fighting the lack of good ideas

the codebreakers by david kahn

My interest in cryptography has extended, now, for more than 15 years. The first book I read on the topic was David Kahn’s seminal work, The Codebreakers. Several years later, I received a copy of the book for Christmas, which I promptly reread.

Kahn’s writing style is eminently inviting, sucking the reader into an extensive history of code making and breaking over the centuries. Much of his time is spent going over the work of the Bletchley Park researches during WWII. It is truly astounding to see how much was going on “behind the scenes” compared to the popular historical works which only focus on the fighters on the ground, the strategic decisions made, or the technology enabling victory (or drawing it out, as the cases may be).

If you are interested in learning more about the work of the “intellectuals” during WWII, or about codes in general, it is an excellent work. For more of the theoretical aspects of modern cryptography, I’d suggest Applied Cryptography by Bruce Schneier*. But for a general history, in a style sure to appeal to even those who hate nonfiction and histories, David Kahn’s work is unmatched.

  • Quality of writing: 4/5
  • Quality of content:  5/5
  • Entertainment value: 4/5
  • Historicity: 5/5
  • Overall: 4.5/5

* to be covered in a forth-coming review