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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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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: 24 x 16.8 x 5.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 Kg
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #32,685 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents


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4.2 out of 5 stars
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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 ›
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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
Weighty and thorough.
Between this , Simon Singh and Helen Fouche Gaines, one has reason to assume that an extensive introduction to this field of knowledge has been gained.
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Format: Hardcover
This is the essential history of cryptography at least through WW II. But of course, at the time it was published none of the ULTRA and Enigma decrypts had been released. And since the original hard book edition had become a rare book... it needed to be reprinted: the paperback had been excised of much of the material in the notes. All that said, when I first heard that this second edition was to come out, I eagerly sought it out. But I returned it the next day. The only new material is a short superficial chapter added at the end. None of the former text has been changed and the new material is simply not worth it since I have the first hardback. If you want more on ULTRA and the others there are a number of excellent books on both cryptography and SIGINT operations published since. And after all crytography is just a game unless the results can be applied in real time to affect events.
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