Many people have written reviews on Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon before, but many tend to be overwhelmingly positive, even to an extent that they claim that the book can change your life. Perhaps I’ve read a broader variety of books, and that has lead me to be a bit more judgmental about the books I read, but I hardly found it to be life changing.
The plot is made up of three or four different story lines, jumping around throughout time and space. One of the main plots revolves around Lawrence Waterhouse, a mathematician who works for the military breaking codes, originally by hand, later on the bombes at Bletchely Park, and finally on his own early electronic computer. His plot line was the most appealing of the three to me, mainly due to the obviously well researched cryptographic background - which even digresses into discussions of things such as modular arithmetic - in which Waterhouse is friends with Alan Turing.
The other plot line is concurrent to the Waterhouse plot, that of Bobby Shaftoe. Shaftoe is a marine, addicted to morphine, friends with a Japanese soldier and in love with a girl from Manila. This plot failed to hold my interest for the most part. I felt that the majority of the events in this plot line could have been dropped without any loss for the novel as a whole.
The final plot is the only main plot that takes place later than World War Two, specifically in near modern times (the book was written in the 90s, which left it fairly easy for me to date by discussions about bandwidth). This plot follows Randy Waterhouse (yep, a descendant of Lawrence) as he attempts to start up a business with his friend Avi. This business venture is not directly revealed for much of the book, but it becomes apparent that they are working to build a data haven. Some of this plot is quite fun to read, including a portion were some of the geeks working on this venture use Van Eck phreaking to recover data on a friend’s computer in a different room, and discussions about data security such as the use of cryptography for their files and emails.
Obviously, I felt that many parts of the novel were fun to read, but mainly because of the geeky references it involved rather than the story itself. The story’s involvement in early cryptographic and computing history was the major draw to me. All in all, it felt like there were too many plots floating around to keep everything straight, especially because there was little to unify the three plots except for mild overlaps such as the many of the World War Two characters being ancestors to the modern characters, and one apparently immortal character. In short, it was a good light read (in a metaphorical sense, the book was more then 1,000 pages) but not something I would feel the need to read again, nor something I could say changed my world view.
You can find the book here