Unfortunately, since the Germans had equal access to the classics--"Reference books," Marks quips, "are jackboots when used by cryptographers"--Marks thought agents should write their own poems (or use his) instead, several of which are cheerily obscene. After all, no son or daughter of the Fatherland could ever know the rest of a verse that began "Is de Gaulle's prick / Twelve inches thick," and continued on in a similar, shall we say, vein. But Marks soon felt that original doggerel was just as dangerous, since even slight misspellings could render messages indecipherable and risk agents' lives. His first solution? WOKs (worked-out keys) printed on silk. An operative would use one key, send the message, and immediately tear off the strip. Marks had a hard time proving that swaths of silk would save his people from swallowing their "optional extra," a cyanide pill. His efforts were dead serious, but often landed him in comic terrain.
In one of the book's great set pieces, Marks visits Colonel Wills--surely the model for Ian Fleming's Q--in order to sort out the best ways to print his code keys. Before solving this minor problem (invisible ink!), Wills showed Marks several new projects--one of which involves an exotic array of dung, courtesy of the London Zoo. This gifted gadgetmeister planned to model life-sized reproductions of these droppings and pack them with explosives, personalized for all parts of Europe, Africa, and Asia. "Once trodden on or driven over (hopefully by the enemy) the whole lot would go off with a series of explosions even more violent than the ones which had produced it," Marks explains.
Despite such larky sentences and sections, the author never loses sight of the importance of his vocation, and Between Silk and Cyanide is as elegiac as it is engaging. Marks knows when to cut the laugh track, particularly as his book becomes a despairing record of agents blown--lost to torture, prison, the camps, and execution. Readers will never forget the valor of Violette Szabo, Noor Inayat Kahn, and the White Rabbit himself, Flight Lieutenant Yeo-Thomas. Poem-cracking, as Marks again and again makes clear, was far more than a parlor game. --Kerry Fried --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Absolutely incredible book! Provides some background details that are only alluded to in other texts. Read morePublished 8 days ago by DLSmith
Leo Marks has written a fun but factual account, behind the scenes of the code makers in London working to come up with ways to keep agents in Nazi occupied Europe during WWII... Read morePublished 14 days ago by Jody Wallace
Excellent, first hand insight into one phase of WW II British spy activity. There are many books on code breaking, but to my knowledge few, if any others, on code making. Read morePublished 26 days ago by Amazon Customer
WW2 and the British are at war, alone. CHURCHILL orders the newly formed SOE "to set Europe ablaze." Agents are sent to every occupied country. Read morePublished 1 month ago by David M. Williams
This is an excellent book by a clearly brilliant man. Amusingly written with good character sketches of the main protagonists. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Brian Alexander
too much like a diary. On the kindle, I could not go back easily and review all the abrevs.Published 1 month ago by Philip Schlager
A hauntingly factual autobiographical account of WWII code masters. A "must read" on many levels.Published 1 month ago by Robert