Book Club: Cryptonomicon

Continuing the “the government is out to get you” theme that started with Dignity, I’ve just finished reading Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon. It’s a lengthy book at 1255 pages, including the huge appendices, but it’s an entertaining and interesting read. 

I’m rather ashamed it took me so long to get to this one. This is one of those books that several friends have recommended but that just never ended up on my plate. But since cryptography has been on the brain, recently, it surfaced again. I’m glad I picked it up.

The book covers two timelines: one is set in WW2 focusing on a handful of characters, some real but fictionally portrayed, and their efforts to manage the crypto-analytic duties of the US and UK at that time. The other is modern, and covers a couple of the descendents of the former storyline working to set up a proper crypto-haven, running across the exploits of their ancestors, and battling assorted private and public entities to make that happen.

Much like Neal’s incredible Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon takes an interesting story and bends it into something of a comedy/philosophy affair. Digital currency becomes the main theme, privacy and cryptography are up there as well. And then you have a whole chapter on how/why religious entities are perfectly ok with the fact that you desperately want to fuck someone, and in fact encourage you to want to fuck them, you just have to go through a few hoops before the actual, desperate fucking occurs (I genuinely believe that chapter was the funniest thing I’ve ever read in a novel).

Anyway, I highly recommend it. The whole book comes across as an excellent mix of Michael Crichton’s knack for explaining complex scientific and business intrigues with Terry Pratchett’s humor.