Enigma: The Battle for the Code Hardcover – 25 May 2000
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Timing is all but even Hugh Sebag-Montefiore could hardly have dreamed when he started researching this book four years ago that its publication would coincide with the release of the Hollywood blockbuster U-571. The film claims that it was the Americans "wot won the war" through the bravery of two of its sailors who climbed aboard the crippled sub and made off with an Enigma machine and assorted codebooks before it sank. But then Hollywood has never let the facts get in the way of a good profit. As Sebag-Montefiore points out it was a British officer, Francis Fasson, together with Able Seaman, Colin Grazier, who climbed down the turret of U-559 to retrieve the codebooks and, furthermore, their capture was only a small, if important, part of the Enigma story. However, this book is neither an exercise in point scoring nor full of dramatic new revelations. Its purpose is to chart the entire Enigma history from 1931, when a cipher officer, named Hans Thilo Schmidt, working in the German Defence Ministry, first passed secrets of the code to the French to the end of the War. As such it is extremely welcome. There have been a fair number of books on various parts of the Enigma story--not least the work of Alan Turing and the Bletchley Park boffins--but there have been few that have so thoroughly charted the early years of the 1930s when Polish cryptographers battled to read Enigma messages. Thus Enigma becomes part of an ongoing story, not something just bolted on to a dramatic narrative of the Second World War. Sebag-Montefiore has unearthed a few new primary sources, who add colour and insight rather than anything new, but he does have an engagingly easy style not found among many historians and the book is an extremely accessible read. For all its thoroughness, though, there are some things that the author cannot explain. Why did the Germans not realise the code was broken when all the evidence pointed that way? And how did Enigma work? Sebag-Montefiore devotes a lengthy appendix to a simplified explanation of the latter--but this reader is still none the wiser. Maybe some things will always remain a mystery. --John Crace
"In a crowd of books dealing with the Allied breaking of the World War II German cipher machine Enigma, Hugh Sebag–Montifiore has scored a scoop."
––The Washington Post
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
This book is a significant 'heart-breaker' for anyone who ever thought that Turing was almost singly responsible for breaking it, or that Enigma was only encountered from 1939. The fact that the Polish had been going after it since the early 30s., might come as a shock to some people.
In itself, the Book is a fascinating account of what was the build-up to being able to decipher it all. However, I found that a lot of the Chapters danced back and forth in time throughout, which made it difficult to relate to them all in chronological order, so the picture became blurred.
Just as in all the other Books, there is absolutely NO mention of WHO actually created this ingenious Beast of a Machine, or even ANY attempts to find him / they who developed it. THAT seems to be, so far, the most closely-guarded Secret of all, and something that Hollywood and Pinewood could never imagine of bringing to the big screen !!
If you jump forward to today, you may wonder, as often as I do, what method or code is used to encipher our e-mails, on-line Bank transactions, Amazon orders and details or anything even vaguely like them. Unscrupulous people have infiltrated them already, but make that fact openly and blatantly obvious. That's ONE thing Bletchley Park could not afford to do. If breaking Enigma was difficult enough, then keeping it a Secret was even MORE difficult. How many lives were knowingly sacrificed to keep that Secret?
Whilst the contribution of Alan Turing and his fellow code-breakers at Bletchley Park was considerable, the exploits of spies, naval officers and ordinary British seamen also played a major part.
Indeed, the story dates back to 1932 when the Polish cracked the German Airforce Enigma, although they considered the more complicated Navy Enigma to be unbreakable. When WW2 broke out, they handed this information to the British, which was an important starting point.
Updated for the 70th anniversary of the Enigma breakthrough with new material, this is a dense but involving account which pays due tribute to the many people who lost their lives ensuring that Bletchley Park was supplied with the intelligence they needed to crack the code.
The true story of Enigma at first top secret, then the stuff of legend has the habit of going through some changes. Robert Harris's "Enigma" and Hollywoods "U-571" and most recently "The Imitation Game" all make for good entertainment, but the real story seems to continue to be elusive.
Read this an find out there was much, much more to Enigma than Alan Turing (although he was pretty amazing too!).
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