Book: Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publication date: 1999
Source: Purchased from my local independent bookstore, STL Books
Summary: As important as code-breaking was in World War II, it was equally important that the enemy be kept in the dark that their codes had been broken. How do you make sure that the enemy believes that you got information from a source different from the one you really got it from? To win that game requires agile and sneaky strategies devised by men like Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, a mathematical genius inspired by Alan Turing. And, those strategies must be implemented by brave men like Marine Raider Bobby Shaftoe, willing to do apparently crazy things for reasons they may never fully understand.
Encryption, of course, has come a long way since World War II and is now vital for large, international businesses. Randy Waterhouse, grandson of the aforementioned Lawrence, is a software cryptologist working on a scheme to keep encrypted data safe and secure in a computer farm on a Southeast Asian island with a friendly government. A Nazi submarine, sunk in the warm waters, brings these two stories together in ways totally unexpected.
Thoughts: Lawrence Waterhouse, in Cryptonomicon, spends very little time at Bletchley Park, the location famous for breaking German’s Enigma code during World War II. But, he happened to get there during my reading of the book on the same day that I went to Bletchley.
Some information comes into Waterhouse’s eyes at least: on the other side of that window, men are gathered around a machine. Most of them are wearing civilian clothes, and they have been too busy, for too long, to trifle much with combs and razors and shoe polish. The men are intensely focused upon their work, which all has to do with this large machine. The machine consists of a large framework of square steel tubing, like a bedstead set up on one end. Metal drums with the diameter of dinner plates, an inch or so thick, are mounted at several locations on this framework. Paper tape has been threaded in a bewildering loopy trajectory from drum to drum. p. 194
I saw spaces and machines like that at Bletchley Park. I’m looking forward to seeing scenes like that in The Imitation Game that was filmed at Bletchley Park and features Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing. It opens tomorrow in most of the US. Watch tomorrow for my review of The Lost World of Bletchley Park by Sinclair McKay.
Appeal: This, like Quicksilver that I read earlier in the year, is a huge book, as satisfying to read as solving a giant crossword puzzle that takes weeks to complete.
Challenges: Cryptonomicon was the second of two print books I took on my England trip, both chunksters (The other was Doomsday Book by Connie Willis). I was determined not to run out of reading material on our three week trip. Cryptonomicon was my 4th of 4 books I intended to read for the Chunkster Challenge in 2014 — so I met my goal! I’m pretty sure that’s the most chunksters I’ve read in a year since I binge-read Jean Auel and Diana Gabaldon in the same year in the late 80s.
Reviews: Here are some other book bloggers who enjoyed Cryptonomicon:
Do you like reading chunksters?