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.
Great book! Important history most people are not aware of.Published 16 days ago by Stuart L. Wilcox
Although a personal account of Leo Marks time in SOE, it can also be viewed as an expose' of the all too often serious bungling and outright self deception rampant in SOE's upper... Read morePublished 29 days ago by Ian Fleming
Not your usual WWII book, but detailed look at the importance of codes and code-breaking. Sometimes too much about the development of the codes, but informative on the ins and... Read morePublished 29 days ago by Joseph Wynne
It took me a chapter or two to really get into the story.
It's a pretty amazing and an enjoyable read. Read more
Forget it. There are many better books on the subject of the agents that Britain placed in France during WW II and this one is (a) too narrow, (b) too personal to the author and... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Douglas Thorpe
I feel that it should rate more highly than three, but for whatever reason there were times when, to me, it dragged. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Mr. D. Priest
Well done, quite thorough any WWII buff would enjoy it. All Special Operations folks should read itPublished 1 month ago by Amazon Customer