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The Code Book: Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography [Paperback]

Simon Singh
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (148 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Aug 2000
In his first book since the bestselling Fermat's Enigma, Simon Singh offers the first sweeping history of encryption, tracing its evolution and revealing the dramatic effects codes have had on wars, nations, and individual lives. From Mary, Queen of Scots, trapped by her own code, to the Navajo Code Talkers who helped the Allies win World War II, to the incredible (and incredibly simple) logisitical breakthrough that made Internet commerce secure, The Code Book tells the story of the most powerful intellectual weapon ever known: secrecy.

Throughout the text are clear technical and mathematical explanations, and portraits of the remarkable personalities who wrote and broke the world's most difficult codes. Accessible, compelling, and remarkably far-reaching, this book will forever alter your view of history and what drives it.  It will also make yo wonder how private that e-mail you just sent really is.

Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor Books; Reprint edition (Aug 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385495323
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385495325
  • Product Dimensions: 20.2 x 13.4 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (148 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 912,228 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Simon Singh is a science journalist and TV producer. Having completed his PhD at Cambridge he worked from 1991 to 1997 at the BBC producing Tomorrow's World and co-directing the BAFTA award-winning documentary Fermat's Last Theorem for the Horizon series. He is the author of Fermat's Last Theorem, which was a no 1 bestseller in Britain and translated into 22 languages. In 1999, he wrote The Code Book which was also an international bestseller and the basis for the Channel 4 series The Science of Secrecy.

Product Description

Amazon Review

With their inextricable links to history, mystery and war, codes and ciphers offer a rich seam of material for any author. The relative dearth of non-technical books on the subject may be a reflection of its technical foundations, which compel hard decisions about what to include and what to gloss over. Few are better qualified to take on the challenge than Simon Singh, the particle physicist turned science writer whose book Fermat's Last Theorem, recounting the dauntingly complex story behind the proof of this mathematical conjecture, deservedly became a No. 1 bestseller.

The Code Book contains many fascinating accounts of code-breaking in action, from its use in unmasking the Man in the Iron Mask and the defeat of the Nazis to the breaking of a modern cipher system by a world-wide army of amateurs in 1994. It is especially good on the most recent developments, such as quantum cryptology and the thorny civil liberties issues raised by the advent of very secure cipher systems over the Internet. But Singh's mathematical prowess sometimes gets the better of his journalistic instincts, leading to technical descriptions that unnecessarily disrupt the narrative flow. So buy it--and have a shot at the 10,000 pound mystery cipher--but be prepared to skip. --Robert Matthews --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


‘A fascinating meander through the centuries; replete with tales of intrigue, political chicanery, military secrecy and academic rivalry.’
The Times

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
On the morning of Saturday, October 15, 1586, Queen Mary entered the crowded courtroom at Fotheringhay Castle. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars To make it or break it 12 Aug 2004
This is the second book by Simon Singh, and he readily admits that he was surprised by the success of the first; 'Fermat's Last Theorem'. If you enjoyed that, then this will delight and entertain you, as well as lead you forward in an easy manner. There are some very complex ideas and processes encountered, yet each is tackled not as a whole, but as a series of small steps, explained in simple terms. It seems that the author subscribes to the notion that there is no such thing as a hard subject - the only hard part is the number of simple steps that are used, and the order they are combined, in order to reach the complex picture.
Singh states from the beginning that the book has two aims; to chart the evolution of codes, and to show that the study of codes and cryptology is as relevant for today as ever. Information always has had a high value, and there have been divers means employed throughout history to keep matters private where appropriate. The reasons for this secrecy are not always the same, but whether it is political, military, security or commercial, organisations and governments want to know that their information is safe, and at the same time strive to read similar matter from opponents. The history of codes and code breaking has been a struggle between the code makers, and the code breakers, with sometimes one and sometimes the other having the ascendancy. Sometimes intrigue and espionage have enabled a foothold to be gained to enable code breaking to continue.
The early use of codes and ciphers are explained well, and the author uses imaginative illustrations to convey his ideas. The chapters on modern developments, with private and public keys, for example, are brought to life with the example of mixing the colours of private paint stores.
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73 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best pop-science books out there... 12 Jan 2005
By D. Penn
Others have already sung this book's praises, so I won't go into too much detail.
The Code Book gives the entire history of cryptology, starting with very basic substitution cypers, working all the way up to today's electronic systems. It is not, though, a reference book - it's very entertaining to read and doesn't solely focus on the science of the codes - Singh also relates stories behind codes.
Not only does he explain the codes, but also how they are broken. Singh is brilliant at making the complicated simple, and even manages to explain how the 'unbreakable' German Enigma was cracked in a way that will make you understand (at least while you are reading the book - if you try to explain it to someone else later you might get a bit muddled...)
This really is an incredible book - excellently written with a very interesting subject matter. Highly recommended.
Please vote for this review if you found it helpful. Thanks!
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
I approached this book with some trepidation. I have an interest in science but wasn't familiar with terms like cryptanalysis and the various other technical terms explained so well in this book. This is a subject which, if mis-handled, could make for an extremely boring book but Mr. Singh has the rare ability to make the most difficult subjects easy for the reader to comprehend and so this book is a fascinating journey into medieval treason trials, pre-historic lost cultures and modern day espionage - all the while educating us too.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book - eBook a bit lacking 23 May 2011
Format:Kindle Edition
I'm about half-way through the book, and it's a very interesting and easy-to-absorb read. My only complaint with this Kindle edition is that the book makes many references to various figures and diagrams, none of which seem to be included in the digital edition.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read! 14 Nov 2002
This book is great. How else can you describe a book that completely demystifies the arcane and comlex world of codes and chipers into a contextualised and highly readable history of the art of keeping secrets.
The flow of the book from substitution ciphers through to quantum theory is fluid and lucid, with a non-mathamatician like myself being hand-held through the tricky bits - although Singh breaks it down so well, that this book could be re-titled "The Dummies Guide To...."
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Introduction 20 July 2001
By A Customer
I can strongly recomend this to anyone with a burgoning interest in cryptography. It provides a context to the current state of affairs with respect to the history and need for cryptography.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
I saw this at the airport and thought it looked like a good read. I wasn't wrong. From the first page Singh grips the reader, tracing the history of cryptography from well before the Middle Ages to present day. It does get a but tedious and techie sometimes - particularly the discussion on RSA and PGP and heaven help you in the last chapter if you are unfamiliar with quantum mechanics - but overall this is an enjoyable book.
I especially enjoyed the chapters on cipherbreakers during the Second World War. If anyone saw Station X on Channel 4 last year, you will enjoy this discussion.
The reader participation bit (The Cipher Challenge) is good. So far I have only completed the first cipher, but here goes for the rest!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My Favorite Non-Fiction Book 8 Jan 2008
By Hagrid's Umbrella VINE VOICE
This is my favourite non-fiction book. Why? Well it's an interesting and intriguing topic, its well written and an easy read but the key (excuse the bad pun) for me is that Singh strikes the perfect balance of giving you a taster of a technique, explaining it significance and giving examples of this with some great real world examples.

The opening chapter exemplifies this with how it describes Mary Queen of Scots use of a cryptography technique and the unfortunate results it had for her when they were intercepted and eventually decoded.

Knowing little about nano technology I found this chapter near the end very difficult to follow but Singh does well to describe it in a way that did at least give me half a chance at understanding it.

The book was written to accompany his UK Channel 4 TV series; having seen only one episode of it I can say it certainly stand on its own two feet.

If you want a great introduction to this subject I can not see you doing any better than this book. I don't think you have to have a strong interest in the subject to enjoy it. I suspect older kids could get into it easily and there's examples to try on his web site.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Epic
A fantastic achievement, a fascinating and detailed journey through the world's history of secrecy. Peppered with well described examples of the most common ciphers and... Read more
Published 15 hours ago by Sincere Seeker
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing
Loved the historic aspect of the code book and the challenge at the end just makes me want to reach that level and read more by Simon Singh.
Published 2 months ago by Jenny Bryant
5.0 out of 5 stars I read this book 3 times.
Excellent book and introduction to cryptography. I cannot wait to read Simon Singh's next book about science. The Big Bang was awesome, too.
Published 2 months ago by Jon Gibson Mcgill
5.0 out of 5 stars Love this book
Singh is my favorite non-fiction author, and this is one his coolest books. Taught me a whole lot about mathematics, codes, and security.
Published 2 months ago by amusik
5.0 out of 5 stars fab
bought to help me do my final year project. has been a good read and will be reading again in the future!
Published 2 months ago by me
5.0 out of 5 stars A broad look through the history of codes and code breaking
A very easy to read history of what can be a very complex subject. From its earliest uses in diplomatic messages, through the incredible work done by Turing and his army of helpers... Read more
Published 3 months ago by la Plume de ma Tante
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
Bought this for my son who is a Master of Mathematics, he had encountered it before in his studies, great read.
Published 3 months ago by Sharon Bergin
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary
Just started to read this book. So far I find it very easy to read and is very interesting. The stories of the codes are so well told. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Violet
5.0 out of 5 stars First class writer on mathematical subjects.
I'd previously read Simon's book on Fermat, so turned to this book on codes with confidence, and was not disappointed. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Peter
5.0 out of 5 stars Recommended by G&T Professor
Our 12 year old daughter finds school mundane and unchallenging. The G&T Professor on a course she attended advised us the National curriculum has nothing to offer brains like hers... Read more
Published 4 months ago by K. J. Stone
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