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The magnificent, unrivaled history of codes and ciphers—how they're made, how they're broken, and the many and fascinating roles they've played since the dawn of civilization in war, business, diplomacy, and espionage—updated with a new chapter on computer cryptography and the Ultra secret. Man has created codes to keep secrets and has broken codes to learn those secrets si The magnificent, unrivaled history of codes and ciphers—how they're made, how they're broken, and the many and fascinating roles they've played since the dawn of civilization in war, business, diplomacy, and espionage—updated with a new chapter on computer cryptography and the Ultra secret. Man has created codes to keep secrets and has broken codes to learn those secrets since the time of the Pharaohs. For 4,000 years, fierce battles have been waged between codemakers and codebreakers, and the story of these battles is civilization's secret history, the hidden account of how wars were won and lost, diplomatic intrigues foiled, business secrets stolen, governments ruined, computers hacked. From the XYZ Affair to the Dreyfus Affair, from the Gallic War to the Persian Gulf, from Druidic runes and the kaballah to outer space, from the Zimmermann telegram to Enigma to the Manhattan Project, codebreaking has shaped the course of human events to an extent beyond any easy reckoning. Once a government monopoly, cryptology today touches everybody. It secures the Internet, keeps e-mail private, maintains the integrity of cash machine transactions, and scrambles TV signals on unpaid-for channels. David Kahn's The Codebreakers takes the measure of what codes and codebreaking have meant in human history in a single comprehensive account, astonishing in its scope and enthralling in its execution. Hailed upon first publication as a book likely to become the definitive work of its kind, The Codebreakers has more than lived up to that prediction: it remains unsurpassed. With a brilliant new chapter that makes use of previously classified documents to bring the book thoroughly up to date, and to explore the myriad ways computer codes and their hackers are changing all of our lives, The Codebreakers is the skeleton key to a thousand thrilling true stories of intrigue, mystery, and adventure. It is a masterpiece of the historian's art.


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The magnificent, unrivaled history of codes and ciphers—how they're made, how they're broken, and the many and fascinating roles they've played since the dawn of civilization in war, business, diplomacy, and espionage—updated with a new chapter on computer cryptography and the Ultra secret. Man has created codes to keep secrets and has broken codes to learn those secrets si The magnificent, unrivaled history of codes and ciphers—how they're made, how they're broken, and the many and fascinating roles they've played since the dawn of civilization in war, business, diplomacy, and espionage—updated with a new chapter on computer cryptography and the Ultra secret. Man has created codes to keep secrets and has broken codes to learn those secrets since the time of the Pharaohs. For 4,000 years, fierce battles have been waged between codemakers and codebreakers, and the story of these battles is civilization's secret history, the hidden account of how wars were won and lost, diplomatic intrigues foiled, business secrets stolen, governments ruined, computers hacked. From the XYZ Affair to the Dreyfus Affair, from the Gallic War to the Persian Gulf, from Druidic runes and the kaballah to outer space, from the Zimmermann telegram to Enigma to the Manhattan Project, codebreaking has shaped the course of human events to an extent beyond any easy reckoning. Once a government monopoly, cryptology today touches everybody. It secures the Internet, keeps e-mail private, maintains the integrity of cash machine transactions, and scrambles TV signals on unpaid-for channels. David Kahn's The Codebreakers takes the measure of what codes and codebreaking have meant in human history in a single comprehensive account, astonishing in its scope and enthralling in its execution. Hailed upon first publication as a book likely to become the definitive work of its kind, The Codebreakers has more than lived up to that prediction: it remains unsurpassed. With a brilliant new chapter that makes use of previously classified documents to bring the book thoroughly up to date, and to explore the myriad ways computer codes and their hackers are changing all of our lives, The Codebreakers is the skeleton key to a thousand thrilling true stories of intrigue, mystery, and adventure. It is a masterpiece of the historian's art.

30 review for The Codebreakers: The Comprehensive History of Secret Communication from Ancient Times to the Internet

  1. 5 out of 5

    ☘Misericordia☘ ~ The Serendipity Aegis ~ ⚡ϟ⚡ϟ⚡⛈ ✺❂❤❣

    Q: ...Zimmermann telegram... It would not require much wit for the Americans to surmise that England might also be supervising the code telegrams of another neutral: the United States, which, like Sweden, was working as a messenger boy for the Germans and had, in fact, transmitted this very message. This realization would both embarrass and anger the United States and would not conduce to pro-Allied feelings. ... Suddenly, Americans in the middle of the continent who could not get excited about t Q: ...Zimmermann telegram... It would not require much wit for the Americans to surmise that England might also be supervising the code telegrams of another neutral: the United States, which, like Sweden, was working as a messenger boy for the Germans and had, in fact, transmitted this very message. This realization would both embarrass and anger the United States and would not conduce to pro-Allied feelings. ... Suddenly, Americans in the middle of the continent who could not get excited about the distant poppings of a European war jerked awake in the realization that the war was at their border. Texans blinked in astonishment: the Germans meant to give away their state! The Midwest, unmoved because untouched by the submarine issue, imagined a German-officered army crossing the Rio Grande and swung over to the side of the Allies. The Far West blew up like a land mine at the mention of Japan ... And so it came about that Room 40’s solution of an enemy message helped propel the United States into the First World War, enabling the Allies to win, and into world leadership, with all that that has entailed. No other single cryptanalysis has had such enormous consequences. Never before or since has so much turned upon the solution of a secret message. For those few moments in time, the codebreakers held history in the palm of their hand. (c) Q: This kind of work, particularly in the early stages of a difficult cryptanalysis, is perhaps the most excruciating, exasperating, agonizing mental process known to man. (c) Q: since military operations are usually accompanied by an increase in communications, traffic analysis can infer the imminence of such operations by watching the volume of traffic. When combined with direction-finding, it can often approximate the where and when of a planned movement. (c) Q: The solution had taken a terrific toll. The restless turning of the mind tormented by a puzzle, the preoccupation at meals, the insomnia, the sudden wakening at midnight, the pressure to succeed because failure could have national consequences, the despair of the long weeks when the problem seemed insoluble, the repeated dashings of uplifted hopes, the mental shocks, the tension and the frustration and the urgency and the secrecy all converged and hammered furiously upon his skull. (c) Q: the use of atbash in the Bible sensitized the monks and scribes of the Middle Ages to the idea of letter substitution. And from them flowed the modern use of ciphers—as distinct from codes—as a means of secret communication. (c) Q: The secret police... It gathers external intelligence as well as guarding internal security. It thus encompasses the functions of a C.I.A. as well as an F.B.I. This seemingly unusual situation began under the czars, when revolutionary agents were very numerous outside Russia. (c) Q: Yardley nearly suffered a nervous breakdown, and in February went to Arizona for four months to recover his health. Several of his assistants had already had trouble in this regard. One babbled incoherently; a girl dreamed of chasing around the bedroom a bulldog that, when caught, had “code” written on its side; another could lighten the enormous sack of pebbles that she carried in a recurring nightmare only by finding a stone along a lonely beach that exactly matched one of her pebbles, which she could then cast into the sea. All three resigned. (c) Q: This cipher is absolutely undecipherable. (c) Q: One letter containing knitting instructions was held up long enough for an examiner to knit a sweater to see if the given sequence of knit two and cast off contained a hidden message like that of Madame Defarge, who knitted into her “shrouds” the names of further enemies of the French Republic, “whose lives the guillotine then surely swallowed up.” A stamp bank was maintained at each censorship station; examiners removed loose stamps, which might spell out a code message, and replaced them with others of equal value, but of different number and denomination. Blank paper, often sent from the United States to relatives in paper-short countries, was similarly replaced from a paper bank to obviate secret-ink transmissions. Childish scrawls, sent from proud parents to proud grandparents, were removed because of the possibility of their covering a map. Even lovers’ X’s, meant as kisses, were heartlessly deleted if censors thought they might be a code. (c)

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ollivier

    The definitive book on the history of cryptography. Although even with this revised edition, the modern cryptography is clearly not the focus of this book, Bruce Schneier is probabbly better for this. If you are looking for a different view on several historical events, one focused on cryptography, this book is for you. Awesome barely described it for me. I read a cut-down translated version of the 1967 edition and reading this revised version was like rediscovering the book itself.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Rod Van Meter

    What a tome! I feel like I just finished the Bible. It's a good fraction as long and covers an even bigger fraction of human history. Took me six weeks of pretty steady reading (and getting an upper body workout just carrying around the hardback library copy). It's pretty much four books in one -- classical secrets; codes in the era of telegraphs and WWI wireless; WWII and the Cold War; and miscellanea including rum runners and the like. (I gotta say, I wasn't expecting the decoding of Linear B What a tome! I feel like I just finished the Bible. It's a good fraction as long and covers an even bigger fraction of human history. Took me six weeks of pretty steady reading (and getting an upper body workout just carrying around the hardback library copy). It's pretty much four books in one -- classical secrets; codes in the era of telegraphs and WWI wireless; WWII and the Cold War; and miscellanea including rum runners and the like. (I gotta say, I wasn't expecting the decoding of Linear B script, talking to dolphins and communicating with aliens to arise in a book on cryptography, but they fit and I enjoyed them, even if modern thinking has evolved a bit (and the Mayan script decoded) since the book was written.) The original edition is 1966, and the updated 1996 edition consists essentially of only a single, short chapter tacked onto the end, so it inhabits almost entirely the pre-electronic, pre-binary age. This colors Kahn's entire way of viewing the importance of various topics. At my age, we tend to think almost entirely in terms of encryption of digital data, whereas of course much of the work prior to 1960 centered on manual encoding and the application of tremendous brainpower to solving codes. I learned a lot about the science and its evolution, of course, including the distinction between codes and ciphers (though I'm still not sure I could distinguish a nomenclator from a two-part code if you handed them to me). Basically, codes are secret, often shorthand numbers for names or phrases ("1121" = "invade Egypt on Thursday"), whereas ciphers ignore structure and operate on letters (or, later, bits). But the book goes much farther than the evolution of ideas, focusing on people, historical context, and events. We learn much about how the Union read Confederate telegraph messages but not vice-versa, about the political repercussions of Yardley's disclosures of the codes the Americans read during WWI, how "practical cryptanalysis" (stealing code books) worked, how hard creating, distributing and protecting code is, how the U.S. confirmed Midway as the Japanese target, and how the Allies worked so hard to keep secret what they knew, to prevent the codes from changing. (This last item forms much of the basis for the plot of Cryptonomicon, which certainly rivals this book in length.) The bits on secret inks and Cold War microfilms are.interesting. The latter stands in stark contrast to Tolkachev, the CIA's billion dollar Soviet spy, just handing over bags of 35mm film. Importantly, it was originally written before the disclosure of Ultra, so the extensive Enigma history in the middle part could really use to be revised more extensively than it was. Turing and the Polish contribution to cracking Enigma deserve a little more, for sure. But it's also pre-DES, pre-public key, and pre-Internet, except for a few pages at the end. Of course, books covering the modern era abound, as well, so it's easy to pick up the missing bits. As a book now more than fifty years old, it also shows its age and how much it was a product of its era. It comes across often as patronizing toward the Japanese, all women are "girls", and homosexuality was scandalous (Kahn uses pejoratives I won't repeat here). So, read it, but be prepared for a shock or two, and use them as teaching moments, if you're sharing the book with someone. Overall, this was *well* worth the six weeks I invested in reading it, during which I read almost nothing else for pleasure and not even many other things for work. (For me, this sits right at the boundary of the two.) Highly recommended.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Arthur Sperry

    This is a very interesting and detailed book about cryptography and the cryptographers who have worked with codes and code breaking over the years. I loved the level of detail and the many fascinating anecdotes that are included.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Vagabond of Letters, DLitt

    A definitive history of pre-computer cryptography (nothing newer than the Enigma is covered, but the 'deciphering' of lost languages is) which has no theory or practice - it is history of the people and events alone. Writing is somewhat dry. Tarnished additionally by entire paragraphs being sprinkled through the work for no other purpose than to impugn the Bible as 'com[ing] from the merely human minds of a pagan civilization' (p. 914) which 'held the world in bondage to superstition' (p. 913) a A definitive history of pre-computer cryptography (nothing newer than the Enigma is covered, but the 'deciphering' of lost languages is) which has no theory or practice - it is history of the people and events alone. Writing is somewhat dry. Tarnished additionally by entire paragraphs being sprinkled through the work for no other purpose than to impugn the Bible as 'com[ing] from the merely human minds of a pagan civilization' (p. 914) which 'held the world in bondage to superstition' (p. 913) as long as people believed it, a view which was 'disproved by the discovery of the Epic of Gilgamesh' (p. 914), followed by a list of half a dozen 'plagiarisms' from that work in the Bible, to innumerable other, similar digs, including a discourse on communication with space aliens (according to the author, unfamiliar with Fermi, they're DEFINITELY out there) which have no place in an ostensibly scholarly work on a completely unrelated subject. Minus one star for both of the above, and dated and becoming more so (nothing on modern ciphers or their inventors, except for a brief mention of Rivest, Shamir, and Adleman in one sentence on p. 987) this would better be entitled 'A History of Cryptographers and Codebreakers to 1959'. Three stars. Two if you're interested in the cryptography or modern ciphers. Read Schneier, 'Applied Cryptography', Ferguson, 'Cryptographic Engineering', or Anderson, 'Security Engineering' instead. Singh's 'The Code Book' is much more recent history which gives computers more than a four-page appendix if you can do without the tedious, 70 pages of detail regarding the precise organizations and reorganizations of the eleven German intelligence divisions from 1933-1945. (Pre-Nov 2018 review)

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    I read this book a a few years ago. It's fairly long and in places very technical. Translation: lot's of long and good examples of various codes and ciphers. It also clarified the distinction between a "code" and a "cipher", which i f you are like me, you probably thought were the same thing. Because of it's comprehensiveness and length, it's a somewhat "daunting" book to start, but the author knows his topic, writes well, and includes lots of interesting samples and uses of both codes and cipher I read this book a a few years ago. It's fairly long and in places very technical. Translation: lot's of long and good examples of various codes and ciphers. It also clarified the distinction between a "code" and a "cipher", which i f you are like me, you probably thought were the same thing. Because of it's comprehensiveness and length, it's a somewhat "daunting" book to start, but the author knows his topic, writes well, and includes lots of interesting samples and uses of both codes and ciphers. There is another similarly-titled book that was first published only a decade ago (versus several wars) which may cover much of the same ground, but in less depth. I strongly recommend this book if you have ever wondered about how these things work and want a full history of the topic. I'm sure there are shorter, more focused books on specific methods and trends, but if you want a book that covers it all, read this one. Then, you too can follow it up on a book about the NSA!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Rishabh Jain

    This is a good book. However, I just felt that I had conceived it to be a different kind of book in my mind. I expected more technical information and novel applications. While the book does contain that, it's more so an account of major instances where cryptology played an integral part, something that the book did promise to do. It highlights key moments relevant to cryptology across the ages, has a fascinating account of the tales and the way situations revolving around key cryptologic breakt This is a good book. However, I just felt that I had conceived it to be a different kind of book in my mind. I expected more technical information and novel applications. While the book does contain that, it's more so an account of major instances where cryptology played an integral part, something that the book did promise to do. It highlights key moments relevant to cryptology across the ages, has a fascinating account of the tales and the way situations revolving around key cryptologic breakthroughs evolved, and at times gets very interesting. However, for me personally, this book lacked a bit of direction. It may not be the case of someone else, but I really felt things proceeding much more in a chronological manner rather than an inherently progressive manner. Also, some parts of the book simple felt irrelevant at times. Owing to these causes, I feel just a tad bit detected with this book. But who knows, maybe I'll come back to this book some time later, and enjoy it as a challenging fictional piece rather than as a technical recollection.

  8. 5 out of 5

    William Schram

    A very comprehensive history of hidden writing, codes, ciphers and other such things. It goes pretty well into depth with how it describes ancient codes and ciphers, how new ones were made and how they were then broken. It doesn't cover internet security or anything, since this edition of this book was published in 1967. So it is still in the midst of the Cold War. Interestingly, most code breaking was done by linguists and language experts, but that eventually turned into mathematicians. It doesn A very comprehensive history of hidden writing, codes, ciphers and other such things. It goes pretty well into depth with how it describes ancient codes and ciphers, how new ones were made and how they were then broken. It doesn't cover internet security or anything, since this edition of this book was published in 1967. So it is still in the midst of the Cold War. Interestingly, most code breaking was done by linguists and language experts, but that eventually turned into mathematicians. It doesn't talk about Alan Turing, since at the time of this book being published, it was classified, or at least I think it was. Anyway, a wonderful tome on how people tried to keep their messages secret.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Bernie

    This book is a must read for describing the evolution of secret intelligence gathering and codebreaking in practice throughout the world. The art form of applying cryptology, and its counter part cyber security is carefully and simply explained. A true classic in the field. Endorsed by thousands of professionals. Over eleven hundred pages of brilliant writings

  10. 5 out of 5

    Richard Bean

    Very comprehensive account of cryptology up to about the mid 1960s. Of course it doesn't cover, say, public key cryptography or explain the Crypto AG story, and some of the remarks about homosexuality are very dated now; but it has great technical detail. One quibble is that the Wheatstone cipher (1854 document) is not explained in the text at all.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Tommy

    Not absolutely thorough (obviously much has been written on the NSA since this) and some details can be nitpicked at but this is definitely essential for anyone thinking about the history of espionage and the various esoteric arts of secrecy. James Joyce is even brought in!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kaspars Laizans

    A wonderful insight on cryptanalysis and its influence on human history, especially during World Wars. An interesting siurce of trivia on hidden side of political decisionmaking

  13. 5 out of 5

    Torpor

    My college cryptography class wasn't this good. It dives deep yet remains compelling.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    Read sample only. Very interesting, but 1200 pages is too much for right now

  15. 5 out of 5

    Josh N.

    Fairly standard and anecdotal crypto history overview without the interest of Simon Singh's take on the same topic. I guess it's ok if you haven't seen anything else, but many better books out there

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sean

    This is too big a book to review comprehensively so I'll restrict myself to dot points: * Every serious book on cryptography cites it, except the ones written before. This is not an accident. * No one is going to attempt a detailed history of cryptology (notice the different word) like this for a very long time. Although I'm sure parts of it need updating as archaeology and historians break new ground, that's going to be a job few will be up for. We know a lot more about WW2 cryptology for instanc This is too big a book to review comprehensively so I'll restrict myself to dot points: * Every serious book on cryptography cites it, except the ones written before. This is not an accident. * No one is going to attempt a detailed history of cryptology (notice the different word) like this for a very long time. Although I'm sure parts of it need updating as archaeology and historians break new ground, that's going to be a job few will be up for. We know a lot more about WW2 cryptology for instance, and the updated version which I own doesn't even scratch the surface of modern cryptology. You will need Schneier for that. Historical cryptology is a far more difficult nut to crack. * Kahn pays attention to the needs of the cryptographer, not simply the technique or technology. You would be hard pressed to find a better encapsulation of WWI cryptographic issues or the vital part that Friedmann and his amazing wife Elizabeth played in Prohibition and what that taught them. * More than that, it is extremely readable (and often funny), more than HF Gaines classic Cryptanalysis: A Study of Ciphers and Their Solution, which is for serious nerds only! It is probably the biggest book I own but worth it. You never know when you'll need to refer to it.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ed Terrell

    The analyses of codes started at time immemorial. The Codebreakers is encyclopedic if not complete and Khan's knowledge is both thorough and entertaining. He is not the first to point out that the greatest codes ever made can and have been brought to their knees through persistence, good luck, and very often the ability to capitalize on human foibles. Solving ciphers is a mix of sweat and inspiration; creating them a remarkable affirmation of human ingenuity. Cryptography is essentially a mathem The analyses of codes started at time immemorial. The Codebreakers is encyclopedic if not complete and Khan's knowledge is both thorough and entertaining. He is not the first to point out that the greatest codes ever made can and have been brought to their knees through persistence, good luck, and very often the ability to capitalize on human foibles. Solving ciphers is a mix of sweat and inspiration; creating them a remarkable affirmation of human ingenuity. Cryptography is essentially a mathematical undertaking as in y = mx+b. Code breaking involves both deductive and inductive reasoning, starting with analysis, hypothesis, prediction and finally ending in verification or refutation. The book is an interesting mix of both history and technique The book is a treatise and at 1000 pages covers some of everything.The Notes section is as additional 200 pages and I confess to skipping over large sections not because they were inherently less interesting but I do have a life! From Vigenere's archetypal system of polyalphabetic substitution to one time pads and microdots, the book traces the development of codes into the highly complex and asymmetric forms of D.E.S. and R.S.A that we have today. A great read.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    The book is comprehensive. At times boring, at times fascinating, it gives an in depth look at codes and code breaking through history. The book was published in the 1960s so the WWII coverage is lacking especially in regards to Ultra (this may have been corrected in a later edition) and the latest chapters chronologically, especially the one on the NSA should be 10 pages long, not the 30-40 that they are. In addition the author has a very triumphal tone with an Anglo-centric stance periodically The book is comprehensive. At times boring, at times fascinating, it gives an in depth look at codes and code breaking through history. The book was published in the 1960s so the WWII coverage is lacking especially in regards to Ultra (this may have been corrected in a later edition) and the latest chapters chronologically, especially the one on the NSA should be 10 pages long, not the 30-40 that they are. In addition the author has a very triumphal tone with an Anglo-centric stance periodically that is particularly grating. Outside these issues the book is quite good at laying out both the nitty gritty of the codes themselves, the people that invented and cracked them, and their impact through history. The last few chapters are not specifically about code breaking, covering among other things translations of lost languages and code breaking in literature. They are however interesting in and of themselves. Worth reading unless and until someone comes out with a new, better written historical survey.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Dylan

    There is some weaving between storytelling and record keeping in this compendium that makes some of it harder to read, but it is packed full of fascinating stories, cryptography, and characters. I was distracted by frequent sexist stereotypes, but important female historical figures seemed to get pretty good coverage in spite of any cultural bias against them. The end is rushed compared to the rest, and the declaration that cryptography has come to close with RSA and other public key encryption There is some weaving between storytelling and record keeping in this compendium that makes some of it harder to read, but it is packed full of fascinating stories, cryptography, and characters. I was distracted by frequent sexist stereotypes, but important female historical figures seemed to get pretty good coverage in spite of any cultural bias against them. The end is rushed compared to the rest, and the declaration that cryptography has come to close with RSA and other public key encryption uncharacteristically rash. These are small flaws in a tremendous undertaking that I've not seen the likes of on other subjects. The kindle edition is readable but could be much improved. The illustrations can't be examined closely enough (on the e-ink kindle at least), which is disappointing. Much more thorough cross referencing should be possible as well.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kyle

    This book contains some fascinating material. The opeining chapter is particularly gripping, dealing with the decryption of the Japanese diplomatic service's codes and ciphers during the run up to Pearl Harbor. The main plotline of the book follows the development of cryptology from antiquity up to the mid 1950's. The parts of this covering about 1300-1940 are very good. Unfortunately, the beginning deals with some very arcane topics, like Hebrew lyrical poetry. The last few chapters are very da This book contains some fascinating material. The opeining chapter is particularly gripping, dealing with the decryption of the Japanese diplomatic service's codes and ciphers during the run up to Pearl Harbor. The main plotline of the book follows the development of cryptology from antiquity up to the mid 1950's. The parts of this covering about 1300-1940 are very good. Unfortunately, the beginning deals with some very arcane topics, like Hebrew lyrical poetry. The last few chapters are very dated as well. Additionally, Kahn takes a number of excursions from the main sequence of the book, most of which are distracting. In all, a good (expensive) book, but one to be read a bit selectively.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Vasil Kolev

    A comprehensive book on the history of cryptography and cryptanalysis, from the earliest known cases up to somewhat the second world war. It's really dated by now, there's a lot of stuff that has shown in the meantime, and some parts of the history are almost glossed over (for example, there's just a small bit about Alan Turing, which is unexcusable). There's also a big problem with the flow of the book, as the same period is repeated again later, and not from an entirely different point of view A comprehensive book on the history of cryptography and cryptanalysis, from the earliest known cases up to somewhat the second world war. It's really dated by now, there's a lot of stuff that has shown in the meantime, and some parts of the history are almost glossed over (for example, there's just a small bit about Alan Turing, which is unexcusable). There's also a big problem with the flow of the book, as the same period is repeated again later, and not from an entirely different point of view, e.g. it would've been a lot better for the book to have a fully linear time line. The chapter on the Russian cryptography is also very bad and needs a good update. The chapter on the NSA also needs a lot of updates, and half of the time it sounds like an advertisement for them.

  22. 4 out of 5

    John Bickelhaupt

    Kahn wrote "The Codebreakers" in the 1960's. An update was added, I believe in the 90's, that discusses the entry of cryptography into the public sphere, largely because of the Internet, but this new section is short, comprising less than twenty pages. Information concerning British and American decoding of German and Japanese communication during World War II that has been declassified since the original edition has not been added. Despite all these drawbacks, this is still the best history of Kahn wrote "The Codebreakers" in the 1960's. An update was added, I believe in the 90's, that discusses the entry of cryptography into the public sphere, largely because of the Internet, but this new section is short, comprising less than twenty pages. Information concerning British and American decoding of German and Japanese communication during World War II that has been declassified since the original edition has not been added. Despite all these drawbacks, this is still the best history of codes and code breaking available. The explanations of the generation of codes and the methodologies used to break them have still not been equaled in other texts.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Marne Wilson

    I spent a whole summer reading this book when I was laid up in bed with a bum ankle and a heating pad. Besides telling more than I ever thought there was to know about the history of secret communications, it also taught me a lesson on how to write something both scholarly and entertaining. When I was in library school, my professors often told me that my papers were not just well-researched, but also very readable. (One called my 15-page tome on the history of the Copyright Clearance Center "a I spent a whole summer reading this book when I was laid up in bed with a bum ankle and a heating pad. Besides telling more than I ever thought there was to know about the history of secret communications, it also taught me a lesson on how to write something both scholarly and entertaining. When I was in library school, my professors often told me that my papers were not just well-researched, but also very readable. (One called my 15-page tome on the history of the Copyright Clearance Center "a real page-turner"!) I think I owe the credit for that entirely to this book and David Kahn, who managed to make 1200 pages fly by and leave me wishing for more in the end.

  24. 5 out of 5

    BarbaraNathalie

    I find codes fascinating, and this complete overview is mind boggling to someone like me. Still it amazes me that individuals who are remarkable at deciphering codes exist. Their minds must be advanced beyond anything I can comprehend. As I repeat myself, I am reminded that the whole thrust of breaking a code would convolute my brain and give me an extreme headache just for the attempt. Bravo to anyone who can do it, and this book is highly recommended to anyone who finds the mystery of hidden w I find codes fascinating, and this complete overview is mind boggling to someone like me. Still it amazes me that individuals who are remarkable at deciphering codes exist. Their minds must be advanced beyond anything I can comprehend. As I repeat myself, I am reminded that the whole thrust of breaking a code would convolute my brain and give me an extreme headache just for the attempt. Bravo to anyone who can do it, and this book is highly recommended to anyone who finds the mystery of hidden words intriguing.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    A hefty but good read. It's sometimes a bit dry, but still manages to be very interesting. I would mention that the "updated version" is barely updated - the previous sections still being obviously from the 1960's (social norms have changed, and the odd homophobic or misogynistic throw away lines are oddly jarring against a background that has remained very fresh), and the newer section is extremely short, even taking into account it was updated in 1996 and a lot with the internet and NSA has ha A hefty but good read. It's sometimes a bit dry, but still manages to be very interesting. I would mention that the "updated version" is barely updated - the previous sections still being obviously from the 1960's (social norms have changed, and the odd homophobic or misogynistic throw away lines are oddly jarring against a background that has remained very fresh), and the newer section is extremely short, even taking into account it was updated in 1996 and a lot with the internet and NSA has happened since then.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Josiah Lau

    This book was absolutely riveting. I loved the in-depth exploration of not only the history of codes and ciphers, cryptology and cryptanalysis, but also the related areas of linguistics, information theory as well as the unraveling of ancient texts and inscriptions. The logic, creativity and rigor that goes into cryptanalysis and the understanding of ancient records is simply astonishing. 10/10 for this book, which although well over a thousand pages long was a thoroughly enjoyable read.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Katz

    been very interesting thus far...i think cryptology is really cool. this is on the history side, there is very little math in it, but that's okay. there is actually a very rich history in cryptology that came into bloom during the late 1500s to early 1600s, and is still being pioneered even today (esp. 1970s).

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sheffielder

    ABANDONED. Well written and interesting in places, but the opening chapters on Pearl Harbour are really tedious (and it looks like we're to be treated to yet more of the same later in the book). Includes such 'balanced' comments as "It became increasingly evident that Nippon's march of aggression would eventually collide with American rectitude".

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    There are two things you need to know about this book. One, it is "comprehensive" which means looooong. It achieves this length by talking about anything and everything vaguely related to cryptography, even including the hypothetical reception of alien signals from outer space. Two, only roughly 2% of the book is about modern (computer/internet) cryptography.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Chris Gager

    I was interested in this book in the mid-sixties because I was in the Navy and working for the Naval Security Group which worked for NSA. Not much was publicly known about NSA back then and you don't see much about it nowadays either. So... I don't think I read the whole thing, just the NSA part. Obviously the edition I read had nothing about the internet or cell-phones. Date read is approximate.

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