Saturday, October 11, 2003

Enoch Root

Those of you that have read Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon will be familiar with Enoch Root, who is either an integral character in the book or a deus-ex-machina plot band-aid depending on your point of view. There is clearly more to that character than meets the eye... he is extraordinarily long-lived, for one, and many of his exploits in the book give us more questions than they answer. It's possible that there is more than one Enoch Root (or people who assume the role of Enoch Root), and it is also possible that Stephenson is just messing with everyone's heads over this.

There's been a discussion going on about the possible interpretations of the ubiquitous Mr. Root, some of which are thought-provoking, and some of which are strangely devoid of rational forethought. Root is the one character that ties together all of the central themes of Cryptonomicon (encryption, gold, secret societies) and it looks like he fills the same role in Quicksilver (explicitly adding alchemy, which embodies within itself the other themes).

However it turns out, these books are great entertainment that has the added grace of introducing complex real-world ideas to the reader... I have at my side a cryptography textbook, Applied Cryptography by Bruce Schneier, which I started studying as a result of the the crypto I was exposed to in Cryptonomicon, as well as The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography, Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government Saving Privacy in the Digital Age, Enigma : The Battle for the Code, The Codebreakers: The Story of Secret Writing, and The Puzzle Palace: A Report on America's Most Secret Agency. Quicksilver promises to take up another couple of months of my time, delving as it does into the lives of Liebnitz, Hooke, Newton, and Wilkins.

I'm not too big on religion, but the Enoch Root story may have some leanings in that direction: the Book of Enoch chronicles the strangeness that occurs when angels assume the form of men. (If you don't know what the Book of Enoch is: it is part of the apocrypha, a number of books that were removed from the Bible by the Council of Laodicea, for political reasons, in 364AD). Enoch was Noah's grandfather, and in the extant bible Jude actually quotes Enoch as scripture... but by decree of a bunch of boring white guys this book, and about 30 others, were removed explicitly to keep people in line... not my interpretation, they actually stated that their purposes were to keep the people in line, keep women even more in line, and keep the Jews the hell away from the line.

Anyway, not since Illuminatus or Foucault's Pendulum have I found a book as engaging as this... hopefully I'll eventually figure out who the hell Enoch Root is, but in the meantime it is entertaining and educational reading.