Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson is a hilarious and informative book about code breaking and cryptology. The novel is concerned with several generations of math geniuses and computer whizzes, who are all tied together through the gold the Axis powers...

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Speculative fiction

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Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson is a hilarious and informative book about code breaking and cryptology. The novel is concerned with several generations of math geniuses and computer whizzes, who are all tied together through the gold the Axis powers buried in the Philippines near the end of World War II.

Cryptonomicon is a 1999 novel by American author Neal Stephenson, set in two different time periods. One group of characters are World War II-era Allied codebreakers and tactical-deception operatives affiliated with the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park (UK), and disillusioned Axis military and intelligence figures. The second narrative is set in the late 1990s, with characters that are (in part) descendants of those of the earlier time period, who employ cryptologic, telecom, and computer technology to build an underground data haven in the fictional Sultanate of Kinakuta. Their goal is to facilitate anonymous Internet banking using electronic money and (later) digital gold currency, with a long-term objective to distribute Holocaust Education and Avoidance Pod (HEAP) media for instructing genocide-target populations on defensive warfare.

Neal Town Stephenson (born October 31, 1959) is an American writer known for his works of speculative fiction.


His novels have been categorized as science fiction, historical fiction, cyberpunk, postcyberpunk, and baroque.


Stephenson's work explores subjects such as mathematics, cryptography, linguistics, philosophy, currency, and the history of science. He also writes non-fiction articles about technology in publications such as Wired. He has also written novels with his uncle, George Jewsbury ("J. Frederick George"), under the collective pseudonym Stephen Bury.


Stephenson has worked part-time as an advisor for Blue Origin, a company (founded by Jeff Bezos) developing a spacecraft and a space launch system, and is also a cofounder of Subutai Corporation, whose first offering is the interactive fiction project The Mongoliad. He is currently Magic Leap's Chief Futurist.


Stephenson at the National Book Festival in 2004



    The Big U (1984)

    Zodiac (1988)

    Snow Crash (1992) – British Science Fiction Association Award nominee, 1993; Clarke Award nominee, 1994[30]

    Interface (1994) with J. Frederick George, as "Stephen Bury"

    The Diamond Age: or A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer (1995) – Hugo and Locus SF Awards winner, 1996; Nebula, Campbell and Clarke Awards nominee, 1996

    The Cobweb (1996) with J. Frederick George, as "Stephen Bury"

    Cryptonomicon (1999)Locus SF Award winner, 2000;Hugo and Clarke Awards nominee, 2000; 2013 Prometheus Hall of Fame Award

    Quicksilver (2003), volume I: The Baroque Cycle – Clarke Award winner, 2004; Locus SF Award nominee, 2004[30]

    The Confusion (2004), volume II: The Baroque Cycle – Locus SF Award winner, 2005

    The System of the World (2004), volume III: The Baroque Cycle – Locus SF Award winner, 2005; Prometheus Award winner, 2005; Clarke Award nominee, 2005

    Anathem (2008) – Locus SF Award winner, 2009; British Science Fiction Association Award nominee, 2008; Hugo and Clarke Awards nominee, 2009

    The Mongoliad (2010–2012)

    Reamde (2011)

    Seveneves (2015) Hugo Award for Best Novel nominee

    The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. (2017) with Nicole Galland

    Fall; or, Dodge in Hell (2019)


Short fiction


    "Spew" (1994), in Hackers (1996)

    "The Great Simoleon Caper" (1995), TIME

    "Excerpt from the Third and Last Volume of Tribes of the Pacific Coast" in Full Spectrum 5 (1995)

    "Jipi and the Paranoid Chip" (1997), Forbes

    "Crunch" (1997), in Disco 2000 (edited by Sarah Champion, 1998) ("Crunch" is a chapter from Cryptonomicon)

    "Atmosphæra Incognita" (2013), in Starship Century: Toward the Grandest Horizon (edited by Gregory Benford and James Benford)


Other fiction projects


    Project Hieroglyph, founded in 2011, administered by Arizona State University's Center for Science and the Imagination since 2012. Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future, ed. Ed Finn and Kathryn Cramer, which includes contributions by Stephenson (preface and chapter "Atmosphæra Incognita"), was published by William Morrow in September, 2014.




    "Smiley's people". 1993.

    "In the Kingdom of Mao Bell". Wired. 1994. "A billion Chinese are using new technology to create the fastest growing economy on the planet. But while the information wants to be free, do they?"

    "Mother Earth Mother Board". Wired. 1996. "In which the Hacker Tourist ventures forth across three continents, telling the story of the business and technology of undersea fiber-optic cables, as well as an account of the laying of the longest wire on Earth."

    "Global Neighborhood Watch". Wired. 1998. Stopping street crime in the global village.

    In the Beginning... Was the Command Line. HarperPerennial. 1999. ISBN 0-380-81593-1.

    "Communication Prosthetics: Threat, or Menace?". Whole Earth Review, Summer 2001.

    "Turn On, Tune In, Veg Out". Op-Ed piece on Star Wars, in The New York Times, June 17, 2005.

    "It's All Geek To Me". Op-Ed piece on the film 300 and geek culture, The New York Times, March 18, 2007.

    "Atoms of Cognition: Metaphysics in the Royal Society 1715–2010," chapter in Seeing Further: The Story of Science and the Royal Society, edited by Bill Bryson. Stephenson discusses the legacy of the rivalry between Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz, November 2, 2010.

    "Space Stasis". Slate. February 2, 2011. "What the strange persistence of rockets can teach us about innovation."

    "Innovation Starvation". World Policy Journal, 2011.

    Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writing. William Morrow. 2012. ISBN 0062024434.


Critical studies, reviews and biography

De Lint, Charles (June 2000). "Review of In the beginning ... was the command line". Books to Look For. F&SF. 98 (6): 39–40. Retrieved February 17, 2016.

Handrahan, Matthew (2015). "Essential Read: Snow Crash". Book Club. SciFiNow. 104: 84–87.


Genre and subject matter


Cryptonomicon is closer to the genres of historical fiction and contemporary techno-thriller than to the science fiction of Stephenson's two previous novels, Snow Crash and The Diamond Age. It features fictionalized characterizations of such historical figures as Alan Turing, Albert Einstein, Douglas MacArthur, Winston Churchill, Isoroku Yamamoto, Karl Dönitz, Hermann Göring, and Ronald Reagan, as well as some highly technical and detailed descriptions of modern cryptography and information security, with discussions of prime numbers, modular arithmetic, and Van Eck phreaking.



According to Stephenson: The title is a play on Necronomicon, the title of a book mentioned in the stories of horror writer H. P. Lovecraft:


    I wanted to give it a title a 17th-century book by a scholar would be likely to have. And that's how I came up with Cryptonomicon. I've heard the word Necronomicon bounced around. I haven't actually read the Lovecraft books, but clearly it's formed by analogy to that.


The novel's Cryptonomicon, described as a "cryptographer's bible", is a fictional book summarizing America's knowledge of cryptography and cryptanalysis. Begun by John Wilkins (the Cryptonomicon is mentioned in Quicksilver) and amended over time by William Friedman, Lawrence Waterhouse, and others, the Cryptonomicon is described by Katherine Hayles as "a kind of Kabala created by a Brotherhood of Code that stretches across centuries. To know its contents is to qualify as a Morlock among the Eloi, and the elite among the elite are those gifted enough actually to contribute to it."



The action takes place in two periods—World War II and the late 1990s, during the Internet boom and Asian financial crisis.


In 1942, Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, a young United States Navy code breaker and mathematical genius, is assigned to the newly formed joint British and American Detachment 2702. This ultra-secret unit's role is to hide the fact that Allied intelligence has cracked the German Enigma code. The detachment stages events, often behind enemy lines, that provide alternative explanations for the Allied intelligence successes. United States Marine sergeant Bobby Shaftoe, a veteran of China and Guadalcanal, serves in unit 2702, carrying out Waterhouse's plans. At the same time, Japanese soldiers, including mining engineer Goto Dengo, a "friendly enemy" of Shaftoe's, are assigned to build a mysterious bunker in the mountains in the Philippines as part of what turns out to be a literal suicide mission.


Circa 1997, Randy Waterhouse (Lawrence's grandson) joins his old role-playing game companion Avi Halaby in a new startup, providing Pinoy-grams (inexpensive, non-real-time video messages) to migrant Filipinos via new fiber-optic cables. The Epiphyte Corporation uses this income stream to fund the creation of a data haven in the nearby fictional Sultanate of Kinakuta. Vietnam veteran Doug Shaftoe, the son of Bobby Shaftoe, and his daughter Amy, do the undersea surveying for the cables and engineering work on the haven, which is overseen by Goto Furudenendu, heir-apparent to Goto Engineering. Complications arise as figures from the past reappear seeking gold or revenge.




Big, complex and ambitious, the new cyber-thriller from the talented author of Snowcrash and The Diamond Age calls to mind Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow in its intense, paranoid evocation of conspiracies and secret histories. Set in part during WWII, Stephenson's novel concerns Lawrence Waterhouse, mathematical genius, a friend of Alan Turing and, like Turing, a code breaker extraordinaire. Assigned to the super-secret Detachment 2702, Waterhouse is instrumental in the Allied plot to keep the Nazis unaware that their fabled Enigma code has been broken. Almost as a sideline, he helps trigger the computer age. Nearly 60 years later, Waterhouse's grandson Randy, a computer hacker with a knack for cryptanalysis, is attempting to create a high-tech data haven in Southeast Asia, only to discover that a variety of governments, multinationals and shadowy secret organizations want a piece of his company's action. Uncovering evidence of a long-dormant conspiracy with its roots partly in his grandfather's work in cryptology, Randy eventually discovers that enormous amounts of war gold are involved, enough not just to make him and his fellow hackers wealthy but to change the entire economy of the planet. This fast-paced, genre-transcending novel is full of absorbing action, witty dialogue and well-drawn characters. Amazingly, it is also, even at its tremendous length, only the first volume in what promises to be one of the most extravagant literary creations of the turn of the millennium--and beyond. Major ad/promo; author tour. (May)

Reviewed on: 01/04/1999

Release date: 01/01/1999

Genre: Fiction

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Book Awards

Prometheus Award

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