Cryptonomicon (Neal Stephenson) - Avon Books - 1999 - 918 pages

This is the book that answers the question: "What happened to Hitler's gold?"  Author Stephenson tells the historical mystery by following numerous mostly disjoint stories from World War II and slowly merges them into one in present time (1998).  Along the way, he cannot help but explain how everything works and does it in the most entertaining manner.  We welcome the side trips that offer a generic business plan (pages 238-240), a brief description of how the body works (page 316), and the three types of men as observed by a hardcore marine (page 372).  The WWII code-breakers play major roles in the story but most of the action occurs in the Philippines.  The protagonist sums this part of the world in one sentence: "Pursuing an explanation for every strange thing you see in the Philippines is like trying to get every last bit of rainwater out of a discarded tire."  War is hell and WWII was an awful war.  The unusual Germany/Japan alliance is perfectly illustrated in this novel.  The author takes us on a wild ride that keeps us in suspense to the end.  Stephenson is truly one of the most accomplished authors of our time.  [JAM 11/30/2015]