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Colossus: The secrets of Bletchley Park's code-breaking computers [Kindle Edition]

B. Jack Copeland
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)

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Book Description

At last - the secrets of Bletchley Park's powerful codebreaking computers.

This is a history of Colossus, the world's first fully-functioning electronic digital computer. Colossus was used during the Second World War at the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, where it played an invaluable role cracking enemy codes. Until very recently, much about the Colossus machine was shrouded in secrecy, largely because the codes that were employed remained in use by the British security services until a short time ago. This book only became possible due to the
declassification in the US of wartime documents.

With an introductory essay on cryptography and the history of code-breaking by Simon Singh, this book reveals the workings of Colossus and the extraordinary staff at Bletchley Park through personal accounts by those who lived and worked with the computer. Among them is the testimony of Thomas Flowers, who was the architect of Colossus and whose personal account, written shortly before he died, is published here for the first time. Other essays consider the historical importance of this
remarkable machine, and its impact on the generations of computing technology that followed.

Editorial Reviews


"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.

Product Details

  • File Size: 2648 KB
  • Print Length: 500 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0199578141
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; Reprint edition (February 23, 2006)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000SF3IEC
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #281,409 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kindle Edition December 31, 2012
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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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Ground Breaking Book July 11, 2006
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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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The First Computer May 20, 2010
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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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Jumbled but Ultimately Rewarding Book March 1, 2011
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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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good General History November 9, 2006
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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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
By Hal
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A really great technical and detailed account on the inner workings of...
A really great technical and detailed account on the inner workings of Bletchley park and the operations involved in the construction and use of the Colossus and other decryption... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Andrew
2.0 out of 5 stars You will enjoy and get more from the paper edition
Interesting book, but omission of pictures and limits of kindle format make it difficult to follow the fairly technical nature of the content. Kindle version is barely passable. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Paul Mitchell
5.0 out of 5 stars but this is an excellent -- and very detailed book about what was the...
There is a newly released movie on Alan Turing, which I have not seen, but this is an excellent -- and very detailed book about what was the very first electronic, programable... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Alan P. Hemphill
2.0 out of 5 stars Too technical for words
In its current form, this can only be regarded as a work in progress, or at best a "crib" that will hopefully spawn a book that is actually able to be read by someone who... Read more
Published 5 months ago by JET
5.0 out of 5 stars the book is a great read and does help a little more understanding of...
Though some sections are somewhat repeated by the various authors, the book is a great read and does help a little more understanding of how the various codes were approached for... Read more
Published 6 months ago by david perkins
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great book
Published 6 months ago by Kevin F. Sumpter
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Superb history of Bletchley code breaking - showing details of how they broke Hitler's advanced codes. Really we'll written!
Published 7 months ago by Pete Fullerton
2.0 out of 5 stars Kindle Edition missing some content
This is a review of the Kindle Edition specifically. While I loved reading the story and all the technical details it contains (I got this book specifically for the technical... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Agata Staniak
5.0 out of 5 stars A must have!
Any computer hobbyist or professional, military history buff or cryptographer will enjoy this detailed look into the inner workings of the world's 'first' code breaking computer.
Published 8 months ago by Tigershark
5.0 out of 5 stars A revelation
For those fascinated by cryptography, this is a 'must read'. The declassification of the Enigma material provided a window into WWII code breaking, but Colossus reveals so much... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Ole Fred
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