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4.3 out of 5 stars65
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 19 April 2001
Hugh Sebag-Montefiore (HSM) gives a well written & well researched history of the Enigma. HSM has interviewed a significant number of the main players in the story which leads to a much fuller background to the story which no doubt had very significant impact on WW II. The book was written after a large amount of historic data was released from the Public Records Office which accounts for when the book was published, this too adds to quality of read. I also liked the way in which HSM used appendices to include some of the more technical details of the cipher breaking techniques, this allowed the story to remain readable without losing the more complex information to those who will be interested in understanding it.
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on 12 August 2014
The breaking of the German Enigma coding system is now rightly acknowledged to have been the most vital single element leading to Allied victory during the Second World War. Since the 1970s when the Ultra Secret was first made public, a great deal has been written on Enigma; but much of what has been written or shown on TV in the UK, has lead to the widespread impression that the breaking of Enigma was solely down to a few brilliant mathematicians at Bletchley Park and Alan Turing in particular. As HSM shows, the breaking of the code was in fact a multi-national effort with the crucial role of the Polish cryptanalysts during the 1930s being well covered here. This book deals mainly with German Naval Enigma, and describes the efforts made to break into that most vital code and then to keep up with all the changes to the Enigma machine, code books, and systems, which the Germans made throughout the war. The role of the Royal Navy, and later the Royal Canadian Navy, and US Navy in capturing up to date Enigma machines, code books and documents during raids on German land installations and weather ships; or by courageously boarding crippled and sinking U-Boats is well detailed. Without these 'pinches' the cryptanalysts were often left searching in the dark.
HSM also shows that the Germans themselves often contributed to their own undoing through sloppy procedures both by those designing the system and by those operating it. Their worst error however was that they had convinced themselves that the Enigma system was infallible; so that despite often damning evidence to the contrary, Doenitz was always told that Enigma was secure.
With regard to the layout of the book, I have read the whole of the 'story' first and will go into the operational detail appendices as required. Other reviewers complained about the lack of any accounts of day to day life at Bletchley Park or in-depth biographical details of the main characters in the history. I believe that at 550 pages or thereabouts this volume is long enough. Sinclair McKays 'Secret life of Bletchley Park' gives a reasonable account of day to day working life at BP. As well as this, despite coming across as something of a soap-opera/feminist tract, his 'The Secret Listeners' tells the story of the 'Y' Services, the providers of the raw intelligence intercept, without which there would have been nothing for the code breakers to do.
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on 25 March 2002
This book describes the sheer hard work that went on with breaking the Enigma code - not just from the code breakers at Bletchley park but the guys who risked their lives in recovering secrets from the Germans to boarding booby trapped U-boats. It describes many of the successes and failures particularly at sea with the interception of the U-boat supply ships to the sinking of the Scharnhorst and the ultimate deceptions before D-day.
Read this an find out there was much, much more to Enigma than Alan Turing (although he was pretty amazing too!).
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VINE VOICEon 7 February 2003
As bibliography in the back of this book indicates, it's an exhaustively researched piece of work, seemingly leaving no stone unturned in the authors quest to tell the whole story of the cracking of the enigma code from its inception in the early 30's right through to the end of WW2. It may be that this exhaustiveness is what leads to the books' greatest weakness - the leaden, lumpen prose in which it is presented.
The breaking of Enigma was a major acheievement by British intelligence and undountedly lead to the war being shortened, possibly by years; it is a tale of individual courage and of genius, and of the constant race against time to break the messages of the day in the hope of protecting british shipping in the Atlantic.
Sadly, none of this excitment or even interest is conveyed in the writing, and whenever a player in this grand tale seems about to develop a life of their own the authorial hand moves quickly to push them back into the grey, uninvolving prose.
This is a shame; it's a great story, worthy of being often told - but this book - whilst crammed with facts - does not tell a story, more lists dates and names and forces the reader to try and find their invlovement or interest where they may.
Five stars for research and information, one star for writing. A tremendous shame.
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on 12 August 2000
A great deal has been written about Enigma over the years and, because so many of the major players are no longer with us, I can't imagine that any significant additions can be added to the story outlined here. I found the book anecdotal, dramatic and accessible. The author's journalistic background has obviously helped here! This is not dry history but a journey through the greatest story of WWII. The only criticism that I can level at this book is that it does not go into enough detail in places (especially with regard to the Army and Air Force Enigma battles). The Naval Enigma however is given the full treatment. Despite only giving the book 4 stars I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it!
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on 28 November 2014
This is the second edition of this bok which was first published in 2000.There has been no change in the text {but any errors have been corrected) but 7 post scripts have been added as a result of previously confidential information being released in 2000.
The book deals with the history of the Enigma codes from 1931 when a German traitor sold some codes to the French up to the developments at Bletchley Park.
The 7 post scripts are 1) Dilly Knox 2)the Poles 3)the Matapan mystery 4)the capture U-boat 5) Did the Germans know 6) who sank the Scharnhorst and 7)how the battle of Matapan was won at Bletchley Park.
A very good update that explains many points that were previously unknown.
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on 3 August 2006
The book at times could be hard going, especially when reading the deciphering codes. But it was very entertaining and gave a very good insight into just how many different countries and people that were involved. There were so many people who risked their lives and were lucky to get away with it. A must for anyone, I am not a huge follower of war stories generally, but it was well worth the time to read it, the research that took place was immense.
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on 16 September 2013
This subject is already popularised in many forms, books, DVD's, movies etc., but this account, by Seabag-Montefiore excels the lot. It is well written, clear, detailed, very readable and in a style which holds the readers attention. This a full account of the Enigma code, especially just how it was broken, the colourful characters involved and the political acuity of vision which put it so wisely to good use. Great book by a great, knowlegeable, competent author.
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on 17 November 2014
The effort to break Enigma spanned a decade involved many individuals and is covered here in much better detail some other work.

The true story of Enigma at first top secret, then the stuff of legend has the habit of going through some changes. Robert Harris's "Enigma" and Hollywoods "U-571" and most recently "The Imitation Game" all make for good entertainment, but the real story seems to continue to be elusive.
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on 30 July 2013
This book leaves no stone unturned and is probably as near as we will get to a definitive record of Enigma and the work at Bletchley Park during WW2.
The details of the code breaking techniques described the appendices are very well presented and totally absorbing. This is a must read book for those interested in WW2 history
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