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The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography Paperback – August 29, 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (August 29, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385495323
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385495325
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (373 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,723 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

People love secrets. Ever since the first word was written, humans have sent coded messages to each other. In The Code Book, Simon Singh, author of the bestselling Fermat's Enigma, offers a peek into the world of cryptography and codes, from ancient texts through computer encryption. Singh's compelling history is woven through with stories of how codes and ciphers have played a vital role in warfare, politics, and royal intrigue. The major theme of The Code Book is what Singh calls "the ongoing evolutionary battle between codemakers and codebreakers," never more clear than in the chapters devoted to World War II. Cryptography came of age during that conflict, as secret communications became critical to both sides' success.

Confronted with the prospect of defeat, the Allied cryptanalysts had worked night and day to penetrate German ciphers. It would appear that fear was the main driving force, and that adversity is one of the foundations of successful codebreaking.

In the information age, the fear that drives cryptographic improvements is both capitalistic and libertarian--corporations need encryption to ensure that their secrets don't fall into the hands of competitors and regulators, and ordinary people need encryption to keep their everyday communications private in a free society. Similarly, the battles for greater decryption power come from said competitors and governments wary of insurrection.

The Code Book is an excellent primer for those wishing to understand how the human need for privacy has manifested itself through cryptography. Singh's accessible style and clear explanations of complex algorithms cut through the arcane mathematical details without oversimplifying. --Therese Littleton

From Publishers Weekly

In an enthralling tour de force of popular explication, Singh, author of the bestselling Fermat's Enigma, explores the impact of cryptographyAthe creation and cracking of coded messagesAon history and society. Some of his examples are familiar, notably the Allies' decryption of the Nazis' Enigma machine during WWII; less well-known is the crucial role of Queen Elizabeth's code breakers in deciphering Mary, Queen of Scots' incriminating missives to her fellow conspirators plotting to assassinate Elizabeth, which led to Mary's beheading in 1587. Singh celebrates a group of unsung heroes of WWII, the Navajo "code talkers," Native American Marine radio operators who, using a coded version of their native language, played a vital role in defeating the Japanese in the Pacific. He also elucidates the intimate links between codes or ciphers and the development of the telegraph, radio, computers and the Internet. As he ranges from Julius Caesar's secret military writing to coded diplomatic messages in feuding Renaissance Italy city-states, from the decipherment of the Rosetta Stone to the ingenuity of modern security experts battling cyber-criminals and cyber-terrorists, Singh clarifies the techniques and tricks of code makers and code breakers alike. He lightens the sometimes technical load with photos, political cartoons, charts, code grids and reproductions of historic documents. He closes with a fascinating look at cryptanalysts' planned and futuristic tools, including the "one-time pad," a seemingly unbreakable form of encryption. In Singh's expert hands, cryptography decodes as an awe-inspiring and mind-expanding story of scientific breakthrough and high drama. Agent, Patrick Walsh. (Oct.) FYI: The book includes a "Cipher Challenge," offering a $15,000 reward to the first person to crack that code.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Simon Singh is an author, science journalist and TV producer. Having completed his PhD at Cambridge he worked from 1991 to 1997 at the BBC producing Tomorrow's World and co-directing the BAFTA award-winning documentary Fermat's Last Theorem for the Horizon series. In 1997, he published Fermat's Last Theorem, which was a best-seller in Britain and translated into 22 languages.

Customer Reviews

Very fun and easy book to read.
Toni Caktas
Simon Singh has done a terrific job of making this book insightful for a lay reader as well as to someone who's interested in Mathematics and Cryptography.
Salil Punalekar
The Code Book, by Simon Singh, is a tantalizing peek at the history of cryptography.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

173 of 179 people found the following review helpful By Jason Massey on November 2, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Before Singh's "Code Book" came on the scene, the only other book I knew about is Kahn's "Codebreakers". I don't have the time to read such a large text as Kahn's book, so I was very pleased when this book became available.
Singh has done a very nice job of demonstrating how deep an impact cryptography has on history. He opens the book by recounting Mary Queen of Scots' conspiracy to have Queen Elizabeth murdered and how she attempted to use encryption to cloak her intentions. It was a very exciting way to open the book.
Singh has found the right combination of technical detail, historical detail, and character development.
Singh's explanation of how the German WWII Enigma functioned is exceptional. He made it very easy (and fun) to understand.
Singh's last chapter is also very neat on the subject of quantum cryptography. Though I have a BS in computer science, I'm no physics genius and Singh did a nice job of making (what I consider) difficult physics concepts easy to understand and of showing how they can be applied to modern cryptography.
Although I don't know a thing about "Fermat's last theorem", I've been so pleased with Singh's writing style that I'm considering reading that book also just to see what it is all about.
If you like codes/ciphers and want to read about their impact on history without reading a thousand pages then get this book. You'll be happy you did.
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82 of 84 people found the following review helpful By anthony c. iaccio on December 12, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Singh traces the history of cryptography from its recorded inception in roman times up through current applications. While all of the chapters held my interest it was Mr. Singh's work in chapters 4 through 6 that I feel deserve particular note.
Chapter 4 deals with the war effort at Bletchley Park and the work on the Engima machine. Here Mr.Singh adds an additional dimension by providing some insight into the work of Alan Turning, the development of Colossus, the first (now reported) electronic programmable computer and the unrecognized cryptanalysts who broke Ultra and the other codes of WWII. Chapter 6 brings us up to present day cryptographic issues from RSA and PGP to philosophical issues of personal privacy in modern society with web centric commerce and online book reviews. At each step in the process Singh successfully combines the elements of a technical treatise with a human values and features. For those wanting to go a little further under the hood and look at the processes and algorithms in some of the codes mentioned in the text, several appendices at the end of the book should fill that yearning. I found the book informative and enjoyable to read.
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57 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Michael A. Alderete on November 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you like to read about how secrets, the protection of and the finding out, have affected and altered the course of history, this is a fun book to read. If you're interested in a very good, enjoyable overview of the history of secrets, this is a good book.
Ultimately, though, it's light. The history of cryptography is enormous, and a book this size can only summarize. If you're into the history, then The Codebreakers by David Kahn is the more definitive work.
If you're more interested in the personal stories of people involved with code making or breaking, there are some excellent works, such as Between Silk and Cyanide by Leo Marks, which give you more detail of particular people or times.
If you're interested in modern-day issues with computer security and encryption, Bruce Schneier has written two outstanding books, one for the programmer and one for the layman, detailing modern cryptographic techniques and security issues.
And if you're interested in a gripping fictional work, they don't come better than The Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson.
That's not to take away from Singh's book at all. It's extremely enjoyable, and it was a perfect vacation read for me. If you're not seriously into cryptography the way I am, you might not find the above books interesting, but find Singh absolutely fascinating. Recommended to anyone.
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57 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Douglas Welzel on March 29, 2000
Format: Hardcover
It took me a while to finding to the time to read this because I was expecting a rather dry book on cryptography. The subject was somewhat interesting to me, but I didn't feel like plodding through a long book on the subject.
Once I started reading I realized The Code Book was totally different. Singh takes you on a tour of the history of cryptography through the history of the world. You will find that cryptography was an unexpected key element in several historical events.
Through the entire history, Singh's writing is exceptionally clear and easy to follow. The material in the book is accessible to all levels of reader -- even those with no knowledge of cryptography.
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Jason Streitfeld on January 28, 2010
Format: Paperback
This book has many fascinating and important stories to tell, and some of them are told remarkably well. Still, if you're expecting "The Code Book" to be as compelling or well-fashioned as Singh's thoroughly absorbing "Fermat's Enigma," you will likely be disappointed. Which is not to say it's a waste of time. "The Code Book" demonstrates Singh's ability to bring historical characters and events to life, sometimes to great effect. And it covers a respectable amount of territory. That said, I think Singh can do better, and I hope one day he decides to revisit this one and work it over a bit.

I have three main issues with the book.

First, Singh glosses over or completely ignores significant details. For example, while he expertly tells the story of Mary Queen of Scots, he forgets to address one crucial question: How did Mary and her scheming cohorts agree upon a key for their cryptography? The way Singh tells the story, it seems impossible for them to have established a secret key, for their correspondence was intercepted from the start. Those reading their encrypted messages would already have had the key. Yet, Singh's narrative relies on there having been a secret key, because he makes a big deal about when and how their cipher was broken. So how was the secret key established? Singh doesn't say. This simple omission makes Singh's otherwise well-told story deeply problematic. Another example: Singh does not explain the Enigma machine very well, leaving out many details which could have at least been relegated to another appendix. The book has ten appendices already. What's one more?

Second, Singh is inconsistent at times. It often feels like he didn't have the time or patience to carefully organize his thoughts.
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