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.