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A review of Cryptonomicon

by Neal Stephenson

Traces the stories of four people during both WWII and the present.

Reviewed by: Michael J. Griffin
About Michael J. Griffin

Cryptonomicon I'd been recommended Cryptonomicon a long time ago by a co-worker at Barnes & Noble. The book was out in hardcover at the time, and I was wary of the fact that it was well over 1000 pages. Out of a self-preservation instinct, I avoided buying it, since I didn't want a hernia from lugging this 1000 page hardcover book around.

I was also leery of it because in all the other epic books that I had read, such as any of James Clavell's books, I would become hopelessly confused if a new character was introduced on say, page 600. That would cause me to madly flip back through the previous pages to see if I had seen this character mentioned before. I call it "epic confusion."

Time went by and then a month ago, I was in Barnes & Noble and saw that Cryptonomicon had been re-released in paperback. Carrying a 1000-page book in paperback is much easier than in hardcover, and I remembered a second friend of mine had recommended it to me as well. I looked at the price. It was still $7.99. Not a bad price for a book that has more than a thousand pages.

I began the book and found myself very pleasantly surprised at the readability of it. Stephenson jumps around from person to person but does it in a way that is easy to keep track of. By the end of the book, I was very familiar with the four main characters in the book- Bobby Shaftoe, Lawrence Waterhouse, Goto Dengo and Randy Waterhouse and also some of the supporting characters like Enoch Root, Douglas MacArthur Shaftoe and America "Amy" Shaftoe.

Bobby Shaftoe, Lawrence Waterhouse, Goto Dengo and Enoch Root's stories are all involved during the WWII phase of the book. Shaftoe is a haiku-spouting Marine grunt that is trying to get back to Manila to find his girlfriend who may be pregnant with his child. Waterhouse is an Intelligence officer and genius who is trying to crack the codes of both the Germans and Japanese during WWII. Dengo is a Nipponese officer who digs a tomb for the Japanese emperor that houses a deadly secret and Root is a priest who knows a lot more than he lets on.

In the present, Randy Waterhouse is also involved in cryptography, but for the computer. He and Avi have a computer company that wants to store information from people from all over the world. This involves some serious encryption programs and some unsavory people want this information. He meets Doug Shaftoe who wants to lay some underseas cables for this information, and Randy falls for Shaftoe's daughter America who prefers to be called Amy.

The stories are told in the present tense, so that may be a bit jarring for those not used to that style of story telling. They are easy to pick up even with one story running for many pages, and although Stephenson does use a lot of mathematical formulas, he doesn't do it in a way that detracts from the rest of the book if a reader is not mathematically inclined. Also he uses historical characters like Alan Turing well.

Another thing... I finished this book in 4 days. That's how engrossing the book was. It did help that for two of those days I was stuck in the backseat of a car driving back to New York from visiting North Carolina, so that afforded me a lot of time to read.

Stephenson is planning on using the bloodline of these characters to produce an epic timeline. He has a new book coming out this year called Quicksilver.

I'll probably buy Quicksilver in hardcover. I've been doing a lot of weightlifting and can easily carry around a book of that size now.

Click here to buy this book, or read more about it at Amazon.com: Cryptonomicon

Copyright © by Michael J. Griffin, 2003

Reviewed by Michael J. Griffin:
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-- Rules of Prey - by John Sandford
-- Once More Around The Park - by Roger Angell
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-- A Drink Before the War - by Dennis Lehane
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-- I.Asimov - by Isaac Asimov
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-- Cryptonomicon - by Neal Stephenson
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