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Comment: It has crisp pages, and a tight binding! Cover has minor shelfwear, but otherwise the book is excellent--no writing or highlighting at all! 100% Money Back Guarantee. Shipped to Thousands of happy customers. FAST SHIPPING! Ships direct from Amazon. Free shipping on orders over $35! And Free 2nd day shipping on orders over $49! Tracking number and Amazon customer service provided with every order.
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The American Black Chamber (Bluejacket Books) Paperback – January 15, 2013

4.7 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Herbert O. Yardley, one of the greatest authorities on secret codes and ciphers in the 1920s, was inducted into the NSA Hall of Honor posthumously in 1999. He is also the author of The Chinese Black Chamber.
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Product Details

  • Series: Bluejacket Books
  • Paperback: 376 pages
  • Publisher: Naval Institute Press; First Printing edition (January 15, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591149894
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591149897
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #942,872 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John Matlock on September 17, 2004
Format: Paperback
It's great to see this classic book back in print. Yardley was, as they say, accustomed to luxury, and when fired in 1929 wrote this book on the breaking of foreign codes by the United States. (His firing is another story, when Hoover's secretary of state refused to continue the funding of the Black Chamber with the comment, Gentlemen do not read other people's mail.) Yardley had found a loophole in the law so that he couldn't be prosecuted, but boy did it annoy the Government. The book was a best seller, and started him or a career as an author. He wrote another four or five books on codes and another best seller called The Education of a Poker Player.

The book is fascinating, well written and filled with stories of stealing code books, beautiful female spies. And better descriptions of how to break codes that I've seen in any of the other books on the history of code breaking (maybe because the codes in the 1920's were simpler minded than later Enigma machines).

This book ties in very well with the new book The Reader of Gentlemens Mail.
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Format: Paperback
I read this book first about 40 years ago. Yardley published it after SecState Stimson withdrew funds with the famous "Gentlemen do not read other people's mail." It revealed, the details of breaking Japanese ciphers while they were still in use and caused a political furor. It led to legislation against revealing state secrets, and the book itself was prohibited from re-publication by Act of Congress, apparently now expired.
Yardley was an egotist, and never hesitated to take first person credit for work actually performed by subordinates, according to people who knew him. In any case, it makes a great read!
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Format: Paperback
Anyone interested in the inner workings of ANY cryptoanalyst needs to read this book. Told in the first person Yardley reveals the amazing amount of genius and hard work cryptography required before the days of calculators and computers. It really is a great read.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I first heard of this book in 1967 while undergoing Air Force cryptologic training; unfortunately, it was out of print at that time. In 1975, I found a copy in an Air Force secure-area library and was able to read it there, but only during my lunch hours. Since it was a rare, out-of-print book, the librarian wouldn't let it leave the library, and I can't say that I blame her.

Because of security restrictions, Maj Yardley wasn't able to publish his book in the US legally, so his work-around was to have it published in the United Kingdom in 1931. When I learned that it had been republished and was available through Amazon, I immediately ordered a copy and read it again 30 years later.

This book gives insight into the fledgling cryptologic effort, referred to as the American Black Chamber, begun by the US in World War I. The effort literally started from scratch and existed on a shoestring budget, with Maj Yardley and a handful of others usually working very long hours. By 1929, after years of hard work, the "Chamber" had developed into a relatively sophisticated, successful operation.

Regrettably, naivete ruled the day when President Hoover's new Secretary of State, Henry L. Stimson (This effort was a State Department function back then.), upon learning of the existence of the Chamber, was horrified that we would even think of "spying" on someone else ("Gentlemen do not read each other's mail."). He summarily had the Chamber abolished, so all that work went down the tubes until later on when it had to be rebuilt for the effort of World War II.

It is an ironic footnote in history that by the time Mr. Secretary Stimson became Secretary of War during World War II, his views of the importance of cryptologics had changed--as did those of others in the military and diplomatic spheres of influence.

Read all about it. This is excellent reading, and it brings to life the difficulties and accomplishments of the American Black Chamber.
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Format: Paperback
Aside from the subject of codes and ciphers, which this book does very well, The American Black Chamber also discusses how U.S. codebreaking affected the post-WWI naval disarmament conference which led to the famous 5-5-3 ratio of heavy warships amongst the British, American and Japanese navies. American negotiators knew in advance what the Japanese and British were willing to settle for and managed to get the best deal possible for the U.S.

Very much an eye-opener.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've read many books on old school cryptography (i.e. generally things up to WWII) and this will be one my more treasured additions. I believe this book has value on two fronts. One is the autobiographical format. While I originally thought that style would make this book tedious given that the author is not exactly a world renown writer and the events all occurred around WWI, that actually made this story so much better. You can see first hand how simple letter frequency calculations that we find so elementary today started out. The second value to this book are the half dozen or so examples of how his department solved a variety of ciphers. He doesn't describe them in too much detail - if you don't already have an understanding of this field then you won't appreciate the book as much - but there are some gems in there that I hadn't come across before. This used and somewhat rare book is a good buy.
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