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The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptographyby Simon Singh
Synopses & Reviews
Codes have decided the fates of empires, countries, and monarchies throughout recorded history. Mary, Queen of Scots was put to death by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth, for the high crime of treason after spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham cracked the secret code she used to communicate with her conspirators. And thus the course of British history was altered by a few sheets of cryptic prose. This is just one link in humankind's evolutionary chain of secret communication, and just one of the fascinating incidents recounted in The Code Book, written by bestselling author Simon Singh.
Combining a superb storyteller's sense of drama and a scientist's appreciation for technical perfection, Singh traces the evolution of secret writing from ancient Greek military espionage to the frontiers of computer science. The result is an epic tale of human ingenuity, with examples that range from the poignant to the peculiar to the world-historical.
There is the case of the Beale ciphers, which involves Wild West escapades, a cowboy who amassed a vast fortune, a buried treasure worth $20 million, and a mysterious set of encrypted papers describing its whereabouts — papers that have baffled generations of cryptanalysts and captivated hundreds of treasure hunters.
A speedier end to a bloody war was the only reward that could be promised to the Allied code breakers of World Wars I and II, whose selfless contributions altered the course of history; but few of them lived to receive any credit for their top-secret accomplishments. Among the most moving of these stories is that of the World War II British code breaker Alan Turing, who gave up a brilliant career in mathematics to devote himself to the Allied cause, only to end his years punished by the state for his homosexuality, while his heroism was ignored. No less heroic were the Navajo code talkers, who volunteered without hesitation to risk their lives for the Allied forces in the Japanese theater, where they were routinely mistaken for the enemy.
Interspersed with these gripping stories are clear mathematical, linguistic, and technological demonstrations of codes, as well as illustrations of the remarkable personalities — many courageous, some villainous, and all obsessive — who wrote and broke them.
All roads lead to the present day, in which the possibility of a truly unbreakable code looms large. Singh explores this possibility, and the ramifications of our increasing need for privacy, even as it begins to chafe against the stated mission of the powerful and deeply secretive National Security Agency. Entertaining, compelling, and remarkably far-reaching, this is a book that will forever alter your view of history, what drives it, and how private that e-mail you just sent really is.
Included in the book is a worldwide Cipher Challenge — a $15,000 award will be given by the author to the first reader who cracks the code successfully. Progress toward the solution will be tracked on The Cipher Challenge website.
"Entertaining and satisfying....Offers a fascinating glimpse into the mostly secret competition between codemakers and codebreakers." USA Today
"A good read that, bless it, makes the reader feel a bit smarter when it's done. Singh's an elegant writer and well-suited to the task of leading the mathematically perplexed through areas designed to be tricky." Seattle Weekly
"Brings together...the geniuses who have secured communications, saved lives, and influenced the fate of nations. A pleasure to read." Chicago Tribune
"Enthralling...commendably lucid...[Singh's] book provides a timely and entertaining summary of the subject." The Economist
From the author of the bestselling Fermat's Enigma comes a compelling tour through the cloaked world of codes and code breaking, from Greek military espionage to Navajo code talkers to the frontiers of computer science. Illustrations.
In his first book since the bestselling Fermat's Enigma, Simon Singh offers the first sweeping history of encryption, tracing its evolution and revealing the dramatic effects codes have had on wars, nations, and individual lives. From Mary, Queen of Scots, trapped by her own code, to the Navajo Code Talkers who helped the Allies win World War II, to the incredible (and incredibly simple) logisitical breakthrough that made Internet commerce secure, The Code Book tells the story of the most powerful intellectual weapon ever known: secrecy.
Throughout the text are clear technical and mathematical explanations, and portraits of the remarkable personalities who wrote and broke the world's most difficult codes. Accessible, compelling, and remarkably far-reaching, this book will forever alter your view of history and what drives it. It will also make yo wonder how private that e-mail you just sent really is.
About the Author
Simon Singh received his Ph.D. in physics from Cambridge University. A former BBC producer, he directed and co-produced an award-winning documentary film on Fermat's Last Theorem that aired on PBS's Nova series and formed the basis of his bestselling book, Fermat's Enigma. He lives in London.
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