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on 15 August 2000
Leo Marks (son of the owner of 84 Charing Cross Road) set off to war at a tender age clutching a railway ticket and a black market chicken and ended up in less than a year as one of the key people in Britain's war effort. I took this book on holiday and found it almost impossible to put down. It is a masterly summary of the struggle against petty bureaucracy and inter-departmental politics combined with Marks's complete faith in his own not inconsiderable abilities. He briefed allied agents being sent into occupied Europe, invented new codes and ciphers, deduced that the SOE infrastructure in Holland had been blown wide open by the Germans and many other things beside. Marks is a brilliant and truly fascinating individual.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 23 August 2002
I can honestly say that this is the best book I have ever read. Fiction or non-fiction. Leo Marks keeps you on your toes the whole way through - hilarious and touching by turns, the book is absolutely unputdownable.
Combining his own recollections of how he spent most of the war in the SOE, doing things he had specifically been told not to do by his superiors, and the gripping and moving tale of how Captain Yeo-Thomas (better known as The White Rabbit) was caught by the Gestapo, there's more than enough to satisfy any reader.
What more can I say? I've already bought it 7 times more as gifts!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 10 May 2014
This book's title links the parachutes used by Britain's SOE field agents each time they were dropped onto some foreign land and the suicide pill that all were offered but which some refused or would not use if captured. It is one of a small number recently purchased that have the SOE as their subject, a personal interest resurrected by a chance viewing of the film, 'Carve Her Name With Pride'. It is also unusual in that it shares cryptography and SOE as its joint subjects incorporated.

This original book by Leo Marks is about his wartime career in the Special Operations Executive and images of some of its agents are used on the cover. He was not a field agent as were most of its personnel but a backroom boffin. Coming from a family business of antiquarian booksellers in London's Charing Cross Road, he was a self-taught cryptographer of considerable skill although then only 22 years old and an amateur unlike the cryptanalysts working at Bletchley Park who were mostly Maths graduates from the major universities, PhDs or professors in Maths or Physics.

Although there are many other factual books about SOE they tend to be about its field agents, some of whose names became known post-war, and their operations; the backroom functions such as those of the cryptographer or the designers of the specialised tools, radios and devices used by the agents tend to be often overlooked. Without those backroom personnel SOE's functionality would have been rather limited and many of their tasks made more difficult or impossible. There are also other books about cryptography but they are mostly theoretical and few are similar in content to this.

There are a few included illustrations but they have relevance and do not overload or detract from the author's story. For its different insight into SOE, backroom rather than frontline, this could be a valuable addition to a collection of wartime histories. It would also complement any other book or books that cover SOE's fieldwork, or indeed, cryptography.

A very different take on its subjects and a very worthwhile addition to a book collection. It does not rely upon mathematical theory and is therefore very user-friendly.
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on 1 July 2016
From the moment you start to read it you are struck by Mark's individual writing style that make you feel as if you are there with him when the events took place... A real gem of a book and I am so glad I discovered it...Thoroughly recommended .
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on 29 September 2017
A superb story line it could have been a good series for the B.B.C. or Granada T.V. it is a very good read I fully recommend it to you what a story...
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on 19 July 2017
Fascinating book. It has what I consider to be the best feature of any book, it's really difficult to put it down.
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on 22 February 2017
A book I found hard to put down. Sometimes takes a bit of brain stretching I fills the codes and ciphers , but most entertaining. .
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on 28 May 2017
Very detailed and most enjoyable. An extremely gifted and intelligent person whose ability conquered many obstacles and indifference to his undoubted skills.
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on 21 September 2017
Great story. Slightly quirky the way it's written, but all the better for that, when you get used to it.
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on 26 August 2017
very good
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