Reading Crypto followed after I had read Steven Levy’s previous works Hackers, Insanely Great and Artificial Life earlier on in my PR career. Along with Fire In The Valley and Accidental Empires, Levy’s books had provided a great insight into the technology industry and the cultural forces behind it.
Crypto is more of the same as the counter-cultural belief systems that begat the Whole Earth Catalog and the Homebrew Computer Club. This viewpoint clashed head on with the security apparatus of the US government. Some of the descriptions around public cryptographic usage like PGP and MailSafe were analogous to what we now call the social graph in terms of issues of personal trust, privacy and differing types of relationships and interactions. The book also makes interesting reading because it takes you back to a time when technology moved forwards in leaps and bounds of public perception.
Its hard now to feel the same excitement about the internet now that we’ve lived with it for the past decade and a half, when I moved into my present house I considered my broadband connection as important as getting the utilities sorted for my move. ADSL was as important as electricity for me. And with that ubiquity, the magic has disappeared.
Levy communicates the principles of modern cryptography well and leads the reader through the myriad events that let to modern cryptography and why it is so important. (Hint: how do you think it is so hard for criminals not to buy things on your credit card once you’ve shopped at Amazon, YesAsia, the iTunes Music Store or Pizza Hut?). More book reviews here.