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4.0 out of 5 stars The daily life of codebreakers - or Bletchley one day at a time..., 6 Sept. 2010
This review is from: The Secret Life of Bletchley Park: The History of the Wartime Codebreaking Centre by the Men and Women Who Were There (Hardcover)
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While there have been many books - and films - involving Bletchley Park of late, this text comes at the facility from a new angle. Where other books cover the cracking of various codes, and the impact of the Park on the war effort, this book examines Bletchley through the eyes of its staff. Rather than accounts of codes broken or attacks predicted, the reader is thrown into the Park through the lens of people who lived there. Whilst the breaking of codes, as the purpose of Bletchley, is mentioned, the greater focus is on the culture and personalities which defined the British codebreaking experience, before, during and after the Second World War.

The book is separated into semi-chronological chapters, each looking at an aspect of the work (or recreation) at the Park. The prose within each is straightforward and accessible, as befits the focus of the piece on people, rather than mathematical theorems. The chapters themselves cover a range of topics, including the set up and closure of Bletchley, the early recruitment drives, the arrival of the WRENs, and the construction of the (now famous) Bombes and Colossus machines, early precursors to the computing age. Also included are anecdotal profiles of famous Bletchley alumni, including Turing, Menzies and Dennison.

Each chapter stays on-point nicely, and comes laced with quotes and descriptions from Bletchley veterans, providing a more intimate study of the site than is usual. It is a shame that the number of sources is relatively limited - given the number of staff at the park - but given that the events are now over sixty years old, only to be expected. Also included in the centre of the text were several black and white photograph plates, showing life inside the huts and views of the park. Much like the rest of the book, these serve to paint a picture of daily life at Bletchley, rather than focusing on the contents of the work itself.

Overall, this is an excellent close study of daily life at Bletchley Park, before, during, and after the war, from the original purchase by Sinclair through to the site's closure, with a brief coda on the Park as a historical monument. This view of Bletchley as individuals, rather than as an institution, has been done with great care, and reference to primary sources. A highly enjoyable and entertaining read - come for the codebreaking, but stay for the codebreakers.
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