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153 of 156 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, but not perfect
This book is not intended to teach the reader how to design or cryptanalyze codes and ciphers; it is a history book, and a really great one. However, the reader should be aware of a couple of things that may not be apparent.
First, the 1996 "revised edition" differs from the 1967 first edition only in the addition of a final chapter to cover what Kahn...
Published on February 4, 2001 by Victor A. Vyssotsky

versus
40 of 45 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Save your money, if you bought the first edition.
The original version of Codebreakers is a wonderful, detailed
history of cryptography and spies. This new edition is the
same book with 16 additional pages pretending to update the
history of the last 30 years. The great photographs of the
first edition have been considerably degraded in quality
to boot. I guess that it meets the standard of a...
Published on November 15, 1996


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153 of 156 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, but not perfect, February 4, 2001
This review is from: The Codebreakers: The Comprehensive History of Secret Communication from Ancient Times to the Internet (Hardcover)
This book is not intended to teach the reader how to design or cryptanalyze codes and ciphers; it is a history book, and a really great one. However, the reader should be aware of a couple of things that may not be apparent.
First, the 1996 "revised edition" differs from the 1967 first edition only in the addition of a final chapter to cover what Kahn didn't know (or didn't choose to include) in the 1967 edition. The first 26 of 27 chapters, and the references and bibliography associated with them, are essentially identical to those of the 1967 edition. This means that a number of statements and passages in the first 26 chapters, although correct in 1967, are misleading if one assumes they were written in 1996. I recommend that the reader skim Chapter 27 quickly before reading the rest of the book, so as not to misunderstand any of what's in earlier chapters.
Second, keep in mind that in 1967 Kahn was essentially an outsider so far as the intelligence community was concerned, but by 1996 he was definitely regarded as an insider. Hence, the new final chapter is written with complete respect for the sensitivities of the intelligence community, which the original book was not. I was surprised to see one particular statement in the last chapter until I realized that NSA wants to correct a misapprehension widely held outside the community. Much more important, Kahn now knows a great deal that he has chosen to omit from the last chapter, including much that's unclassified but still regarded by somebody as sensitive for one reason or another. He even omits certain material that he made publicly available some years ago in his written testimony to a Congressional subcommittee. So the reader should understand that this book says less than it might about various aspects of the history of cryptology and its impact dating back as far as World War II. Whether this is good or bad depends on where one sits; if one is concerned about the sensitivities of various governments, it's good; if one wants to know as much as one can about the history of cryptology since 1940 that's not still clasified, it's bad.
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79 of 83 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The layman's standard reference on cryptology, October 21, 1999
This review is from: The Codebreakers: The Comprehensive History of Secret Communication from Ancient Times to the Internet (Hardcover)
I first came across "The Codebreakers" in the original edition, published in the 1960s. It was a massive read, and one which I never finished in one sitting; however, a love of history, the romance of espionage and the fascination of working with mysterious information kept me going. It is a pleasure to see the book has been reissued.
Kahn does not create a textbook for the serious cryptologist; such a work would be more mathematical in approach. What he does is give, from a layman's view, a good mid-level history of the art/science of cryptology. The first chapter, covering the cryptanalytic events of Pearl Harbor, brings you in; then he goes over the history of secret writing from the days of Egyptian hieroglyphics to roughly the present day. Interesting areas include the discussion of the European "black chambers" of the 1600s and 1700s, a good talk about how rumrunners in the Prohibition days used complex code/cipher combinations to thwart the Noble Experiment, and a highly entertaining chapter on the "ciphers" that proved Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare's works.
The updated edition falls short in its attempt at updating, which is why I don't give another star to the book. The discussion of cryptography in the world of the Internet is far too thin to satisfy. This, of course, could be a function of the beast; the Internet and electronic cryptology changes faster than any book could keep up with. In addition, information on the Enigma and other areas of World War II cryptology, declassified since the previous edition, could have been added to increase understanding of this critical time. However, the remaining "classic" text is still excellent, and has served as the layman's reference on cryptologic history for thirty years.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Best book on the subject, June 4, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Codebreakers: The Comprehensive History of Secret Communication from Ancient Times to the Internet (Hardcover)
I highly recommend this book. It is an incredibly thorough and complete description of cryptology history. I disagree with some previous criticisms about writing style and racism. I do not find the style difficult in itself, there are maybe too much details given on every historical bits... but this may as well be appraised! I cannot find any racism in Chapter 1, describing the US deciphering efforts of the japanese exchanges just before Pearl Harbor. There are hints of the US (allied actually) superiority in cryptography, but this is a plain historical fact. There is a criticism of 1940's Japan, but I cannot find this objectionnable... (the same is true about Nazi Germany). I could find nothing in the book against Japanese people or today's Japan...
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40 of 45 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Save your money, if you bought the first edition., November 15, 1996
By A Customer
This review is from: The Codebreakers: The Comprehensive History of Secret Communication from Ancient Times to the Internet (Hardcover)
The original version of Codebreakers is a wonderful, detailed
history of cryptography and spies. This new edition is the
same book with 16 additional pages pretending to update the
history of the last 30 years. The great photographs of the
first edition have been considerably degraded in quality
to boot. I guess that it meets the standard of a new edition
but the list priceof $65 for a bare outline of 30 years is
unreasonable. I think it is a fraud to add 16 pages to a book
that is almost 1200 pages and call it revised and updated.
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35 of 40 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive indeed, but with a few faults, August 27, 2001
By 
C. Abrams "arosebud" (Waltham, MA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Codebreakers: The Comprehensive History of Secret Communication from Ancient Times to the Internet (Hardcover)
I am in the midst of Kahn's 1000-plus page history of code at the moment, and so cannot provide a complete review here, but I'd like to offer an opinion that balances those of other contributors. Kahn's book is a compelling read, and clearly the product of exhaustive research. He initially captures one's curiosity with a gripping behind-closed-doors account of the days leading up to the attack at Pearl Harbor--an 80-page segment that moves quickly and confidently through a factual narrative rivalling the best war fiction. The next chapter retreats to a history of code and cipher, and this is where the trouble begins. While Kahn's research is superb, he gets bogged down in esoterica, and the book slows. The next several hundred pages are filled with great information, but there is little compelling narrative to drive the story along. Kahn opts instead to indulge in a detailed explanation of cipher--arguably essential to the later chapters--but serves up little of the immediacy and pace of the first chapter. In addition, he's not at all judicious with his use of superlatives; the writing is peppered with far too many statements like '...the most somberly prophetic in the whole history of cryptology'. Kahn hits his stride when he has a strong historical tale to structure his presentation. The descriptions of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scotts, and WW I, for example, are outstanding. If the book were pared down to this type of episode alone, it would be a 'cover-to-cover' experience. As it is, its extensiveness limits its audience to only those already enthusiastic about this arcane field. I came to the book intrigued by the secret goings-on conducted in secret writing, and am tempted to abandon it, or at least skim a generous portion.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding History of Cryptography up to 1965, March 25, 2006
By 
This review is from: The Codebreakers: The Comprehensive History of Secret Communication from Ancient Times to the Internet (Hardcover)
This massive, exhaustively-researched book by David Kahn examines the HISTORY of cryptography from the dawn of civilization to the darkness of the Cold War. He starts an introductory bow to capture readers' attention with the Magic story (American decryption of Japanese WWII codes). Then, Kahn traces the cryptologic developments from the early most rudimentary monalphabetic substitution systems to polyalphabetics, codes, transposition ciphers, enciphering devices (e.g. checkerboards, grille ciphers, one-time pads, one-time tapes, ciphering cylinders, voice modulators, etc.), deciphering systems, and all the governmental organizations devoted to enciphering and deciphering activities.

His investigations cover Babylonian cuneiform, Roman cipher systems (e.g. the famed Caesar cipher), an entire host of Renaissance cryptographers and systems, Englightenment-era black chambers, British amateur contributions (e.g. Playfair cipher), American Civil War transposition systems, telegraphic codes, French military ciphers, and the communication cipher used during the Dreyfus affair.

The book then devotes about 2/3 of the book to modern cryptographic systems used from 1914 to 1965 (the book was published in 1967). Some of the WWI-era subjects treated in this section are Britain's WWI Room 40, the unusual ADFGVX German cipher, WWI battlefield cipher and code systems. Between the wars, Kahn describes the American Black Chamber, the advent of rotor machines (e.g. Engima, Hagelin, Hebern), the rise of mathematical/statistical analysis, the US Magic decryption program, the extraordinarily successful Soviet cipher systems, and quite a thorough examination of all WWII-era cryptographic activities.

The last few chapters of the book are devoted to describing the NSA, the chimeric search for Shakespearean hidden messages, pigpen ciphers, Prohibition-era rumrunners, numbers runners, visual telegraphy, the decryption of Linear B/hieroglyphics, potential SETI coding systems, and a very short brief on DES.

Bar none, this is the one book to own on cryptographic history up to 1965. (This is not a cryptology textbook, however.) Kahn's writing style and subjects are always engaging and packed full with comprehensive information. Kahn reveals that almost every cipher system ever invented (with the significant exception of one-time pads/tapes) has been broken - most surprisingly quickly. This is a lesson that any organization using radio (including mobil phones) and public facilities (e.g. internet, PSTN) to communicate definitely ought to realize. This is a must read for anyone interested in cryptologic history. Outstanding!
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The definitive book on Cryptography., August 27, 1998
This review is from: The Codebreakers: The Comprehensive History of Secret Communication from Ancient Times to the Internet (Hardcover)
David Kahn's newest book updates his previous work, which sits on every Cryptographer's, Cryptanalyst's, and government Special Intelligence officer's bookshelf in the entire world. If you REALLY want to how ciphers, codes, and systems are broken, Kahn is the author who tells you. Any person knowledgable in the field of Cryptology or Intelligence will tell you that Kahn' book has never been equalled. It is known as "The Bible of Cryptology" within the field.
From early Sparta and Rome to the present day, the strengths and weaknesses of systems and devices are presented in clear, concise terms -- occassionally with a bit of levity, where appropriate. Novices in the field will find much useful -- and highly interesting -- information. Professionals always find reminders of the fallability of "unbreakable" systems.
Kahn's writing style is clear, concise, and analytical. It is never boring.
I was employed by a maker of Cryptographic equipment, and was authorized to discuss key generator and cipher system issues with the heads of national governments. A copy of "Codebreakers" was our most requested -- and welcomed gift. That speaks more eloquently than any words I might craft.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Essential History of Cryptography to circa 1950, September 18, 2001
This review is from: The Codebreakers: The Comprehensive History of Secret Communication from Ancient Times to the Internet (Hardcover)
This is the essential history of cryptography at least through WW II. But of course, at the time it was published none of the ULTRA and Enigma decrypts had been released. And since the original hard book edition had become a rare book... it needed to be reprinted: the paperback had been excised of much of the material in the notes. All that said, when I first heard that this second edition was to come out, I eagerly sought it out. But I returned it the next day. The only new material is a short superficial chapter added at the end. None of the former text has been changed and the new material is simply not worth it since I have the first hardback. If you want more on ULTRA and the others there are a number of excellent books on both cryptography and SIGINT operations published since. And after all crytography is just a game unless the results can be applied in real time to affect events.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Definitive history of cryptology (through mid 1960's), November 11, 1995
By A Customer
This review is from: The Codebreakers: The Comprehensive History of Secret Communication from Ancient Times to the Internet (Hardcover)
This massive volume is the final word on the
history of classical (non-computer) ciphers, codes, and secret writing.
The book is carefully researched: 153 of its 1164 pages
are endnotes. But Kahn's writing is very readable, and includes
many human interest stories in addition to historical and technical
treatments of his topics.
Crypto buffs have never been able to understand why this
1967 book keeps going out of print.
(Don't let the 1983 reprint date fool you; the book leaves off in the
mid-60's. Also, don't be confused by the paperback version,
which is much shorter than the hardcover version.)
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly a History, December 9, 2003
By 
"blue50" (Bethesda, MD United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Codebreakers: The Comprehensive History of Secret Communication from Ancient Times to the Internet (Hardcover)
As a historian, with a particular interest in other than "American History", I found this book particularly compelling. I read the Earlier edition at least three times.
Yes, I found that, at times, the text gets bogged down in minutae that may not appeal to a particular reader, but in a volume of this magnitude, with this scope, and this ambition, that is virtually a lock.
What many of the reviewers don't seem to realize that the book was written in the context of the 1960s and that not only the writing, but also events described must be put into context. David Kahn does an excellent job of doing just that. To illustrate, I might simply point out his portrait of Herbert O. Yardley. One only has to read Yardley's "Education of a Poker Player" to understand just how accurate Kahn was in describing Yardley and his role.
Like all history books of a more specialized nature, there is a serious advantage to having enough background information to understand where events, people, and technology fit into the puzzle.
If you are seriously interested in what went on "behind the scenes" in much of the historical events of the 19th and 20th centuries, this book provides information that is an essential part of the puzzle.
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The Codebreakers: The Comprehensive History of Secret Communication from Ancient Times to the Internet
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