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The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography Hardcover – 2 Sep 1999

4.7 out of 5 stars 212 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate; 1st edition (2 Sept. 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1857028791
  • ISBN-13: 978-1857028799
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 16 x 4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (212 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 92,027 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

With their inextricable links to history, mystery and war, codes and ciphers offer a rich seam of material for any author. The relative dearth of non-technical books on the subject may be a reflection of its pretty technical foundations, which compel hard decisions about what to include and what to gloss over. Few are better qualified to take on the challenge than Simon Singh, the particle physicist turned science writer whose book Fermat's Last Theorem, recounting the dauntingly complex story behind the proof of this mathematical conjecture, deservedly became a No. 1 bestseller.

The Code Book contains many fascinating accounts of code-breaking in action, from its use in unmasking the Man in the Iron Mask and the defeat of the Nazis to the breaking of a modern cipher system by a world-wide army of amateurs in 1994. It is especially good on the most recent developments, such as quantum cryptology and the thorny civil liberties issues raised by the advent of very secure cipher systems over the Internet. But Singh's mathematical prowess sometimes gets the better of his journalistic instincts, leading to technical descriptions that unnecessarily disrupt the narrative flow. So buy it-- and have a shot at the 10,000 pound mystery cipher--but be prepared to skip. --Robert Matthews

Review

‘A fascinating meander through the centuries; replete with tales of intrigue, political chicanery, military secrecy and academic rivalry.’ The Times

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: 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.
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Format: 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.
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Format: 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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Format: Kindle Edition
I'm about half-way through the book, and it's a very interesting and easy-to-absorb read. My only complaint with this Kindle edition is that the book makes many references to various figures and diagrams, none of which seem to be included in the digital edition.
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Format: Kindle Edition
I'm not going to review the actual text itself here - there's enough other reviews talking about how excellent it is. Rather, I'll mention how disappointing the Kindle conversion of this title is: rather than having been specifically prepared for the Kindle, it seems the publishers simply scanned the print version and ran it through an OCR package. Incorrect characters abound in the text - for example, the letters "AT" get repeatedly used where a capital 'N' is intended in the section explaining RSA encryption. Also, most of the diagrams from the original text are missing, and where they are present, they are hard to read and flow badly with the text, often being several pages away from the text that refers to them.

It's a shame, because it's a truly excellent book, and the fact it's still readable despite all the errors and omissions is a testament to Singh's talent as a science communicator, but really, if this level of sloppiness and lack of care from publishers is what we can expect from Kindle editions in the future, it is a disappointing future indeed.
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Format: 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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