings about the mathematics behind one's sexual drive, and are not at all interested in technology, then this book is definitely not for you. If you love history, technology, scientific writing, and sheer quirkiness, this book is a must read! Just give yourself about a month to get through it -- it is not a fast read by any stretch.

    15 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2007

    One of the best books I've read

    This was my first Neal Stephenson book, but it definitely won't be my last! He combines nerd-level mathmatics and cryptography with a Catch-22-like military pseudo-history and throws in some treasure hunting and philosophy/theology for good measure. And where else are you going to get a step-by-step instruction manual on how to best enjoy your Cap'n Crunch?

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent hi tech thriller

    <P>In 1942, the US Navy assigns Captain Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse to Detachment 2702 in Bletchley Park, England, home of the Allies cryptography team. The Axis¿ codes have been previously broken. Thus, the job of this top-secret team is to keep the Nazis in the dark that the Allies know the deepest military secrets of Germany and Japan and use the information to maximize the war effort. Heading up the effort is US Marine Bobby Shaftoe. <P>In the present time, Lawrence¿s grandson Randy Waterhouse has inherited the family¿s brilliant math gene. Using computers, he, like his grandfather is a cryptographic expert. Working in Southeast Asia, Randy is developing an encrypted massive data warehouse to keep out corporate and government spies. Randy works with Bobby¿s granddaughter Amy. However, as the present ties back to the past, everyone wants to either steal or shut down the efforts of Randy and Amy. <P>The mind-boggling CRYPTONOMICON shows why Neal Stephenson is both a New York Times best selling author and a cult hero. The story line is actually two major plots that fully tie together in spite of the fifty plus years' difference. The charcaters feel genuine and the audience will root for Randy to best his opponents. However, this opus belongs to cryptography, which takes on an identity of its own. Although the depth of detail might turn off some readers, as at times it becomes difficult for those of us who think math is a second language to fully understand the coding provided by Mr. Stephenson, the fabulous novel remains fast-paced and exciting. Readers will devour the tale, codes and all. Set aside several days and enjoy the best cryptographic-based tale since Poe¿s Gold Bug introduced the concept to literature. <P>Harriet Klausner

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 22, 2010

    Boring

    I quit halfway thru the book. It's boring and confusing and drrraaaggggssss on and on.

    4 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 31, 2011

    Five stars

    One of my favorite books. Excellent presentation of math concepts and elements of information theory in an unbelievably intresting manner. Science wrapped into a thriller. History is presented with astonishing mastery as well. From this book I learned a lot about the war in Pacific - subject almost untouced where I came from (Russia).The flavor of 1990th on the West coast is another point I cannot omit. I lived in Seattle then and Cryptonomicon seemed to take me there once again- with a hint of nostalgia. A bit envy to those who open this mazterpiece for the first time...

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 2, 2013

    "This is one of those books that never seems to end, and wh

    &quot;This is one of those books that never seems to end, and when it finally does, you wish it would go on forever&quot;  RIGHT ON THE MONEY!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 25, 2012

    I read this when it first came out, and loved it. I suspect you

    I read this when it first came out, and loved it. I suspect you need to be somewhat of a geek or techie to appreciate it, though.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 13, 2012

    Fabulous Book!

    I have read this book 3 times now, and it actually gets better each time I read it. Terrific plotting, great informative detail, and a great sense of humor.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 29, 2012

    Great Fiction for the Thinking Person

    I loved this book - I especially appreciate that Stephenson himself seemed to enjoy the math of cryptography, and it added to the story - not a distraction at all. Don't be worried about the size of this book. The pages will fly by and you'll wish there were more.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 20, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Told in two timelines, which happen to be interconnected, this b

    Told in two timelines, which happen to be interconnected, this book seemed more like two different books thrown together. However, both stories are told at a breakneck pace and are extremely interesting.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 26, 2011

    Rambling

    Weak storylines and poor character identity.

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 29, 2011

    Another digital parable that fails to master the aerodynamic properties of mass/gross appeal

    Stephenson is plainly well versed on the nuts and bolts of the information age, but fails to master the finer aspects of 'info-tainment.' Based on this novel, he's a techie, not a storyteller. Prior to reading this book, my background in cryptography was nil, and, though the terminology was transparent enough, this book honestly read like an instruction manual. The characters were all two-dimensional cardboard cutouts interfacing with one another in offices. Though I'm always up for a well constructed WWII plot, the characters here felt as though they were grafted on from the outtakes of some 1950s black and white movie. After 1000+ pages of offices, generic submarines, etc, I felt like I didn't know a thing more about the characters as people than I did when I picked the book up off the shelf. Granted, a fast paced narrative is seldom a must for me (on the contrary, actually). That being said, there were few profound metaphors or descriptions or plot devices of any kind. This sort of book is one step above fiction writers who masquerade as non-fiction writers.

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 5, 2011

    Obtuse and nonsensical

    I served in the Naval Security Group for 23 years. NSG was the navy's arm of American cryptology. I did not recognize a thing from my experiences in the book. Most notably his chapter HFDF, high frequency direction finding, was further off the mark than a reciprocal bearing

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 29, 2010

    What a load of...

    Sincerely, I expected tons more from Neal Stephenson. What is going on with the last 50 pages? It seems to me that he received a phone call from his editor to wrap up the book and hurriedly typed a three hour ending. There are once again many details, most of them superfluous. Come on, there are better ways to describe something while not giving the reader a hopeless state of unrest knowing that the book just drags on and on and on.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2014

    Good

    Great

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2013

    Would not recommend

    I could not finish it. After 375 grueling pages i finally gave up without having a clear picture of where the story was heading and how the parallel events of the past and present could eventually relate to each other. Just wasted a few bucks. Cut my losses and move on to the next one. But before i leave i have to say this. I am an avid reader and purchased numerous books in the last year. Some books are so absorbing that i could not put them down. This book almost sucked every desire i might of had of ever reading again. I just hope i can again find the joy in immersing myself in a good story.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2013

    Om One of my favorite books

    I have reread this book a few times just for the sheer pleasure it gives me. Truly a great book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2013

    Brillance.

    The market is oversaturated with overhyped preschool garbage that leaves critical, free-thinking individuals bored and burning for something deeper.
    Few works engage the mind in such a way as to satiate any and all needs and hungers the most intellectually complex of individuals may possess.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2013

    Epic, brilliant

    If you are like me you may be weary of the 1,000+ page count, but i found myself wishing it was 2,000! Incredibly smart and entertaining

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2013

    Great book from an amazing writer!

    Great book from an amazing writer!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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