The Codebreakers: The Comprehensive History of Secret Communication from Ancient Times to the Internet

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Simon and Schuster, Dec 5, 1996 - History - 1200 pages
3 Reviews
The magnificent, unrivaled history of codes and ciphers -- how they're made, how they're broken, and the many and fascinating roles they've played since the dawn of civilization in war, business, diplomacy, and espionage -- updated with a new chapter on computer cryptography and the Ultra secret.

Man has created codes to keep secrets and has broken codes to learn those secrets since the time of the Pharaohs. For 4,000 years, fierce battles have been waged between codemakers and codebreakers, and the story of these battles is civilization's secret history, the hidden account of how wars were won and lost, diplomatic intrigues foiled, business secrets stolen, governments ruined, computers hacked. From the XYZ Affair to the Dreyfus Affair, from the Gallic War to the Persian Gulf, from Druidic runes and the kaballah to outer space, from the Zimmermann telegram to Enigma to the Manhattan Project, codebreaking has shaped the course of human events to an extent beyond any easy reckoning. Once a government monopoly, cryptology today touches everybody. It secures the Internet, keeps e-mail private, maintains the integrity of cash machine transactions, and scrambles TV signals on unpaid-for channels. David Kahn's The Codebreakers takes the measure of what codes and codebreaking have meant in human history in a single comprehensive account, astonishing in its scope and enthralling in its execution. Hailed upon first publication as a book likely to become the definitive work of its kind, The Codebreakers has more than lived up to that prediction: it remains unsurpassed. With a brilliant new chapter that makes use of previously classified documents to bring the book thoroughly up to date, and to explore the myriad ways computer codes and their hackers are changing all of our lives, The Codebreakers is the skeleton key to a thousand thrilling true stories of intrigue, mystery, and adventure. It is a masterpiece of the historian's art.

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A brilliant book and highly recommended, not only if you are interested in cryptography and mathematics, but also if you are interested in history and literature. This is a history of cryptography and cryptanalysis, with only a very limited amount of mathematics and technicality. In places some mental effort is still required, but it is certainly worth it.
Kahn discusses codes from roughly 1900 BC to the date of publication, which was 1967 for the original publication. Hence a discussion of most modern cryptography is not included. Otherwise it is a wide-ranging history of codes and ciphers, which is not as dry as you might expected it to be, as Kahn is not only a witty and ingenious writer, but also one with attention for the people who feature in his story.
And it is a fascinating story, in which the players are not just the expected soldiers and diplomats, but also businessmen trying to reduce telegraph costs, bootleggers trying to smuggle alcohol, and eccentrics trying to find codes in the works of Shakespeare. If you think there couldn't possibly be a connection between those worlds, think again.
 

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The Code Breakers by David Kahn. What else can I say that others haven't said. The is 'the' book for all who are interested in this fascinating subject, if it isn't in your collection, it should be. David Kahn has put together a book that I just can't put down even after a dozen years of reading it, having it close by for a quick chapter, I just never tire of learning history from it. He covers from ancient times to the present, discussing the heroes and villans that developed and used this 'black art'. The history of Codebreaking is laid out in an easy to read format that everyone can enjoy and even try out some of the methods used.  

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About the author (1996)

David Kahn, a recently visiting historian at the National Security Agency, is the world's leading expert on the history of cryptology, and the author of Hitler's Spies, Seizing the Enigma, and Kahn on Codes, as well as articles in numerous popular and technical journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Modern History from Oxford. An editor at Newsday, he lives in Great Neck, New York.

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