Thursday, May 21, 2009


The NY Times compared it favorably to similarly-massive postmodern tomes Mason & Dixon (Pynchon), Underworld (DeLillo) and Infinite Jest (Wallace). Though I've just begun to dig into its meaty 900+ pages, I'm already hooked.

First there was the obviously Pynchonesque* prologue, complete with haiku-composing narrator and absurdist Second World War Shanghai setting. Note the curious symbol on the cover, reminiscent of the muted horn in Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, which appears at the head of each (un-numbered) chapter.
But it was a dialogue on mathematics that really drew me in. I recently completed The Music of the Primes, Marcus du Sautoy's history of Prime Number Theory, specifically the Riemann Hypothesis; Alan Turing and the Riemann Zeta Function make an appearance on page 9 (! trade paperback edition) of Cryptonomicon.

This mixing of fiction with of historical facts and figures** is hardly new, but add to that an intricate plot (or rather multiple interconnected plots), heaps of richly detailed characters, multiple time settings, the fascinating game of crypto, and vocabulary that has me occasionally reaching for a dictionary (not at the level of, say, Umberto Eco, but not bad,) well, this is a recipe I can hardly resist.

A decade has passed since its initial publication, causing me to wonder, What took me so long?

* The further I read, the more I'm reminded of
Gravity's Rainbow. Twenty-some years and several re-readings later, it still ranks among my all-time favorite novels.

** Ronald Reagan! Albert Einstein! Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto!


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