philosophy at age eight

“If you cannot control your peanut butter, you cannot expect to control your life.”
~ Judah-ism

Thursday, March 17, 2011

cryptonomicon by neal stephenson (book review)

by Neal Stephenson
For more reviews, check out
Another amazing book from Neal Stephenson, with the usual emphasis on "mathematics" yet again from another interesting angle... encryption and code-breaking.

Now I'm the first to tell you I "hate math." I passed it in school, sure, but without passion. This guy has that burning passion in spades. What Stephenson's books do for me--among other things--is reintroduce math in all its complicated glory, each book a presentation of a different branch on the same theme. The framework (mathematics) is the same, the same ol' ho-hum. But in each book, he'll take you down a different path that leads to something fascinating and only recognizable to a fellow mathematician as its original form. And I have no trouble finding these diverging paths absolutely fascinating.

All this, astonishingly enough, written in such simple, straight-forward language that even a newbie like me has no problem following. Stephenson's really got a way with words. I find it kind of unfair how much talent he has in both sciences and language. I never realized this about myself before, but apparently I subconsciously believe a person should only excel in one of those areas, and I'm a jealous, jealous bitch. Ahem. (This is also where I'll brag that he lives in Seattle, which, ya know, goes to say something.  About something. Like, Seattlites are all arrogant snobs.)

Anyway. True to form, Stephenson uses that branch (in the case of Cryptonomicon, encryption) as a means to explore the effects it's had on society and history (or, like his other book titled The Diamond Age, the future). Usually in a meandering way... but always exploring so many concepts page by page that even though the story is complicated, difficult, sometimes a little boring*... you still don't want to miss out on the next concept he's going to open up for you. Like a school textbook you actually want to read.

*And to that, I want to add as a caveat that I am very much a character-driven reader, when it comes to fiction. I don't recommend Neal Stephenson as a character-writer; his characters are very much vehicles for expressing ideas that interest him intensely, and sometimes they just get in the way and he has to kill them off. It's a fascinating process to watch, but tends to leave me unable to really identify with, or willing to invest myself emotionally in, any of his characters. I believe this is the root of my "difficult, a little boring" description, and not that the story is slow-paced. It's not.

This sounds like a less-than-glowing review for fiction readers, but it's really not. I highly, highly recommend Neal Stephenson books for everyone. I think you'll like them no matter your reading preference, from memoirs to history to fiction to non-fiction sciences... it's all there. All you need is... time. Lots of it.

No comments: