Lev Grossman
May 21, 1999 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Neal Stephenson, best known for the 1992 cyberpunk classic Snow Crash, makes a bid for mainstream relevance with this Infinite Jest-size tome. It stars two heroic nerds: Lawrence Waterhouse, a math genius who cracks German and Japanese military codes during World War II, and his grandson, Randy, a programmer struggling to launch a high-tech start-up in Southeast Asia. The two plots are tied together by a lost cache of Japanese war gold, but don’t write off Stephenson’s Cryptonomican as just another fast-paced, find-the-MacGuffin techno-thriller. It’s an engrossing look at the way the flow of information shapes history — as well as a rare glimpse into the soul of the hardcore geek. A

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