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on 3 January 2016
I really enjoyed this history of code breaking, from its earliest beginnings. Singh makes it accessible and interesting, though, to be honest, my little brain did start to rebel a bit at some of the explanations of the codes. It's not that it was too mathemtical (this is no "a brief history of time", thank God!!), I guess my brain just isn't made that way. Still a really interesting insight into why, amongst other things, you can do your banking on line and send secure information, without other people being able to read it. (At least, that's the theory, right?)
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on 14 December 2017
This is a really fantastic book. I bought this as a complete novice to code-breaking whilst doing some research into Enigma, Alan Turing and the cryptanalysts at Bletchley Park in the Second World War, as I had just landed a part in an amateur production of 'Breaking the Code' by Hugh Whitemore. I wanted to know more about what was involved in code-breaking, and was not disappointed. Simon Singh goes into various types of codes and ciphers, basing their use in a historical setting and also explaining how to use them and how to crack them - and the way it's written is hugely engaging and informative. So much so that I could actually break some code myself and felt very pleased with myself. Especially because I'm hopeless at maths.
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VINE VOICEon 18 December 2016
This book claims to be a history of the science of secrecy from Ancient Egypt to quantum cryptography. In order to cover this ground the author sometimes strays into areas where secrecy was unintended, such as the meaning of Egyptian hieroglyphics and Minoan Linear B. These subjects may be considered digressions, but in both cases considerable effort was expended over many years to ‘crack the code’ and some of the techniques used have been applied to other areas where secrecy actually was intended. They are, in any case, engrossing in their own right.

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.
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on 24 April 2016
I was reading about cryptography somewhere and it recommended this book, which I subsequently purchased. Absolutely unputdownable! Cryptography and codes have been around for thousands of years, and you can follow the progression from the simplest, to a brief introduction of the totally unbreakable quantum encryption. Mary Queen of Scots plotted to kill Queen Elizabeth by sending coded messages to her accomplices. However, the Queen's code breakers could decipher everything she wrote and condemned Mary to death. Just one of the Amazon facts you will read in this book.
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VINE VOICEon 16 November 2012
My first encounter with Simon Singh was several years ago when I read, and thoroughly enjoyed, his extremely clear Fermat's Last Theorem and, after 358 years, how Andrew Wiles solved the problem in a mere eight years. But, if I'm completely honest, I remember becoming somewhat glassy eyed when the intricacies of the Taniyama-Shimura-Weil conjecture first surfaced.

'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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on 13 October 2014
This could be my favourite book of all time. Many friends had recommended it and it didn't disappoint. Goes through early basic codes (letter substitution for example) through the WWII Enigma code (which I almost feel like I could now crack!) and right into the modern age of computer cryptography and Internet Shopping (although the book was bang up to date at the time, it is now a few years old, still relevant though). There were enough details to satisfy my background as a maths graduate, but it's still very accessible for anyone with just general interest. Buy it!

There are a selection of coded messages at the back for you to try out your new code-cracking skills if you like.
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VINE VOICEon 31 May 2010
Simon Singh provides the reader with an overview of the history of cryptology and brings to the reader's attention events in history that would probably have had different outcomes had it not been for the achievements of some historical figures - mostly unknown to us today - like Thomas Phelippes who deciphered and forged an encrypted message to Mary, Queen of Scots, thereby forcing her to effectively sign her own death warrant, and Marian Rejewski who provided the groundwork on deciphering the Enigma machine before handing his research over to the British; his enthusiasm for the subject shines through at every page. He also aims to set the record straight for a few unsung heroes, mainly from recent history who, due to the secrecy act, were forbidden from publicly claiming credit for their work in cryptology at the time. Most notably amongst them is Alan Turing who helped crack the Enigma cipher, but also Tommy Flowers who single-handedly built Colossus, the precursor to the modern digital computer but who had to destroy the blueprints after the war, as well as Clifford Cocks and Malcolm Williamson who invented the asymmetric cipher and public-key cryptography four years before the Americans but were sworn to secrecy. I also enjoyed his brief foray into the decipherment of ancient texts like the Egyptian hieroglyphics and the Minoan script of Linear B, but Simon Singh's main achievement lies in his ability to bring across such tricky issues like key distribution, public-key cryptography and quantum cryptography in a simple and lucid manner to a mainly non-technically minded person like me. My only criticism and one that has got nothing to do with the author, is the fact that this book was written more than ten years ago when e-commerce was still in its infancy; since then the world has seen a massive leap in terms of financial transactions being conducted over the internet and even seen the arrival of internet banking and with it the need for ever better security for the individual and companies trading over the internet. I would be most interested to read a topical update in which he covers the last ten years and the impact this has had on cryptography.
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on 25 December 2017
Absolutely fascinating. Some cypher techniques require re-reading but I throughly enjoyed the challenge of this book and learning the history of cryptography. I read this book whenever I had a spare moment. When I get chance I’ll go back and try to break the codes at the back.
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on 6 October 2007
When I first picked up this book I was a bit worried I would need a triple degree in mathematics, a calculator and lots of paper. My fears were very quickly allayed and I immediately found this to be an easy-to-read historical narrative on coding and decoding, introducing the distinction between steganography and cryptography.

Throughout, Singh focuses on what he sees as a battle between the cryptanalyst and the cryptographer... the cryptographer uses a new technique which is "unbreakable"... the cryptanalyst breaks it some time later.... The cryptographer comes up with a new idea... that too is broken some time later... and so on.

The author cleverly weaves this into a general history of where these techniques have affected the history, such as the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, and the Second World War. A detailed history is given of Enigma, explaining how the system was used and how it was decrypted, as well as introducing newer techniques such as RSA and PGP.

Definitely a worthwhile read - examples are also given so you can follow how each encryption and decryption technique actually works.
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on 9 January 2017
I initially wanted to get a better understanding of cryptography when I started reading the book. Since then I have been able to create resources and activities to incorporate what I have learnt in my lessons to help students develop their problem solving skills as well. The book was very interesting and full of useful tips for creating and deciphering codes.
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