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49 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A different take on a nowadays popular topic
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...
Published on 8 Dec. 2000

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars beale norman
probably the best book I have read as an adult I have given only three stars as my kindle wont accept the other two. a truly brilliant book. hurry up amazon and make it abailable on kindle.
Published on 25 Jan. 2013 by beale Norman


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read, non-fiction written like a thriller!, 14 Nov. 1999
By A Customer
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my top ten books, 30 Jan. 2013
By 
P. Ward "PW" - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I bought the paperback version of this book in 2000 and must have read it half a dozen times. It is well written, gripping and educational without ever being boring or predictable. All the more compelling is that it is a true story.

From other histories I have read it is apparent that SOE was not actually as effective at shortening WWII as Leo Marks believed (the code-breaking work at Bletchley was much more important to the Allied war success). However this in no way detracts from his narrative or the bravery of those agents he brings to life in this wonderful book.

I recommend it wholeheartedly and only wish that someone would bring it to Kindle or iBook so that I can read it again more easily on my travels.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An incredible true story. I loved it, 2 Feb. 2015
By 
John Ryan "One man and his Kat" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 10 REVIEWER)    (HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Between Silk and Cyanide: A Code Maker's War 1941-45 (Kindle Edition)
I read this book after listening to the author (Leo Marks) being interviewed on the radio, and it was one of the most fascinating interviews I’ve ever heard. Leo is a remarkable man, an unusual combination of a person who’s achieved a massive amount, lived through some very “interesting times”, and yet still managed to be truly humble.

The book itself is an account of his time time as a cryptography specialist for Special Operations Executive (SOE) during the war. He was involved in the instruction and training of agents before they were (quite literally) parachuted into enemy territory. Himself a keen poet, he includes in the book a simple but beautiful poem to his wife which was used by “Odette” – a famous SOE spy who was captured and tortured by the SS before being shot.

The poetry was a way to provide agents with a repeatable “key” with which to encrypt their messages sent back to London – all the while being hunted by the Gestapo using radio direction finding equipment. He pointed out, and eventually replaced this flawed system with a “one time pad” which was the basis of cryptography for the remainder of the war.

He’s a born story teller who balances the fear and terror of agents in the field with the mundane and petty bureaucracy of the office, and injects humour and compassion into what had to be an incredibly difficult job. The book itself races along at a remarkable pace, and after I’d finished it, my remaining feeling was that of disappointment. Not in the book, but the fact I’d finished it. It was like leaving behind a good friend.
If you’ve any interest at all in the current wave of Enigma based WW2 stories or just like a ripping (but entirely true) yarn, I can’t recommend this more highly.

A terrific read, from a remarkable man.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An interesting and unusual biography of one man's WW2 career, 10 May 2014
By 
Andy_atGC (London UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
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This book's title links the parachutes used by Britain's SOE field agents each time they were dropped onto some foreign land and the suicide pill that all were offered but which some refused or would not use if captured. It is one of a small number recently purchased that have the SOE as their subject, a personal interest resurrected by a chance viewing of the film, 'Carve Her Name With Pride'. It is also unusual in that it shares cryptography and SOE as its joint subjects incorporated.

This original book by Leo Marks is about his wartime career in the Special Operations Executive and images of some of its agents are used on the cover. He was not a field agent as were most of its personnel but a backroom boffin. Coming from a family business of antiquarian booksellers in London's Charing Cross Road, he was a self-taught cryptographer of considerable skill although then only 22 years old and an amateur unlike the cryptanalysts working at Bletchley Park who were mostly Maths graduates from the major universities, PhDs or professors in Maths or Physics.

Although there are many other factual books about SOE they tend to be about its field agents, some of whose names became known post-war, and their operations; the backroom functions such as those of the cryptographer or the designers of the specialised tools, radios and devices used by the agents tend to be often overlooked. Without those backroom personnel SOE's functionality would have been rather limited and many of their tasks made more difficult or impossible. There are also other books about cryptography but they are mostly theoretical and few are similar in content to this.

There are a few included illustrations but they have relevance and do not overload or detract from the author's story. For its different insight into SOE, backroom rather than frontline, this could be a valuable addition to a collection of wartime histories. It would also complement any other book or books that cover SOE's fieldwork, or indeed, cryptography.

A very different take on its subjects and a very worthwhile addition to a book collection. It does not rely upon mathematical theory and is therefore very user-friendly.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you liked Enigma - you'll love this book, 2 Jan. 1999
By A Customer
Incredible book, I read it from 12-2am every night until finished Christmas '98. Absolutely gripping. I would love to see his original diaries. When did he find time to write his diaries during the War? The book starts off with his entrance into SOE by flunking Bletchley due to personality. ("Hard Man to teach... even harder one to place...." Descriptions of his mother's blackmarket supplies will have you in stitches/ROFL and takes great bride at poking fun at his own Jewish background.
From the outset he realises the weaknesses of Special Operations Executive "Poem Codes" and sets about a long endeavour to introduce more secure methods for agents in the field. The book is his story of how me made his dreams come true.
A cracking chapter entitled "Hard Men" narrates his interview with George Coutauld and Tommy Davis. He desperately needs to get fresh supplies of silk, as he has promised the printers silk but has also assured the silk suppliers that he has the printing facilities to make use of the silk provided. He has 3 weeks supply left from a department in the RAF then he's in trouble and needs to convince the Supply Directorate that his cause is worthy.
One can only assume that his life and for many others around him was actually like the picture he paints. Marks is a master storyteller and describes humorously what must have been an extremely frustrating bureaucratic bloodbath. As a round peg in a square hole of life I completely identified with him and would loved to have been a member of his "bedlam" team at SOE.
Mark Cross Jan 1999 (M1BXD)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A real life thriller, 29 Nov. 1998
By A Customer
Between Silk and Cyanide is an insider's portrait of the SOE (Special Operations Executive), a controversial British organization for subversive warfare during the Second World War. In the early books on SOE the authors could not refer even to its name. The SOE files were transferred to the British intelligence organization after the war, and there has been a steady release of many of the country sections' files from 1993. The Dutch files were released in 1998, after the official history on SOE in Holland has been written, but not yet published. Marks' book provides significant new information to the public about controversial operations and service controversies.
Marks joined SOE's Signals section in 1942, and wisely he limits his book to the information he knew from his service. Working with codes and signals he had access to much information, and he realized how easy it was to break the first codes used by SOE agents. He knew the thin borderline between safer codes on silk and the death of a cyanide tablet, preferable to Gestapo torture. He understood the essential role of the W/T operators in SOE. It was hard to avoid cracking before 48 hours to give their contacts a chance to disappear. Few SOE agents could preserve their secrets after months of torture, and if they kept their will to resist, their bodies' ability to resist was crushed. Readers wanting more information on the organization and its methods will find that in M. R. D. Foot's SOE 1940-46 and his official history of SOE in France.
The author made procedural improvements, some of which he can still not publish. It will be difficult to assess how many agents' lives were saved by new codes. There is no doubt that these codes contributed to the final victory. By waiting half a century before his report from the SOE was published, he has been allowed to publish a frank statement of his experience in a secret organization built on an almost unbelievable mixture of human triumphs and tragedies. Unlike many other books written by former members of the SOE Between Silk and Cyanide combines the complexity of great fiction, the suspense of judgement in thrillers and the poetry of an honest mind in a deadly war game few people could fully understand then and later. This book should provide a "health warning" that by reading it the reader may lose the future joy of reading fictitious thrillers.
The author provides some indication of his sources, but it is amazing how much he can provide of facts and conversations after half a century when so many of the sources have been lost. I have no doubt that many of the statements reproduced are authentic quotations documented by a reliable primary source. Are all of them quotations? The historians face a difficult problem with this source to SOE history, but there are only a few minor factual errors. The first reading will not reveal all of its secrets.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book - terrible title!, 23 Nov. 1998
By A Customer
What's going on? Is there some wierd form of anti-Semitism amongst publishers which required Jewish authors to use dreadful titles? Last year, I bought an excellent collection of essays by Frederick Raphael called 'The Necessity of Anti-Semitism'. The title was so bad it was embarassing to ask for it. And now Leo Marks has written a book, abounding in telling phrases, which has managed to receive a title which is just about the only leaden phrase in the whole work!
Leo Marks has written a superb book. A real-life thriller into which moments of horrible reality, death and betrayal intrude. At one moment, Leo Marks is swinging gorilla-like over a swimming pool wearing a bowler hat (the image won't leave me!), at another, he's desperately trying to instruct an unworldly 23 (?) year old woman on skills that may (but don't) save her life. And although only in his early 20s he knew exactly what was going on.
The frustration of his knowing that a whole country's group of agents has been exposed, while watching fresh innocents being fed in is deeply engaging and dreadful.
His empathy with a clearly wicked double agent - who will be killed to deceive the Germans - makes the complexity of his approach so much the more fascinating.
Finally, Leo Marks' restraint, with just a few - deliberate and telling - slips, set this out as a remarkable, humane and deeply enthralling story of an (almost) entirely good enterprise.
This is probably the best book I have read in 1998.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Morse flirts with Bond, 3 May 2011
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Extraordinary gift of Leo Marks to have the mindset of an eccentric codecracker whilst being the young gauche son of the owner of 84 Charing Cross Road.He writes beautifully in the vernacular of today, with great humility and humour, about the world of SOE agents most of whom did not come back from Nazi Europe. In particular his battles with the hierarchy of the war effort are not so different from those of today. The specifics of encryption and of decoding somewhat passed me by but otherwise a page turning read.Probably not for this book, but Marks fails to explain the post war photographs he includes and the turmoil in Holland since WWII from the compromised SOE network through the activity of Herr Giskes.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Agents, codes, and almost certain death in the line of duty, 21 May 2011
By 
P. P. Wilson (AKL New Zealand) - See all my reviews
This is the third copy of the book I have purchased. I've given all three away as gifts. Two were new, purchased specifically as gifts for others. The book is important for many reasons: The burden of responsibility that fell on Leo Marks at an age far earlier than the majority would ever care to endure, is a lesson in moral strength. The book is a signpost to his prodigious intellect, and a clear warning for all of us involved in technically complex arenas as to the risks and trade offs with the inevitable politicisation of technical issues.

Marks has to deal with the enormous moral burden of briefing field operatives whom he knew were already compromised prior to their departure on operations, without making his foreknowledge apparent. Who among us would knowingly send another person to a certain doom? Marks appeals on a visceral and a cerebral level, offering huge insight into the dangerous second-guessing of the Nazi counter
intelligence machine, and into the mechanics of cipher methodologies, many of which he invented, that had to change rapidly to guarantee integrity and safety. I rate this book with 'Spycatcher
'(Peter Wright) and 'Collossus' both exceptional reads for those interested in this field of study. 'Spycatcher' because Leo Marks, Like Peter Wright, was an original thinker, and not constrained by the military or class-think structures of their time.
I've read 'Between Silk and Cyanide' four times, and I will doubtless read it again.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 17 Dec. 2002
By 
Aaron C Reskew (England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
I received this book as a present and read it cover to cover in no more than two weeks. The portrayal of the individuals behind the operations was extremely moving, and very well married with the flippancy that is the "release valve" for the high pressure these people were constantly subjected to. The description of the evolution of code and code pads gave a fascinating insight into the risks taken by these largely ordinary men and women. Most evenings when I put the book down before going to bed I half expected the Gestapo to break down the door in the middle of the night.
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