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37 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars To make it or break it
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...
Published on 12 Aug. 2004 by Mr P R Morgan

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good start, but loses its way in places
To be absolutely clear - this is a good book and one of the few on its topic for those with a casual interest.

The book both starts and ends excellently but somewhat loses its way in the middle. Most of the 'code' technical aspects are covered reasonably early on and then outside of a fascinating discussion regarding enigma during the war I feel that the books...
Published 21 months ago by Amazon Customer


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37 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars To make it or break it, 12 Aug. 2004
By 
Mr P R Morgan "Peter Morgan" (BATH, Bath and N E Somerset United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Code Book: The Secret History of Codes and Code-breaking (Paperback)
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. A mental picture is much better than mere words to describe the one-way functions that are used in encrypting and deciphering messages using public and private keys. It is also necessary to understand some of the early developments in code making and code breaking to grasp what happened at Bletchley Park, in the breaking of the Enigma codes during World War II. Singh admits to simplifying the Enigma story, but this does not detract from a particularly absorbing part of the book. There is also good list of books and web sites, for those wishing to gain more information. This applies to many of the code stories, whether this is from archaeology (the Rosetta Stone, or Linear B), or the actual use of encryption (the Zimmermann telegram, Pretty Good Privacy).
'The Code Book' was published prior to the events of September 11th 2001, but asks some pertinent questions on the nature of security. Just as code breaking and code making have been battling for many years, now that there are 'unbreakable codes' available, the debate has moved on to the need for security or the protection of individual freedoms. It is believed that the Data Encryption Standard (DES) was weakened to enable this to be broken by US government agencies. This book is not just a popular and populist history; it also raises questions that are relevant to us all. That is why the second of Singh's aims has been met. The first is achieved in a hugely entertaining read.
Incidentally, the cipher challenge is still an integral part of the book, although the prize is no longer available. It took 1 year and 1 month for the challenge to be successfully claimed, a tribute to the difficulty of the ten parts. If you have read the book, and have a few idle moments, perhaps you would like to try to crack the Beale ciphers and claim the huge cache of gold and silver that the documents describe. Oh, and when you have finished that, there is always the breakthrough that is waited for Linear A.
Peter Morgan, morganp@supanet.com
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77 of 79 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 (UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Code Book: The Secret History of Codes and Code-breaking (Paperback)
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating intro to the world of cryptography/crytpanalysis, 27 Aug. 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: The Code Book: The Secret History of Codes and Code-breaking (Paperback)
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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read!, 14 Nov. 2002
By 
E. R. Gough "thebigfish" (Horsham, West Sussex) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Code Book: The Secret History of Codes and Code-breaking (Paperback)
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My Favorite Non-Fiction Book, 8 Jan. 2008
By 
This review is from: The Code Book: The Secret History of Codes and Code-breaking (Paperback)
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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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent introduction to the world of the codebreaker, 28 July 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Code Book: The Secret History of Codes and Code-breaking (Paperback)
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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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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Almost perfect., 28 Jun. 2013
By 
Lobotomised and despised (Hidden away from the world) - See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Almost perfect for a layman's introductory book on cryptography/ cryptanalysis. 5 stars for all the historical introduction from Ceasar Shift, substitution/transposition, frequency analysis and linguistics, monoalphabets, polyalphabets, Vigenere and Babbage, Turing and the naval Enigma, but minus 0.5-1 stars because modern encryption/decryption techniques were a little rushed relative to the earlier historical half of the book and some applications were hardly mentioned. Interesting that Linear A and Etruscan had not been deciphered at the time this book was written.

Although I bought this book late, and technology has advanced since it was written, I was hoping to better understand encryption in the fields of computer science and technology (authentication and certificates on the internet, hashing of passwords, credit card technology...). There was a good intro on RSA and PGP, and I enjoyed the ending on photon traps and quantum computing. I wish there had been a little more on number theory (primes), a comparison of the many modern standards, the use of analysis in digital forensics, ...something a little more technical but maybe there are other books for that.

There are some dubious claims in the book that GCHQ invented asymetric public-key encryption 'before' Diffie-Hellman-Merkle and Rivest-Shamir-Aldeman. The claim being made is that GCHQ invented it shortly before (whatever they say, right?), but could not disclose their invention for reasons of national security. I realise that this story was put out in 1997 by GCHQ and not Simon Singh, but where is the evidence?
What is more likely is that there were reasons of national security for not disclosing that, despite the huge budgets, the shadowy cold-war era monoliths GCHQ (and NSA) were totally outwitted by a handful of freedom loving academics like Whitfield Diffie, who saw this technology as a means of protecting free speech and, therefore, democracy.
Kudos to Simon Singh for stating his suppor for the use of Zimmermann's PGP in the book.

The book concludes with a multiple stages code cracking challenge, which starts very easy and gets harder (there was a cash prize at the time).
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quickie review, 10 Feb. 2011
By 
Crookedmouth ":-/" (Somewhere in the Jurassic...) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Code Book: The Secret History of Codes and Code-breaking (Paperback)
As this book has been so well reviewed elsewhere, I thought I'd post a few words on one aspect that struck me.

It may look, on the cover of it, to be a rather technical book on applied cryptography. This couldn't be farther from the truth as it is written, I think, primarily as a historical account of the art. On that basis it is well written and truly fascinating and is suitable for readers of any level of technical ability.

True, it is liberally salted with technical descriptions of selected codes and cyphers and yes these can be a little hard to follow. For myself, I found that understanding came (as I read) and evaporated again (after I moved on), but none of this matters because the book stands up very well in any case. You could happily skip the harder sections and not lose anything of the meat of it (although it's well worth trying). There are also some code breaking exercises at the back and I suspect it would be very rewarding to try these out, so this is definitelty a book that deserves a second reading.

The one problem is that, where it covers the cryptographic issues and technologies of the internet and quantum computing, it becomes clear that the book is a little elderly, having been published in 1999. Perhaps it would benefit froma reissue with some reworking of the last two chapters. However, this is a minor quibble and it shouldn't put you off.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Titillating Introduction to Cryptography, 12 Sept. 1999
By A Customer
I had no real technical understanding of cryptography before picking up this book but have come across its practical uses in university and the computing industry. Singh's mix of technical explanation within a setting of people and time made the book entertaining and removed the textbook feeling that it may otherwise have had. Equally, without the technical explanations it would have left the reader wondering about just how daunting and challenging the task of deciphering is. A brief glance though the challenge set by the author at the end of the book confirms this! I was pleasantly surprised that he did not linger on the work Turing and Enigma deciphering, with television documentaries, newspaper articles and Enigma by Robert Harris, Singh could have covered old ground and ended the book with mere repetition. Instead he ends having provided enough information for the layperson to have an entertaining read or for someone who wants to know more to probe the vast amounts of information on the Internet. To someone already well read in cryptography the technical aspects may not be new and perhaps even the personalities involved may be known, but then to pitch the book at the few people who are able to understand the latest innovations would not get it in the bestseller list!
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The Code Book: The Secret History of Codes and Code-breaking
The Code Book: The Secret History of Codes and Code-breaking by Simon Singh (Paperback - 6 May 2002)
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