Thursday, November 10, 2011


CryptoCrypto by Steven Levy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Steven Levy has an amazing talent for taking complicated, technical material and turning into engaging narrative.

I'm not particularly interested in cryptography, but knowing that Levy was interested enough to write a book about it prompted me to pick up Crypto and give it a try.

Not only does he manage to take a complex issue and break it down into (mostly) easy-to-follow language, but the he weaves a story that's not really about codes, cyphers, or security, It's about people -- as all of the best stories are.

Levy brings the people behind the story to life, and lets you know what makes them tick, and that's what makes Crypto fun to read. Incidentally, you end up learning a bit about codes, cyphers, security, and more along the way.

It's also fascinating to see how a small group of people in the 1970s envisioned a future with eCommerce, online bankings, electronic mail and other digital transactions we now take for granted. At the time there was little hard evidence that cryptography had any real use outside of national defense or games.

That said... the story Levy tells unfolds over the course of 30 years, so there are a *lot* of people to get to know over the course of this book's 350 or so pages. While that might not sound like a lot of pages, the book feels longer than it is, because every chapter or two you find yourself starting a new story -- and I sometimes found myself struggling to remember some important detail or person that had been introduced several chapters back when it became important again later.

I'm not sure there would have been a better way to structure things... Crypto is a complicated topic with a complicated history. But while I enjoyed reading this book, I'm not sure I'll want to read it again anytime soon.

Still, it's a compelling enough read that I look forward to picking up another Steven Levy book soon.

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