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The Code Book

Simon Singh

Average Review Rating Average Rating 9/10 (2 Reviews)
Book Details

Publisher : Fourth Estate

Published : 1999

Copyright : Simon Singh 1999

ISBN-10 : HB 1-85702-879-1
ISBN-13 : HB 978-1-85702-879-9

Publisher's Write-Up

Since humans began writing, they have also been writing in code. This obsession with secrecy has had dramatic effects on the outcome of wars, monarchies and individual lives.

With clear mathematical, linguistic and technological demonstrations of many of the codes, as well as illustrations of some of the remarkable personalities behind them - many courageous, some villainous - The Code Book traces the fascinating development of codes and code-breaking from military espionage in Ancient Greece to modern computer ciphers to reveal how the remarkable science of cryptography has often changed the course of history.

Amongst many extraordinary examples, Simon Singh relates in detail the story of Mary Queen of Scots, trapped by her own code and put to death by Elizabeth I; the strange history of the Beale Ciphers, describing the hidden location of a fortune in gold, buried somewhere in Virginia in the nineteenth century and still not found; and the monumental efforts in code-making and code-breaking that so influenced the outcomes of the First and Second World Wars.

Now with the Information Age bringing the possibility of a truly unbreakable code ever nearer, and cryptography one of the major debates of our times, Singh investigates the challenge that technology has brought to personal privacy today Dramatic, compelling and remarkably far-reaching, The Code Book will forever alter your view of history what drives it and how private your last e-mail really was.

At the end of this book, you will also find the world-wide Cipher Challenge - for which there is a £10,000 reward, offered by the author, to be given to the first reader to successfully crack it.

Update : Although the prize has now been won the Website makes interesting reading -

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Reader Reviews

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Review by Vex (190101) Rating (8/10)
Review by Chrissi (191100) Rating (9/10)

Review by Vex
Rating 8/10
This fascinating book takes the reader through the entire history of code making and breaking, looking not just at the cryptographic systems, but also at the people behind the codes.

It's written in a very entertaining style, giving the reader a good grasp of the situations that instigated the need for new ciphers to be invented, and the overwhelming need to break the latest codes.

The author presents a new cipher, explaining its context in history and then he moves on to demonstrate the methods used to 'crack the code', examining the flaws of the particular system and showing how they were exploited.

Surprisingly for a non-fiction book it has that 'just a few more pages' factor that kept me up 'til late in the night.

A thoroughly enjoyable book, with just the right amount of detail regarding the mathematics behind encryption, leaving the reader with plenty of references to delve deeper into the subject matter should they wish.
Vex (19th January 2001)

Review by Chrissi
Rating 9/10
This was a present from Nigel last Christmas, because I had said that it sounded interesting. I have read the book that went with the Channel 4 series about the code breaking activities at Bletchley Park - Station X, and this sounded good, I had also read Fermat's Last Theorem by this author, so I liked the way that he writes.

I have to say that I have not met anyone else who has read this, but I keep telling people that they should read it, so hopefully, this may encourage you to read what is a fascinating book.

The book traces the science of Cryptography from the very beginnings, when man first found that he had knowledge that he didn't want to share with other people, through the massive leaps made by the necessity for maintaining secrecy through wars, to the present day, and how computers are being used and into the future.

The use of cryptography is not just used for the sake of secrecy; it also documents the use of the Rosetta Stone, in the translation of hieroglyphics. It is not specifically tailored to those of a mathematical disposition, it is both historically intricate and filled with those tiny bits of information that make you think WOW!.

For example, the story of Elizabeth the first and Mary, Queen of Scots is given a bit extra by the knowledge of events which finally prompted Elizabeth to sign the warrant ordering the execution, information obtained by Elizabeth's Spymaster which showed that Mary had been in communication with plotters against her.

This is a book that appeals to the sneak in all of us, the need to know that which someone else would have kept from us. There was a competition to solve puzzles from within the book, but it has just been broken, but the puzzles and examples are no less fascinating for this.

I just loved this book, and will very probably re-read it sometime in the very near future.
Chrissi (19th November 2000)

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