When I first pulled Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon out of the Amazon box, I was a little intimidated. The book is heavy - physically. I was a little skeptical about the idea of finishing a 1100 page novel, but I’m glad I decided to go for it. This book is well worth the time.
Speaking of time, I could go on a lengthy review but there are better written ones out there, so I won’t waste your’s. I would like to note some neat stuff that I either learned from Cryptonomicon or subjects that I became interested in as a direct result of reading it.
Van Eck phreaking actually exists
Van Eck phreaking is the process of gathering information on the contents of a screen by detecting it’s electromagnetic emissions. It doesn’t sound easy, but there have been several proof of concepts - one of which was performed in a vehicle parked across the street from a house containing an LCD monitor. Beware of creepy vans.
WWII era submarines were pretty cool
I suppose my mental image of submarines was always that of the cold war stealthy black nuclear cucumbers that rarely surfaced. Far from the truth. The first submarines actually looked more like boats and spent most of their time on the surface - diving when necessary in order to evade enemies or attack them. 1,155 German U-Boats were put into combat and 725 were sunk equaling a death rate of 82% - the highest death rate of any armed forces in modern war. Yet they were also extremely effective, at least initially. Over the course of the war, German U-Boats sunk over 2,900 allied ships.
Remember the Pacific theater?
History class and pop culture about World War II seems very Euro-centric. My knowledge of what went down in the Asia-Pacific was pretty pathetic. Douglas MacArthur was a total badass, as were many Filipinos. The Japanese did atrocious things during the war and in many ways they were worse than the Nazis. I finally understand the argument for using The Bomb against Japan. With the way the Japanese fought relentlessly to the death in every way (surrender really wasn’t an option) a mainland invasion of Japan really would have been horrendous. Whether it would have been worse than the appalling use of nuclear weapons is still unclear to me.
Codebreakers won the war
If you haven’t read about Bletchy Park and the Enigma machine you owe it to yourself. I became familiar with both during my previous read but I enjoyed some of the fanfare that Stephenson concocted for Cryptonomicon regarding the amazing contribution of the cryptanalysts at Bletchy Park to the Allies’ eventual victory.
All in all a great read about Nerds in World War II and their nerdy offspring in the 90s. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in math, cryptography and history.