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Decrypting The Cryptonomicon By Means Of Differential Review Analysis
by Jim Lai


Most reviews directly comment on the work in question. Below we instead use the novel approach of examining the extant reviews of a work in our analysis attempt. In particular, we rely on the customer reviews as supplied on the website of


The work is a lengthy novel by Neil Stephenson. Several of the reviews attest to its page count as being above 900 pages and under 1000 pages. The inconsistency between the reports is probably due to the difference in page count between the actual text and supplementary pages. Some readers found the book too long, while others awaited a sequel. Novel length is ultimately a subjective measure. However, the length appears to have provoked a comparison to Stephen King.

Distant Early Warning

One reviewer gave the entire book a high rating based on the introductory chapters as posted on Neil Stephenson's website for Cryptonomicon. While a risky strategy, this enabled the reviewer to post the first customer review. Another reviewer also gave a high review based upon receiving a copy of the book in a dream, and merely hoped the book would be worthy of the high rating. This was almost immediately followed by a bad review, no doubt based upon similar grounds.

Public Key

Commentary in subsequent reviewed focused on two things: cryptography and the plot. Apparently the novel suffices as an introduction to cryptography, replete with equations and expositions. Aside from perhaps limiting the novel's appeal, this no doubt led to some media reviewers to compare Stephenson to Thomas Pynchon. More about "crypto" in a bit.

The plot itself apparently generated comparisons to Tom Clancy and Clive Cussler, indicating an action-orientation. Allegedly juxtaposed with this are digressions into arcane topics, such as the proper etiquette of eating Captain Crunch cereal.

Judging from the complaints and comments, these two diverging trends server to irritate readers who prefer one or the other, but not both. In addition, the ending appears to be "wrapped up too neatly", "difficult to get through", and "lacking closure". From this we tentatively conclude that the ending involves some plot twists of at least modest complexity.

Conspiracy Theory

Customer reviewers also complained about the number of typographical errors in the final text. Some even speculated that the typos compose an encrypted message. Despite the claim that this was the case by one reviewer, Stephenson has denied this in an interview.


Customer reviews are an unreliable indicator of literary merit. However, collectively they can be a useful indicator of what is arguably wrong with a work, though the severity may remain debatable.

This novel appears to be a curious piece of work, calculated to alienate those who do not want to have to think too hard. Furthermore, the work is subversive. Why? We put forth the hypothesis that the novel is actually intended to popularize and spread knowledge of cryptography to an eager audience of geeks. The writing and plot are but the delivery mechanism, and encryption the payload. Is Stephenson is hacking the readership?



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