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Colossus: The Secrets of Bletchley Park's Code-breaking Computers Hardcover – 23 Feb 2006

4.2 out of 5 stars 76 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; 1st Edition edition (23 Feb. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019284055X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192840554
  • Product Dimensions: 23.9 x 4.3 x 15.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 30,606 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

Review

An engaging book that will be essential reading for historians of twentieth-century technology and warfare. (Nature)

formidably detailed (Guardian)

compelling compilation (New Scientist)

About the Author

Jack Copeland is a Reader in Philosophy and Director of the Turing Project at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. A contributor to Scientific American, his books include Turing's Machines, Artificial Intelligence, and The Essential Turing.


Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I am a volunteer at Bletchley Park and as such give talks and tours on Colossus, Heath Robinson, Tunny etc. This book is simply the best that I have ever read on the subject. It has allowed me to fill in all sorts of blanks and uncertainties.
It has so many reports from peoplem who actually worked at Bletchley Park, that is is undoubtedly a "bible" for those who need it. There are many worked examples on decrypting Tunny, describing the chi, psi and motor wheels.
By the way, if you visit Bletchley Park, also take a look at the National Museum of Computing too.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book contains numerous articles written by some of those invisible people who actually took part in this top secret project. Some of the accounts are those of frustration, from people not allowed to get the recognition that they and their colleagues deserve. The level of detail and understanding shown makes this a very interesting and unique picture. I would recommend it without hesitation. Their ability to inject humour in the most serious of stories gives you some idea of the luck and good fortune that resulted in the most important achievements.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
After a visit to Bletchley Park I was keen to delve further into the dark world of cryptography. As the title suggests this book concentrates on one of the final pieces of kit which speeded up no end the breaking and reading of German codes. I was with it all for the first two or three chapters but after that it was a struggle - a knowledge of advanced maths is a positive advantage! The following chapters were mainly reminiscencies of senior staff including their particular theoretical or practical problems. There are appendices at the back with detailed tables etc. which provide or enlarge on the technical details mentioned within the body of the book.
This I think is a tome for the more advanced student of this fascinating subject.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
As someone with an interest in the mechanics of codes and ciphers, and also an interest in Bletchley, Enigma, Alan Turing, and chandestine/covert WWII subjects like the XX Committee, MI9, SOE and so on, this book didn't need to be sold to me.

It is easy to assume that Bletchley = Turing = Enigma, but what this book does spectacularly is to reveal, nay, stress, that there were many others (Max Newman and Tom Flowers are two, I haven't got room to name all the participants deserving of being named) without whom Bletchley would either not have existed or not been (as) successful.
There is a huge amount of mathematics in this book, and my (very old) A-level Mathematics came in very handy. However, those that are not mathematically inclined can skip over the detailed maths and continue reading the story and won't miss very much. The obscure material is substantial and detailed but it doesn't interfere with the narrative.

Apart from dispelling a few misapprehensions about the importance of Enigma encipherment and machines relative to Tunny and the Lorenz machines, the most fascinating part was the first person stories of the Bletchley people - or their surviving relatives, and that is this book's great strength or "USP" (unique selling point) in today's jargon.
Good to know how and why a 1940s Colossus was quicker at processing some jobs than my 2010 dual-core PC !

The sense of loss that these genius people and the many hundreds of men and women who executed their plans never received any recognition for their war work is palpable and the book treats that stain on Britain's record in a matter of fact way.
There is, after all, some Bletchley material that has not been declassified. Not yet!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This detailed account of the life and people who worked at Bletchley Park is a compelling read, whether or not you are interested in the hardware and technical explanations, of which there is an abundance, but for the personal accounts from those who were involved.

What comes across in these is the extraordinary loyalty and determination of individuals and teams, in spite of the poor living accommodation, welfare and working conditions afforded them in return for their genius and ingenuity.

However, these people fought with their brains. Driven by a collective resolve, winning was cracking a new cipher, which could save hundreds of lives by unveiling a single sentence.

The late Tommy Flowers' section on his work at the Post Office's Dollis Hill research centre using thermionic valves is a fascinating insight as to how it became possible to process data at speeds in powers of ten over mechanical systems, an overture to today's nano-transistor, gigahertz-clocked multi-core power processors.

Combined with the sheer intellectual capacity of the mathematicians working on the project to provide the basis of the programming, this was the key technology that made breaking deeply encrypted messages possible in useable timescales.

It also raises a poignant thought: the `Colossi' - there were quite few of them - seemed to become like trusted old friends, and their destruction after the end of hostilities was viewed by most working with them as a sad affair. Perhaps with 20-20 vision in hindsight, an over-zealous application of the Official Secrets Act, which held back the UK computer industry for decades?

Of interest to historians and the plain curious, this is a quality collection of information on the essence of what made Bletchley Park...and modern computing.
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