The Code Book by Simon Singh
This is another book that I put on my paperbackswap wish list and promptly forgot why. But the wish list did not fail me, as I found it a very enjoyable read. Essentially this book is a description of the evolution of cryptography from ancient times to the present, and projections into the future. I had steeled myself for a rather academic read, but found it not a dry recitation of crypto methodology, but rather interesting information artfully intertwined and backed up with real stories where cryptography and cryptanalysis have played a major, sometimes life or death, role.
As I was reading it, I noticed a lot of stories and events that were integral to the book Cryptonomicon. In fact, I think that a WWII event mentioned in The Code Book was fictionalized as a faked event in Cryptonomicon… I want to check that out.
Also, Cryptonomicon gets its name from a non-existent bible of cryptography said to have been created a long time ago and added to over the decades. In The Code Book, it is said that Charles Babbage started work on such a book in the early 1800’s, but got distracted and never finished it. I’m wondering if Stephenson hypothesized that Babbage or a successor finished that book. I need to go back and check.
All of which is to say that I would not have been the least surprised if Stephenson had read The Code Book, except for the fact that both books were published in the same year (1999). Then again, if two people are researching cryptography, it’s fairly likely they’ll get the same data.
One neat bit is that at the end of The Code Book the author presents a contest (for prize money) that was to end in 2010, a series of 10 progressively difficult cryptographic puzzles. The solutions to all 10 were found by some Swedish scientists in 13 months.