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Radiolab Reads: Cryptonomicon

Monday, July 11, 2011 - 05:57 PM

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stehpenson Cryptonomicon by Neal Stehpenson (Jason Gulledge/flickr)

Cryptonomicon - what a beast! This is a novel that's hard to actually describe but a joy to read.

At its simplest, it's about WWII cryptographers and present-day hacker types hunting for gold in the Philippines...Neal Stephenson collides inventive cyberpunkish fiction with historical characters (such as Alan Turing), plus the occasional detailed technical explanation of how things work (say, a pipe organ, or the male libido). And even though Stephenson is clearly many times smarter than me, his writing is charming, informal, and generally hilarious.


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Comments [14]

Noah M from Brooklyn

This might be my favorite book of all time. Glad to see it highlighted!

Nov. 11 2011 03:11 PM
John Lewis

Highly recommend Anathem, in addition to Cryptonomicon. It's an incredible book.

Aug. 31 2011 10:08 AM
John from Red Hook, NY

I loved it. I then loaned it to my grown son, who loved it so much that he posted about it on Radiolab...oh, wait...I see

Aug. 18 2011 05:58 PM
James from San Francisco

In general, I love Cryptonomicon and think it was a terrific read - what some people find choppy I find emotionally "rhymes" with what often is the case in Radiolab; the distal threads of the storyline come together to weave an interconnected and satisfyingly complete world and world-view.

@ Jane, re Baroque Cycle; it doesn't really kick in and get amazing till you're halfway through the second book, but I guarantee a great experience if you stick it out, and absolutely ties in to the current global financial situation as well.

Aug. 08 2011 06:51 PM
Jane from San Francisco

I loved Cryptonomicon beyond all reason and have read it several times and recommended it to others. And although I liked Anathem (and am expecting to read Reamde when it is released later this year), I have simply not been able to read The Baroque Cycle. I want to love it so much but I just find it tedious. I've tried several times and no doubt I'll try again, and it is a mystery to me why I can't love these books, but *sigh* there you have it. His little book In The Beginning Was The Command Line... was very interesting and fun, however.

Jul. 15 2011 01:15 PM
omaco from Olympia, Washington

I read Anathem four times in a row. My partner got so worried she made me stop, otherwise I might still be reading it! Stephenson's next book comes out this Fal... I have read the Baroque Cycle so many times (in paperback), that the books are mostly duct taped together now. There is a prodigious amount of research Stephenson does in every book. In his personal web site he also explains why he does not correspond with readers. The essay ends with "I am faced with a stark choice between being a bad correspondent and being a good novelist. I am trying to be a good novelist, and hoping that people will forgive me for being a bad correspondent." Now I'll have to write him and explain why being a good novelist and a bad correspondent are congruent, if not the same, choice! (

Jul. 13 2011 07:51 PM
Louis from Québec

Do you guys know about bitcoin?

Jul. 13 2011 05:02 PM
Andy from Athens, GA

Cryptonomicon is the most exciting thriller about computer science, period. It changed my mind about the merits of the philosophy and theoretical depth of AI and cryptography and what the future of history will be like. It's an excellent transitional work between Stephenson's early strict-ish cyberpunk (Diamond Age, Snowcrash) and his more recent historical fantasy (Baroque Cycle, Anathem).

Jul. 13 2011 02:17 AM

A friend gave me Stevenson's latest book, Anathem, and I liked it so much that she sent me Cryptonomicon, which lead me to read the Baroque Cycle. All of these books were so smart. The Baroque Cycle (3 books) were some of the first that I read on Kindle, and I can't imagine reading them on paper. There were so many words I need to check the dictionary for, and so many people and concepts that I needed to check Wikipedia about. I've never read books by any other author that seemed so *smart*. (Incidentally, I had previously read Stevenson's Diamond Age, which is also a great read (but take my advice and don't read the last chapter--it sucks).

Jul. 13 2011 02:07 AM
Charles Franklin from Monterey , CA

Cyptinomicon got me hooked on Neil Stephenson as well. I have read most of what he has published and find him delicious. However "The Big U" is probably only of interest to people who know the local geography of Boston University. Baroque Cycle, Zodiac, Snow Crash are great.

Jul. 12 2011 09:53 PM
skeptical from Mount Weather

How's the quality of the prose? Being a fan of William Gibson's early work, I was recommended Snowcrash and although there are some fun dystopian scenarios and amusing satire, the prose read like a plot-driven Hollywood film script—just no meditative quality or psychological malaise in the characters. Interestingly, I find Gibson's latest work has evolved more in this direction. Kill me for wanting a cyberpunk or dystopian novel that reads like Dostoevsky... :)

Jul. 12 2011 09:35 PM

I loved was the first Stephenson I read. My favorite of them all is probably Snow Crash.

Jul. 12 2011 05:03 PM
DK from Nevada

I read Cryptonomicon on high recommendation. I was sorely disappointed.

Sure, it has lots of geeky math, science and history woven into the plot, but the plot is the problem. I was continually thinking, "Did this book have an editor?" It is uneven and choppy story telling. There are loose ends and nonsensical dead-ends throughout.

It seemed to me that Neal Stehpenson refused to cut any part his original thoughts to improve the book. I could see it being an improved work if it had about 100 fewer pages.

Jul. 12 2011 04:27 PM
Evan Rose from Brooklyn, NY

I hope when you're finished you'll move on to his Baroque Cycle. Fantastic stuff.

Jul. 11 2011 10:43 PM

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