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Mark’s Technothriller Recommendations: The Cuckoo’s Egg

August 20, 2012 | 6 Comments | Mark Russinovich

My reading is technothriller heavy and has been since I was a teenager. Technothriller is a classification I give  to books with plots driven by current or near future technology and that tightly integrate teaching the reader about the technology or its implications into their story lines. Technothrillers have been my go-to genre because books that entertain me while leaving me feeling smarter are my favorite kind. It’s often said that authors write at least their first novels for themselves, and that’s certainly the case with me and the technothrillers I’m writing.

This post is the first in a series that shares the technothrillers that I consider the best in terms of their use of technology in an engaging story. Each post recommends one book with a few comments about why I liked it. Hopefully you see at least one you haven’t read and can add to your reading list. Let me know what technothrillers you’ve enjoyed by posting a comment.

My first recommendation, The Cuckoo’s Egg by Cliff Stoll, actually isn’t fiction, but the plot is so captivating and well-paced that only the best authors craft stories as good. He published it in 1989 and it’s the first-hand account of how he investigated a $0.75 computer usage accounting discrepancy at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where he worked at the time. That small clue opened a detective case that lead him on a 10-month hunt of a complex cyber espionage scheme aimed at the lab’s government projects and eventually led to the arrest of the criminals. The digital trails lead around the world and only someone with Stoll’s persistence and ingenuity could have cracked the case. We’re lucky that he took the time to document it.

The book is over 20 years old so obviously technologically dated, but that doesn’t detract from the entertainment, and the fundamentals of hacking, malware and cybercrime he presents are the same today as they were then. The Cuckoo’s Egg is a required book for technothriller fans.

After you’ve read The Cuckoo’s Egg, be sure to check out this 1989 Booknotes interview with Stoll about his experience.

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6 responses to “Mark’s Technothriller Recommendations: The Cuckoo’s Egg”

  1. Marc says:

    Great post, will definitely check it out. I’m always looking for new technothrillers as I love the genre too. Some of my favourites are The Blue Nowhere by Jeffrey Deaver, Hard Drive by David Pogue and Daemon by Daniel Suarez (haven’t read the sequel, Freedom, yet).

  2. Matt says:

    I read The Cuckoo’s Egg a long time ago. I agree it is a great story, well told.

    I am looking forward to this series. I am always looking for good book recomendations. There are so many books published and so few worth reading, a good curator is important.

  3. Mark Russinovich says:

    @Marc Definitely read Freedom – you haven’t really finished Daemon until you do 🙂

  4. Paul Harper says:

    The Cuckoo’s Egg is what got me interested in information security. The amazing thing is it is still so relevant. I recommend googling with the keywords ‘taosecurity cuckoo egg’ for a great presentation by Richard Bejtlich on his blog.

    Looking forward to your next book. Although writing is normally an individual affair have you ever considered a partnership with Daniel Suarez? (There have been some great partnerships in science fiction. Think William Gibson and Bruce Sterling with the Difference Engine or Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven with The Mote in God’s Eye.)

  5. L. Reese says:

    Stoll is an excellent story-teller. Tech part aside, he tells one funny story about living in China for a month as an astronomer doing research on ancient Chinese historical records about star positions, etc. He mastered rudimentary Chinese before going, and at one point found himself in a small rural shop trying to ask for a fly-swatter. He called it “a small machine for killing small flying animals” or something like that, and with accompanying charades, managed to communicate the object of his search. Yes, a very good read. Includes his special recipe for chocolate chip cookies. Lovely, eccentric person, is Cliff….

  6. C Reagan says:

    I read Cuckoo’s Egg years ago and it remains one of my most favorite books…just under those by Mark Russinovich of course!

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Mark Russinovich works at Microsoft in the Microsoft Azure product team as Chief Technology Officer. Read more...

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