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Algebra

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Cryptonomicon

by Alumni Posts on March 5, 2012

in Extracurricular

That’s the name of this book I’m reading, and it’s by this guy named Neal Stephenson. I’m kind of obsessed with it at this point: it’s 1400 pages, and I’ve been reading it for a month, so I’m getting to know these characters pretty well, and I’ll miss them when the book’s over. The reason I’m blogging about it this week is that I’ve been reading it in between (and in place of ) bouts of homework in the evenings, and it’s kind of become my sole focus besides school. It’s just an overall cool book.

It’s a science fiction book, but my (arguably-existent) remaining shred of street-cred is saved by the fact that there are NO ALIENS involved.  The book earns its sci-fi classification because it’s all about cryptology and government intrigue. The story skips back and forth between World War II, where a brilliant mathematician cracks and writes codes for the Allies’ war effort and just chills out with Turing at Bletchley Park, and the mathematician’s  grandson, who, fifty years later, is engaging in some cryptology of his own on a risky business venture, is contacted – well, spied upon – by some of his grandfather’s very old yet dangerous pals and some government officials. Then, Nazi gold is discovered in a sunken submarine by a contractor that’s part of the grandson’s business,  and this blows everything out of proportion as lawsuits start flying. (This is a poor summary.  Read it yourself if you’re interested.)

Why the book’s cool: it explains ideas involved in cryptology and abstract math with narrated proofs that use a lot of symbols and concepts that I’m learning in Algebraic Structures right now, like isomorphism! (Isomorphism, for the ignorant, basically means two sets with similar properties and the same number of elements.) There are also funny proofs, like when one character uses a coordinate plane to split up his grandma’s furniture fairly among his extended family when she moves into an assisted living place, with “emotional value” as the x-axis and “monetary value” as the y-axis.

Right now, the grandson’s in a Filipino jail because someone was “sending him a message” when they planted heroin in his luggage so he’d get caught by customs at the airport. Guess who’s his cellmate? His grandpa’s old pal, the guy who’s been following the grandson. Who knows how it’ll all end???

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