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on 15 July 2010
This book is rivetting. I know we've all been told quite a bit about Bletchley Park since the wraps were removed, but this book makes one realise how absolutely extraordinary a place it was; and how amazingly extraordinary were the girls and boys, men and women who worked there. It is wonderfully human in its descriptions of personalities and is better than any novel I have ever read set in this period and a similar background. It shows how beautifully English-amateurish and ad hoc was the setting up and gathering of suitable personnel; and how very well-chosen and suitable they all were ! Doubt it would be allowed to happen today ! And how much we owe them all can never ever be calculated. I'm so glad this has been written and published whilst so many of them are able to receive this salute to their loyalty and commitment. We owe them our un-dying gratitude....literally !
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on 30 June 2010
There have been a plethora of books on Bletchley Park and the crucial part it played in the downfall of Nazi Germany. This, though, is the first to put a human face to the extraordinary ordinary people who toiled tirelessly to crack the intercepted enemy codes and help turn the Second World War in the Allies' favour. Through a series of interviews with those who worked at the intelligence centre in the nondescript Buckinghamshire town, Sinclair McKay has been able to breathe new life into a well-mined story. Bound by the Official Secrets Act, many had not spoken about their war-time roles before; indeed, so assiduously did they follow the letter of the Act, relatives went to their graves thinking their offspring had somehow shirked their patriotic duties during the conflict, rather than being unsung, anonymous heroes. A book that deserves to sit alongside more scholarly offerings on the shelf.
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on 3 August 2012
I didn't read the blurb for this book before I ordered it, but went on the recommendation of a friend. Since she, like me, is interested in codes, puzzles and wordgames of all kinds, I imagined the book would give detailed information about the enigma machines and how the German codes were cracked in WW2.

But this is a social history of Bletchley Park and it gives most detail about the working conditions, social lives and lodgings of the many poor people who strove to crack the codes. I say poor, because it's clear their conditions were not particularly good in or outside of work. And worst of all, since they were all covered by the Official Secrets Act they were unable to tell even their immediate family and friends at the time or for 30 years after what contribution they had made to ending the war.

I found the description of Alan Turing's life and his bizarre death especially moving. Who knows what Turing might have gone on to contribute to the development of computers had he lived in a more tolerant society?
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Although this book does look at how codes were broken, the war changed and lives affected by what happened at Bletchley Park, this is essentially about the people who worked there. And, what a cast of characters to work with! Boffins, socialites, professors and tea girls. Everyone had a part to play and this is a very interesting book about a fascinating time. Buy and enjoy.
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VINE VOICEon 22 October 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
What has always amazed me about Bletchley Park is how it has remained so 'secret' for so long. This book goes a long way to explain why that is. The book looks at the lives of the people who worked at the Park during the war, how they came to be there and what it was really like. These are actual accounts from the people themselves. It is a very easy to read and facinating insight into a massive secret operation that probably won us the war. I actually live in Milton Keynes and I know many of the areas mentioned in the book so it is a very vivid, real-life, story for me. I would strongly encourage anyone reading this book, who has not done so already, to visit Bletchley Park, you will definitely feel a need to do so after reading this book. The huts are still there as is the house, lake etc. I found this book an amzing insight into somewhere I have visited several time, but now realise I knew so little about. The accounts of people like Alan Turing and 'Dilly' Knox are fascinating and shows the amazing foresight these people had. This is an excellent book.
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VINE VOICEon 28 October 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a very interesting book about the people that worked at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire during the Second World War working on code breaking, including that of the infamous Enigma machine. This is the story of the codebreakers and other workers rather than about the codes, for which there are many other books available.
The book has some interesting photos and has been written following interviews withthose that were there working at Blecthley during the war.

There is an extensive list of references and so will give anyone wanting to know moew a good set of additinal references. If you have read or seen the film based on the book Enigma and are interested to find out more - then this is a good book to read.
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on 25 August 2010
A well written and easy book to read. A real eye opener. How did they manage to keep Bletchley Park such a secret during the ward, nobody knew for example that so many people were involved in Bletchely Park during 1940 to 1945. Also reading between the lines, it helps you to understand why some strange political decisions were made during and after world war two. I enjoyed this book.
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VINE VOICEon 18 December 2012
Group Captain Winterbotham's 1974 book The Ultra Secret and Ronald Lewin's slightly later (1978) book 'Ultra Goes to War give a detailed insight into the wartime activities of Bletchley Park and of the enormous contribution made to the overall war effort. General Eisenhower openly stated that, without the code breakers at Bletchley Park, World War II would have lasted another couple of years and cost several million more lives.

'The Secret Life of Bletchley Park' approaches the story from a slightly different and more human perspective. It gives an intriguing insight into the code breakers and support staff themselves: the people who, from 1939 onwards, were responsible for the cracking the supposedly unbreakable German, Italian (and latterly) Japanese military ciphers.

The book tells us a lot about the brilliant intellectuals (recruited from top-flight universities, from the law and from various scientific institutions) and the equally important WAAFs and Wrens who carried out much of the routine work involved in code breaking on what quickly became a near-industrial scale. And, of course, the messengers, domestic staff and drivers who had an unsung but equally important part to play.

Even towards the end of the war very few people knew exactly what was happening at Bletchley; the families of the staff knew nothing and there's a well-recorded instance of a surgical procedure being deferred because the girl in question wasn't prepared to risk talking whilst under an anaesthetic. At the end of the war, when Commander Travis (who was responsible for running Bletchley Park for several years) received a well-deserved knighthood, his wife simply asked 'What for?'

The Germans never suspected that, from 1939 onwards, an increasing amount of their military radio traffic (including orders from Hitler to his top commanders) was being routinely deciphered at Bletchley and passed almost immediately to the Allied commanders. The source of the intelligence was always hidden from all but a selected few and there are many instances where the Allied commanders received the message before their Axis counterparts.

There was also a lighter, and well documented, side to Bletchley - dancing, literary appreciation, music, crossword, hiking, theatrical activities (and much more) were organised by the staff. Many of these events, particularly the theatrical and musical activities, were of a top-class professional standard.

You'll find the book is a fascinating story of people working under unremitting pressure and under extreme secrecy - of never talking about their work and never understanding how the end product was being applied.

Sinclair McKay's companion book The Secret Listeners: How the Y Service Intercepted the Secret German Codes for Bletchley Park is equally fascinating story of the the people responsible for listening in to enemy wireless traffic and, from an increasingly large number of points around the world, passing the information back to Bletchley Park for decoding.
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on 18 March 2013
This book is an interesting addition to the extensive literature about the code-breaking activities of Bletchley Park. It focuses on the lives of the code breakers rather than the technical aspects of their work. McKay has drawn on the existing literature and also interviewed a number of survivors whose testimony forms the bulk of the text. McKay is to be congratulated on his work in gathering this eyewitness material.

However, the book is deeply flawed because McKay has not paid the same attention to checking his facts with regard to the War itself. For example, he says that the Battle of Britain ended at the end of August 1940 (p 109). Does he not know that Battle of Britain Day is 15 September? On p 133 he says that U-110 had sunk the "Athenia" in the first few days of the war. In fact it was the U-30. The connection was that Lemp, the commander of U-30, had taken command of the U-110 for the cruise in which she was captured. McKay speaks of the "ferocious 1950s pride" in the Harrier jet (p 320). The prototype VTOL plane first flew in 1960 and was not ordered by the RAF as the Harrier until 1966. These are just a few of the errors and distortions that mar the book.

McKay also seems to want claim more credit for Bletchley Park than is due. BP contributed to the Battle of the Atlantic but it was won by technical innovations such as centimetric radar, high-frequency direction finding, long range aircraft and escort carriers; not to mention the courage of the sailors of the Royal and merchant navies. The Luftwaffe navigation beams (p 110f) were identified by a combination of technical examination of shot down German bombers, interrogation of prisoners and BP decrypts. The existence of the beams still had to be confirmed by detecting them using aircraft equipped with sensitive radio receivers. The German beams were jammed not bent.

Perhaps the greatest distortion occurs in McKay's account of the operations against the "Bismarck" in May 1941(p 113). He claims that "Bismarck" had been tracked after BP had broken certain codes and a "pantomime" was organised in which a RAF reconnaissance plane pretended to find the German ship. This is nonsense. The "Bismarck" was tracked by espionage, by aerial reconnaissance, by radar and by radio direction-finding. The Admiralty had concluded that "Bismarck" was heading for Brest and this was later confirmed by a BP decrypt. (This is explained in the War Diary for May 1941 on the BP website) However, the position of the ship was not known so the aerial reconnaissance carried out on May 26 was a necessary search which genuinely found the "Bismarck".

If you want to read about the life-style of the people of Bletchley Park, this is a book for you. But don't trust anything McKay says about the War itself.
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on 20 July 2012
This interesting book deals primarily in an anecdotal sort of way with the characters of the Bletchley staff and their social/professional interactions. It makes essential mention of the technical nature of the operation and of the huge contribution Bletchley made to the allied war effort, but should be read after or in conjunction with other books which more fully describe the technical performance of the Bletchley equipments and the brilliant academic/technical minds which went in to the design, production and operation of the decyphering equipments.

Bletchley would not have worked without those (often eccentric) brilliant minds, its state-of-art engineering, the dedicated efforts of its staff and (somewhat miraculously) the maintenance of total secrecy about the whole operation notwithstanding there having been up to 9000+ people working there.

This book provides particular insight into the two last of these factors and adds "colour" to one's appreciation of the other two when reading more widely elsewhere about the more technical aspects of the operation.
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