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The Codebreakers: The Comprehensive History of Secret Communication from Ancient Times to the Internet Hardcover – Dec 5 1996


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The Codebreakers: The Comprehensive History of Secret Communication from Ancient Times to the Internet + The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1200 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 2nd Revised edition edition (Dec 5 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684831309
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684831305
  • Product Dimensions: 15.5 x 6.6 x 23.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 Kg
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #127,292 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

From Amazon

"Few false ideas have more firmly gripped the minds of so many intelligent men than the one that, if they just tried, they could invent a cipher that no one could break," writes David Kahn in this massive (almost 1,200 pages) volume. Most of The Codebreakers focuses on the 20th century, especially World War II. But its reach is long. Kahn traces cryptology's origins to the advent of writing. It seems that as soon as people learned how to record their thoughts, they tried to figure out ways of keeping them hidden. Kahn covers everything from the theory of ciphering to the search for "messages" from outer space. He concludes with a few thoughts about encryption on the Internet.

Review

The Washington Post Kahn has produced a tour de force...The volume is an anthology of a hundred detective stories, one more ingenious than the last, and all real, central to the fate of armies and kingdoms....Magnificent.

The Christian Science Monitor A literary blockbuster...for many evening of gripping reading, no better choice can be made than this book.

Time Perhaps the best and most complete account of cryptography yet published.

The New York Times Book Review A notable achievement...Mr. Kahn has presented the specialist and the general public with a lavishly comprehensive introduction to a subject of basic significance for both.

Prepublication National Security Agency Evaluation, now declassified The book in its entirelty constitutes the most publicly revealing picture that has ever been presented of U.S. Sigint activities and the agencies engaged in this field.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most helpful customer reviews

Format: Hardcover
David Kahn's 'The Codebreakers' is an outstanding survey of the history of
cryptology from the origins of the subject up to the Second World War. Kahn is
thorough, and though the details occasionally threaten to overwhelm the
narrative, in the end the threat is never realized. The book is a fine
achievement.
Despite the fact that it attempts to cover the entire history of the subject,
the center of mass of the chronology probably lies somewhere around 1925 -
that is, a large portion of the book is devoted to WWI and WWII. This is quite
appropriate, as these were the periods when cryptography blossomed in
complexity and interest, and equally importantly it is the period of greatest
*historical* interest to contemporary readers. But even so, Kahn casts his net
into some rarely explored corners: he does not neglect to discuss medieval
cryptography (lovers of medieval polyphony will not be surprised to learn that
a passion for intricate puzzles also animated the art of secret writing), he
devotes some pages to cryptography in non-Western societies, and he gives an
in-depth discussion of the U.S. intelligence services' activities on the day
of the Pearl Harbour attacks.
For me, the two best chapters of the book came after he had completed his main
narrative arc. One chapter, called "The Pathology of Cryptology", studies the
pseudo-science wing of cryptology: all those efforts to discover 'secret
meanings' in apparently non-secretive texts. The story of attempts to extract
from the text of Shakespeare's plays the latent confession that they had in fact
been written by Francis Bacon is hilarious and pitiful at once.
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Format: Hardcover
David Kahn's 'The Codebreakers' is an outstanding survey of the history of cryptology from the origins of the subject up to the Second World War. Kahn is thorough, and though the details occasionally threaten to overwhelm the narrative, in the end the threat is never realized. The book is a fine achievement.
Despite the fact that it attempts to cover the entire history of the subject, the center of mass of the chronology probably lies somewhere around 1925 - that is, a large portion of the book is devoted to WWI and WWII. This is quite appropriate, as these were the periods when cryptography blossomed in complexity and interest, and equally importantly it is the period of greatest *historical* interest to contemporary readers. But even so, Kahn casts his net into some rarely explored corners: he does not neglect to discuss medieval cryptography (lovers of medieval polyphony will not be surprised to learn that a passion for intricate puzzles also animated the art of secret writing), he devotes some pages to cryptography in non-Western societies, and he gives an in-depth discussion of the U.S. intelligence services' activities on the day of the Pearl Harbour attacks.
For me, the two best chapters of the book came after he had completed his main narrative arc. One chapter, called "The Pathology of Cryptology", studies the pseudo-science wing of cryptology: all those efforts to discover 'secret meanings' in apparently non-secretive texts. The story of attempts to extract from the text of Shakespeare's plays the hidden claim that they had in fact been written by Francis Bacon is hilarious and pitiful at once.
Read more ›
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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By "blue50" on Dec 9 2003
Format: Hardcover
As a historian, with a particular interest in other than "American History", I found this book particularly compelling. I read the Earlier edition at least three times.
Yes, I found that, at times, the text gets bogged down in minutae that may not appeal to a particular reader, but in a volume of this magnitude, with this scope, and this ambition, that is virtually a lock.
What many of the reviewers don't seem to realize that the book was written in the context of the 1960s and that not only the writing, but also events described must be put into context. David Kahn does an excellent job of doing just that. To illustrate, I might simply point out his portrait of Herbert O. Yardley. One only has to read Yardley's "Education of a Poker Player" to understand just how accurate Kahn was in describing Yardley and his role.
Like all history books of a more specialized nature, there is a serious advantage to having enough background information to understand where events, people, and technology fit into the puzzle.
If you are seriously interested in what went on "behind the scenes" in much of the historical events of the 19th and 20th centuries, this book provides information that is an essential part of the puzzle.
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Format: Hardcover
I am in the midst of Kahn's 1000-plus page history of code at the moment, and so cannot provide a complete review here, but I'd like to offer an opinion that balances those of other contributors. Kahn's book is a compelling read, and clearly the product of exhaustive research. He initially captures one's curiosity with a gripping behind-closed-doors account of the days leading up to the attack at Pearl Harbor--an 80-page segment that moves quickly and confidently through a factual narrative rivalling the best war fiction. The next chapter retreats to a history of code and cipher, and this is where the trouble begins. While Kahn's research is superb, he gets bogged down in esoterica, and the book slows. The next several hundred pages are filled with great information, but there is little compelling narrative to drive the story along. Kahn opts instead to indulge in a detailed explanation of cipher--arguably essential to the later chapters--but serves up little of the immediacy and pace of the first chapter. In addition, he's not at all judicious with his use of superlatives; the writing is peppered with far too many statements like '...the most somberly prophetic in the whole history of cryptology'. Kahn hits his stride when he has a strong historical tale to structure his presentation. The descriptions of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scotts, and WW I, for example, are outstanding. If the book were pared down to this type of episode alone, it would be a 'cover-to-cover' experience. As it is, its extensiveness limits its audience to only those already enthusiastic about this arcane field. I came to the book intrigued by the secret goings-on conducted in secret writing, and am tempted to abandon it, or at least skim a generous portion.
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