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Thursday, February 05, 2015
The Secret Lives of Codebreakers (with update)
I read and reviewed this in the summer of 2012. Since then the film The Imitation Game has been released, so I'm re-posting and adding an update and some links.
------------ This is, perhaps, my favorite book this year. The Secret Lives of Codebreakers: The Men and Women Who Cracked the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park allows us a uniquely fascinating glimpse into the lives of those who worked at Bletchley Park during WWII, breaking the Enigma codes that the Germans and others considered unbreakable.
The author brings life to this secret world with interviews from many of the individuals who worked there during the war, keeping their activities secret from each other and from their families for decades. A remarkable and strangely lively look at the men and women whose secret work had everything to do with the success of the Allies in ending the war.
There were so many bookmarks on my Kindle that when I went over them, I found I'd bookmarked and highlighted way, way too much. However, the reason was simply that almost everything I found was fascinating--from the ordinary men and women involved to the genius of Alan Turing.
The book was exceptionally readable for a work of nonfiction; informative and entertaining at the same time. I really loved this book!
From Net Galley.
More About Bletchley Park:
(interesting blog review of Enigma)
Televison series: Danger UXB
Television documentary: Station X
fiction: Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson and All Clear by Connie Willis
Colossus: The Secrets of Bletchley Park's Codebreaking Computers by B. Jack Copeland
Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges
Seizing the Enigma: The Race to Break the German U-Boats Codes, 1939-1943 by David Kahn
Update: February 5, 2015.
A couple of weeks ago, Fee and I went to see The Imitation Game, and I was disappointed in the film and the portrayal of Alan Turing (not in Benedict Cumberbatch's performance, which was excellent). The film simply didn't reflect what I had previously read about Turing and Bletchley Park.
I loved The Secret Lives of Codebreakers, a riveting nonfiction look at Bletchley Park and the work that went on there. I also loved Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, which was fiction, but the kind that makes you want to more about the real history.
Another good nonfiction book about the period and codebreaking, although not at Bletchely Park, is Leo Marks Between Silk and Cyanide. Sounds kind of sexy, doesn't it, but actually codes were transferred to silk that could easily be concealed in the lining of clothing. And the cyanide--sadly, something spies carried as a matter of course.
Anyway, after seeing The Imitation Game, I finally ordered Alan Turing: The Enigma Man by Nigel Cawthorne and read it. This biography reveals some of the flaws in the film's presentation. I will review this one soon.
The Guardian has some articles that refute areas of the film as well:
revealing some of fictional elements concerning Turing and the Engima
the inaccurate presentation of Alistair Dennison
Perhaps the real benefit of seeing The Imitation Game will be curiosity about the real history behind Alan Turing, the cracking of the Enigma code, and the work done at Bletchley Park that helped win the war and began the journey that has led to the computer world we know today.
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I read something about this book recently and thought it looked interesting. Glad to see your review.ReplyDelete
The Enigma machine and the code breakers have always interested me, but I didn't expect to be so entertained by it. Really good read!ReplyDelete
This looks great!ReplyDelete
Bybee - I highly recommend this book for anyone with interest in WWII, Bletchley Park, or the Enigma Machine. Excellent!ReplyDelete
If it's your favorite book of the year so far, I must add it to my to-read list. It sounds fascinating!ReplyDelete
Anna - I love good history and nonfiction books, and this one is excellent! Hope you try it!ReplyDelete
I really want to read this book. One day I will get to it...ReplyDelete
If you see The Imitation Game, you will really want to read more about Bletchley Park and about Alan Turing to know how much the film has been fictionalized. The facts are more interesting than the fiction in this case.Delete
The Secret Lives of Codebreakers sounds like a great book; I own Between Silk and Cyanaide (which is one of my favorite non-fiction reads) and I can't wait to read your review of the Alan Turing biography. Cryptography and spies and WWII are all so fascinating...at least to me. :)ReplyDelete
Between Silk and Cyanide is fascinating, isn't it? I loved that Leo Marks' father owned the 84 Charing Cross Road bookstore. WWII, and cryptography and spies make for compelling reading. Have you read Operation Mincemeat by Ben MacIntyre? Another favorite nonfiction about WWII.Delete
I haven't. But it's certainly got a memorable title. I'll have to look for it at my library. Thanks for the recommendation! :)Delete
The complete title is Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory. Sounds like fiction, doesn't it?Delete
I've had this book on my radar for awhile and found it interesting to read your thoughts on the movie The Imitation Game in comparison. I can't say I'm surprised. Given how interested I am in WWII, it's sad how little I know about code breaking and Bletchley Park. I have read some, just not a lot.ReplyDelete
As I've mentioned before, the actual code breaking gets too complicated for me, and yet I love books that discuss codes and the mathematical minds that can break them. Speaking of codes, I still want to read some nonfiction about the Navaho Code Talkers and how they confounded the Japanese code breakers by speaking in their own language.Delete
Sounds both fascinating and intriguing! I rarely read nonfiction but this sounds like an interesting read, with the history and all.ReplyDelete
Some nonfiction is more interesting than the fiction created to describe the events. :)Delete
That's too bad that the film version was disappointing. I think it's especially disappointing when it's based on a work of non-fiction and they can't keep that true to the book. By the way, have you read the Susan Ella McNeal mysteries? Her main character is a codebreaker. I've only read the first in the series but I thought it was a good set up and loved that her main character is a woman doing the codebreaking!ReplyDelete
I'm not sure why they felt it necessary to create their own version of Turing's life and work, but it was disappointing. I've only read the first book in McNeal's series, but Bletchley Park was full of women, smart and capable women who worked on decoding the messages, and they deserve recognition. They were mathematicians and/or were skilled in languages. The more prominent included Mavis Lever, Joan Clarke, Margaret Rock, and Ruth Briggs. "Boffins [nerds] and Debs."Delete