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on 8 December 2000
Every other book written about cryptography has, for me, been overly serious and thus tends to be very hard to become immersed in. This is where Leo Marks' excellent account of his exploits in SOE differs. He tells his amazing, moving and tragic story with a wonderful sense of humour that allows the reader to become involved in the agents he describes. Marks very cleverly observes his colleagues' characters and brings the SOE to life in a way that no other book has managed. I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone, a previous interest is not essential, as I was unable to put it down until the very last page.
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I can honestly say this is the best book I have read - fiction or non-fiction. Marks hasn't lost any of the cheeky humour that got him into so much trouble early in his military career during the war. What's less obvious from his own accounts of his early life is how he became such an outstanding writer.
This book has everything - it's very informative, consistently gripping and sways between humour and heartache in equal measure.
Marks keeps the pace going throughout the book and deftly intertwines his owns accounts of his time in the SOE with a superb account of his contacts with Captain Forest Frederick Yeo-Thomas (better known as The White Rabbit).
As a factual account of wartime codebreaking, this book easily stands up in its own right. The fact that it's such a great read is just a bonus.
I can't recommend it highly enough. Which is why I've already bought 7 more copies as gifts!
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on 15 August 2000
Leo Marks (son of the owner of 84 Charing Cross Road) set off to war at a tender age clutching a railway ticket and a black market chicken and ended up in less than a year as one of the key people in Britain's war effort. I took this book on holiday and found it almost impossible to put down. It is a masterly summary of the struggle against petty bureaucracy and inter-departmental politics combined with Marks's complete faith in his own not inconsiderable abilities. He briefed allied agents being sent into occupied Europe, invented new codes and ciphers, deduced that the SOE infrastructure in Holland had been blown wide open by the Germans and many other things beside. Marks is a brilliant and truly fascinating individual.
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I can honestly say that this is the best book I have ever read. Fiction or non-fiction. Leo Marks keeps you on your toes the whole way through - hilarious and touching by turns, the book is absolutely unputdownable.
Combining his own recollections of how he spent most of the war in the SOE, doing things he had specifically been told not to do by his superiors, and the gripping and moving tale of how Captain Yeo-Thomas (better known as The White Rabbit) was caught by the Gestapo, there's more than enough to satisfy any reader.
What more can I say? I've already bought it 7 times more as gifts!
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on 17 September 2000
This book puts a very human face to the people who carried the resistance war to the occupied territories during WWII. It left me with an appreciation for what these people did, the sacrifices made, and the lives lost. The book is written to give an insight into the personalities of the people involved, the politics of interservice rivalries, and the techniques of code-making and codebreaking. The author displays his flamboyant personality in a very honest way, and I suspect that the contents of the book are very honestly portrayed as well. Excellent and highly recommended.
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on 16 July 2008
Marks was with SOE during WW2. This book is a memoir of his experiences. Don't be put off by its size. Like some other reviewers, once I started it, I couldn't put it down.

In SOE Marks had the job of briefing agents about the codes they would use in the field. At the start of the war SOE's codes had several weaknesses and Marks chronicles their gradual improvement, often against opposition from various closed-minded people in the military hierarchy.

Particularly moving is his description of the code given to Violette Szabo based on the famous "Life that I have" poem. He also describes SOE's tragic failure to accept that its Dutch network was completely compromised by the Germans and that most of the SOE agents sent to Holland were captured on arrival.

Marks's descriptions of colleagues and the SOE military bureacracy is in places hilarious, his descriptions of the fate of agents in places harrowing. His writing weaves the lightest and the darkest into a compelling story. Many have written about the codebreakers of Bletchley Park and their part in the life-or-death Battle of the Atlantic. As a code-maker, Marks offers a different and more personal perspective on the life-or-death decisions that affected individual agents.

Readers not into codes, codemaking and codebreaking might find the technical details a bit turgid - but they can be skipped without detracting from a narrative that is eye-witness history at its very best.
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on 2 January 2011
This is a well written and absorbing book about the author's work in the war as a coder. It's very informative and intellectually satisfying, whilst also engaging the reader on an emotional level - making them feel the urgent need to safeguard the lives of agents (mainly resistance workers) by making better and better codes and minimising the risk-heavy need for them to retransmit previous "indecipherable" messages.
It's the tale of someone, physically safe himself, who is always keenly aware of the dangers being run by the field agents whose messages he is reading, who understands that each of their prospects for surviving the war are desperately slim, and who is constantly and innovatively striving to prolong their lives.
I couldn't put this book down and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in history or in puzzles.
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on 9 April 2003
I borrowed this book in Chicago and couldn't put it down. An excellent writer, witty and pertinent, humours and refined, Leo Marks brings the code breakers war to life. His self critical reflections in conjunction with his sharp mind make the commentary fascinating as the world of coding and the characters develop through the course of the war. The human account of the fate of some of the agents is harrowing, all the more so, for all the efforts by Marks et al to secure their survival. The characters Marks dealt with and learnt from were all heroes, whether agents, procurement specialists or professors with rapier sharp minds
I enjoyed it more than I could have imagined and this work revitalised my appreciation for our more recent history. It's also left me with the poem, 'a life that I have' running through my imagination
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on 19 August 2011
I purchased this book for my husband and it did not disappoint. Leo Marks was an amazing man and the fascinating story of his life and work kept my husband totally enthralled. A must for anyone interested in the amazing S.O.E agents who risked their lives ( and in so many cases lost them ) helping the French resistance during the second world war. Leo Marks was the author of the famous code poem which he gave to Violette Szarbo :
The Life that I have is all that I have
And the life that I have is yours
The love that I have for the life that I have
Is yours and yours and yours
A rest I shall have, a sleep I shall have
And death will be but a pause
But the peace of my years in the long green grass
Will be yours and yours and yours

A book worth reading.
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on 14 November 1999
Leo Mark's has a rare combination of qualifications to write a book on secret intelligence during world war II. Between Silk and Cyanide could only have been written by someone who was there and took part in the story of SOE. This combined with the talent to write a captivating, funny, moving account of his often stressful experiences.
The book does not shy away from including technical details of how secret codes were developed and introduced, but the techniques are made accessible as they are woven into the story.
Neither does the book shy away from the horror of what happened to all too many of the brave young men and women who chose the most dangerous option to defend their countries against a ruthless and barbaric enemy. The strength of the book is that it is such a rich mix of elements, the events, the people and personalities, written like a thriller. I could not put it down.
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