Letters to the Editor: Credibility Deficit

October 13, 2001

To the Editor:

In his review of Neal Stephenson's book Cryptonomicon (SIAM News, May 2001 ), Barry Cipra writes that "Part of the appeal of a techno-thriller is the feeling that all the details are accurate." Cipra then points out some of the author's errors.

I completely agree with Cipra---the author's credibility is crucial. That's why I stopped reading after seeing the following at the top of page 55: "And what if new mathematical techniques are developed that can simplify the factoring of large prime numbers."

There were other errors before this lulu; I'll mention just one here. Referring to information theory, Stephenson writes: "The field had been invented and pretty much encompassed by his friend Alan." The Alan in question here is Alan Turing, and the time is before Pearl Harbor. So Stephenson credits the wrong person with the creation of information theory and errs by roughly a decade.

Joseph F. Traub, Columbia University.

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