- Paperback: 402 pages
- Publisher: Fourth Estate; New Ed edition (6 May 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1857028899
- ISBN-13: 978-1857028898
- Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.6 x 19.8 cm
- Average Customer Review: 243 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,303 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Code Book: The Secret History of Codes and Code-breaking Paperback – 6 May 2002
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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 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
‘A fascinating meander through the centuries; replete with tales of intrigue, political chicanery, military secrecy and academic rivalry.’
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I am not expert in this subject, why is why I read the book, but as far as I can see it gives an excellent overview. The only possible caveat is that dates of recent advances tend to be in the late 1990s, so it may be that further major developments have occurred after it was published. But since the end point is quantum computing that does not seem likely.
Simon Singh has explained a difficult subject with admirable clarity.
'The Code Book' is equally well written and equally enjoyable and covers the history of code making and code breaking from ancient Egypt up until the budding development of quantum cryptography.
Simon Singh handles the material in an extremely readable way whilst the introduction of Alice, Bob and Eve (Eve is determined to read the secret messages being exchanged between Alice and Bob) adds a delightful touch to the story. He also deals in some length with the ground-breaking wartime work at Bletchley and with the subsequent development of the first genuine electronic computer (well before the Americans).
As I read the book I was also reading, in bed and on my Kindle, Sinclair McKay's intriguing and insightful book The Secret Life of Bletchley Park: The History of the Wartime Codebreaking Centre. The two books complement each other beautifully and I found Simon McKay's insight into the life at Bletchley was of enormous value in fleshing out Simon Singh's story. The earlier book by Ronald Lewin Ultra Goes to War is a useful but much earlier reference work.
The final section in 'The Code Book' deals with the possibility of developing a quantum-based computer. This has recently taken a step forward and a Google search will quickly take you to a Canadian company's website who are apparently in a position to supply you with a development system. The only possible problem (forgetting the undisclosed cost) is that the superconducting 128 qubit processor chip is housed inside a cryogenic system within a 10 m² shielded room...
Read and enjoy 'The Code Book'. It's a fascinating story.
Update, December 7th 2012
I've just received a copy of Simon Singh's 'The Cracking Codebook' but, unfortunately, it's nothing more than a virtually identical (less the chapter on quantum computing) copy of 'The Code Book'.
Don't be taken in - even though second hand copies of 'The Cracking Codebook' will cost you the princely sum of £0.01 plus postage...
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