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Colossus: The First Electronic Computer (Popular Science) Hardcover – May 4, 2006

4.2 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review


"Reading Colossus, a book about the world's first fully electronic computer that was built during the Second World War to crack the codes of high-level Nazi communications, is like reading a suspenseful spy story! It is entertaining to read and at the same time one learns a lot about the history of cryptography and code breaking secrets, decryption and related technologies. Historical pictures along with many interesting charts make the book indispensable to anyone who reviews or writes about the history of computer technology."--Human-Interaction International News


About the Author


Jack Copeland is a Reader in Philosophy and Director of the Turing Project at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. A contributor to Scientific American, his books include Turing's Machines, Artificial Intelligence, and The Essential Turing.
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Product Details

  • Series: Popular Science
  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (May 4, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019284055X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192840554
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 1.7 x 6.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,636,921 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Fascinating story! However, be advised that the Kindle version neglects to include the more than 50 photographs of the print edition. This is a serious omission and detracts greatly from the history. I will have to visit the library. Had I known this, I would have purchased the paperback.
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Format: Hardcover
The story of the Bletchley Park code breaking efforts towards the German Enigma machine are well known. (If you are not familar the best book on the Enigma is:The German Enigma Cipher Machine: Beginnings, Success, and Ultimate Failure - ISBN 1-58053-996-3) Down through the years there have been only casual references to the Colossus machine that was used on the more sophisticated German coding machines.

At last enough material has been declassified to enable the story to be told. Dr. Copeland, Director of the Turing Archive for the History of Computing and author of some very good books on Alan Turing, has collected an amazing amount of information on Colossus. This has come from various sources, primarily in the form of short essays written by people who worked on or with Colossus during ther war.

This is an important book covering not only a little explored aspect of World War II but also an important step in the development of electronic computers. It also talks about how Colossus was held secret for so long that the important developments which it entailed might have helped Britain retain greater prosperity after the war.

An excellent, ground breaking book, highly recommended.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
For those interested in the history of computing, or for those intersted in the history of "code breaking" at Bletchley Park, this book is a must.
The Colossus was a proto-computer in that it was not a stored program machine, or easily programmable, but it solved so many problems, such as parallel processing, use of multiple valves (tubes), with high reliability, etc. that plagued other early computers. It enabled the reading of the teletypewriter encryptions produced by a twelve wheel encyptor, far more difficult than the Enigma encodings. The book leaves out no technical detail recoovered from Winston Churchill's ill-advided destruction of the ten Colossi after the war. A reconstruction 60 years later showed that the Colossus could be reconnected to do multiplication. Because of tight secrecy of many years, the remarkable architecture of Colossus was not availble to inspire other inventors of early computers.
This is a fascinating book.
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Format: Paperback
Only in the past few years has the story of the Colossus computers and their use to break the German's WW2 Tunny encoding machines come to light. Unlike the rather well known story of the Enigma machine, the Lorenz encoding machine (code named Tunny by the Brits) was more complex and required far more effort to break. The effort to understand the process and then build the machines involved some of the great mathematics minds like Alan Turing, but also a number of persons who have stay in obscurity due to the British Official Secrets Act. Sadly the book itself is a collection of articles by numerous people involved in various ways and so is greatly varied in focus, scope and level of detail Often the same information, like how the Tunny machine worked, is repeated several times by different authors. It is a difficult story to follow and the difficulties are continued by numerous appendices that often don't have enough explanations unless you can go back into the narrative and find the corresponding information. I've given it three stars because while for the casual or even more dedicated WW2 reader this books is a real struggle, those truly interested in the subject will find a rewarding amount of information.
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Format: Hardcover
This provides a good general history of the breaking of the German Lorenz and (to a lesser extent) Siemens cipher teletypes, focusing mostly on the British methods using the Heath Robinson and Colossus tabulating machines driven by punched tapes. The breaking of these differed from the breaking of the Enigma machines in that the methods were probabilistic and statistical rather than the logical operations of the Turing and Welchman electromechanical Bombes, so that the mathematics (relegated to appendices) are very different. The appendices include the Swedish mathematician Arne Burling's breaking of the Siemens machine on leased cables from Norway through Sweden.

For understanding the mathematics, I prefer Harvey Cragon's "From Fish to Colossus" or Frank Carter's pamphlets sold by Bletchley Park, which seem to be currently unavailable, and Cragon includes descriptions (and schematics) of much of the circuitry of the Colossi. It is interesting to read in Copeland's book descriptions by many of those who actually made the breakthroughs.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is a copendium of histories from the people who were at Bletchley Park who actually did the code breaking. I found their stories facinating. There is also some moderately technical information that describes how the several code breaking machines worked. This is the first description that I have seen of the effort to break the codes associated with the German teletytpe system. I found the book facinating.
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