Between Silk and Cyanide: A Code Maker's War, 1941-45 Paperback – 1 Oct 2007
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Twenty-three is awfully young to find yourself with the power of life and death...Leo Marks failed the examination to go and work on codes at Bletchley by being just too good and too much of a smart aleck. Instead, he was imposed on a not entirely willing Special Operations Executive (SOE) to teach coding to agents dropped into Europe and to decode the sometimes indecipherable messages they sent back at great risk to their lives. His speeches to his staff on the mortal danger of slowness or carelessness are classics of guilt-tripping. Absence of mistakes made him suspect that the Germans had captured SOE's Dutch agents--his youth and personality meant that his superiors were slow to believe him. In his spare time, he revolutionized cryptography by inventing one-time-only pads, and wrote poems for agents to use as keys--including the poem associated with Violette Szabo, "Odette".
This is a moving memoir of the agents like Odette and Noor Inayat Khan, whose fates we already know and whom he tried in vain to protect. This is a powerful memoir of war, responsibility and guilt; Marks, hitherto famous as screenwriter on Peeping Tom and son of the 84 Charing Cross Road family, has written a classic. --Roz Kaveney --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Martin Scorsese "Between Silk and Cyanide" is a mesmerizing account of World War II as fought on the home front in Great Britain by the ingenious codemakers whose work determined the life and death of the Allied agents in occupied Europe. Leo Marks, a brilliant cryptographer, is a masterful and passionate storyteller. I was immediately swept into his secret world of codes and "undecipherables," trying at times (without success) to unravel the puzzles myself, and found it difficult to put down the book until the drama had come to an end.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
This book has everything - it's very informative, consistently gripping and sways between humour and heartache in equal measure.
Marks keeps the pace going throughout the book and deftly intertwines his owns accounts of his time in the SOE with a superb account of his contacts with Captain Forest Frederick Yeo-Thomas (better known as The White Rabbit).
As a factual account of wartime codebreaking, this book easily stands up in its own right. The fact that it's such a great read is just a bonus.
I can't recommend it highly enough. Which is why I've already bought 7 more copies as gifts!
Combining his own recollections of how he spent most of the war in the SOE, doing things he had specifically been told not to do by his superiors, and the gripping and moving tale of how Captain Yeo-Thomas (better known as The White Rabbit) was caught by the Gestapo, there's more than enough to satisfy any reader.
What more can I say? I've already bought it 7 times more as gifts!
I enjoyed it more than I could have imagined and this work revitalised my appreciation for our more recent history. It's also left me with the poem, 'a life that I have' running through my imagination
In SOE Marks had the job of briefing agents about the codes they would use in the field. At the start of the war SOE's codes had several weaknesses and Marks chronicles their gradual improvement, often against opposition from various closed-minded people in the military hierarchy.
Particularly moving is his description of the code given to Violette Szabo based on the famous "Life that I have" poem. He also describes SOE's tragic failure to accept that its Dutch network was completely compromised by the Germans and that most of the SOE agents sent to Holland were captured on arrival.
Marks's descriptions of colleagues and the SOE military bureacracy is in places hilarious, his descriptions of the fate of agents in places harrowing. His writing weaves the lightest and the darkest into a compelling story. Many have written about the codebreakers of Bletchley Park and their part in the life-or-death Battle of the Atlantic. As a code-maker, Marks offers a different and more personal perspective on the life-or-death decisions that affected individual agents.
Readers not into codes, codemaking and codebreaking might find the technical details a bit turgid - but they can be skipped without detracting from a narrative that is eye-witness history at its very best.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
What a great story, so well written and so hard to put sown. On the face of it, a story about a man working with codes during the second world war, you would most likely pass it... Read morePublished 12 days ago by gARThIbiza
From the moment you start to read it you are struck by Mark's individual writing style that make you feel as if you are there with him when the events took place... Read morePublished 24 days ago by sychnant
Well written, compelling story that maintains your interest throughout.Published 26 days ago by Brian Townsley
not enough stars available. I would give it 10. Absolutely brilliant readPublished 3 months ago by elizabeth grieve
The author has a deeply interesting story to tell of his contribution to the Second World War but for me it was very slightly marred by the interpolation of his sense of humour... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Donny's Mum
I can only echo what others have written; an excellent book written in fantastic style that reveals another, oft unwritten aspect of the secret war. Very readable indeed.Published 6 months ago by Mikey Mike
I have read and re read this book quite a few times, and it is still one of my all time favorite books.I cannot believe the brilliance of leo marks as a young man. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Amazon Customer
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