brothke writes "Imagine for a moment what his novels would read like if Dan Brown got his facts correct. The challenge Brown and similar authors face is to write a novel that is both compelling and faithful to the facts. In Tetraktys, author Ari Juels is able to weave an interesting and readable story, and stay faithful to the facts. While Brown seemingly lacks the scientific and academic background needed to write such fiction, Juels has a Ph.D. in computer science from Berkeley and is currently the Chief Scientist and director at RSA Laboratories, the research division of RSA Security." Read below for the rest of Ben's review.The book, which might be the world's first cryptographic thriller, tells the story of Ambrose Jerusalem, a gifted computer security expert, still haunted by his father's death, a few months shy of his doctorate, who has a beautiful and loving girlfriend, and a bright future ahead of him. This is until the government gets involved and Jerusalem's plans are put on hold when the NSA asks him to join them to track down a strange and disturbing series of computer breaches.
Tetraktys, like similar thrillers, has its standard set of characters; from corrupt State Department and World Bank officials, a dashing protagonist with a long-suffering girlfriend, to mysterious and obscure terrorist groups. This terrorist group is in the book is comprised of followers of Pythagoras.
As to the title, a tetraktys is a triangular figure of ten points arranged in four rows, with one, two, three, and four points in each row. It is a mystical symbol and was most important to the followers of Pythagoras. While mainly known as the creator of the Pythagorean theorem, Pythagoras of Samos was an influential Greek mathematician and founder of the religious movement of Pythagoreanism. Those wanting more information can watch a video about the symbol.
As to the storyline, the NSA is trying to recruit Ambrose as they feel that the terrorists, who form a secret cult of followers of Pythagoras have broken the RSA public-key algorithm. Breaking RSA is something that is not expected for many decades, but if a revolution in factoring numbers were to occur sooner, RSA's demise could happen that much quicker. And if RSA was indeed broken by the antagonists, it would undermine the security of nearly every government and financial institution worldwide and create utter anarchy.
A good part of the book centers on the cult of Pythagoras. Its followers believe that truth and reality can only be understood via their system of numbers. The NSA needs Jerusalem's assistance as he is one of the few people who have the mathematical, classical and philosophical background to help them. It is he who ultimately connects the dots that the Pythagoreans have left, which leads to the books dramatic conclusion.
The book is a most enjoyable read and one is hard pressed to put it down once they start reading it. The reader gets a good understanding of who Pythagoras was and his worldview via Juels weaving of Pythagorean philosophy into the storyline.
While the book is not autobiographical, there are many similarities between Ambrose Jerusalem and Ari Juels. From identical initials, to their lives in events in Berkeley and Cambridge, to RSA and more.
For a first book of fiction, Tetraktys is a great read. As a novelist, Juels style approaches that of Umberto Eco, in that he weaves numerous areas of thought into an integrated story. Like Eco's works, Tetraktys has an arcane historical figure as part of it storyline, and an intricate plot that takes the reader on many, and some unexpected, turns. While not as complex and difficult to read as Eco, Tetraktys is a remarkable work of fiction for someone with a doctorate in computer science, not literature.
The book though does have some gaps, but that could be expected for a first novel. The reader is never sure what the Pythagoreans are really after or why they have resurfaced, and one of the characters is killed, for reasons that are not apparent. Readers who want more information can visit the Tetraktys web site.
As to the book's protagonist, Ambrose Jerusalem is to Juels what Jack Ryan is to Tom Clancy, meaning that his adventures are just beginning, and that is a good thing.
For those interested in a cryptographic thriller, Tetraktys is an enjoyable read. The book interlaces Greek philosophy, mathematics, and modern crime into a cogent theme that is a compelling read. And if the exploits of Ambrose Jerusalem continue, we may have found the successor to Umberto Eco.
Ben Rothke is the author of Computer Security: 20 Things Every Employee Should Know.
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