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The Secret Lives of Codebreakers: The Men and Women Who Cracked the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park Paperback – September 25, 2012

4.2 out of 5 stars 85 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"McKay's book is an eloquent tribute to a quite remarkable group of men and women, whose like we will not see again." - Mail On Sunday

"Five stars." - Sunday Telegraph
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Plume; Reprint edition (September 25, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452298717
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452298712
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #36,562 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I'm a Bletchley Park addict so prepare for some gushing. McKay's book had a more social bent than most of the books I've read which were more focused on the mechanics of breaking the Enigma Code itself. McKay looks at the invention of the machines such as the bombe and the colossi and the people who invented them and kept them running 24/7 throughout the war. He explores some of the military operations that captured key pieces of information and most fascinating, the history of the war and how that interacted with the work at Bletchley.

The work of code breaking started out small. It was spearheaded by some key players from WWI. These men were the ones who had the vision to expand this work during the Second World War. To do this they not only gathered their former colleagues but they went to some top English schools and discreetly asked the professors who of their students might be good at this work. In short it was an old boys club....but what a club! These were the best and the brightest...and sometimes titled....of their generation. This was also the era of the gifted amateur and so this was another group that was gradually folded in. These amateurs were sometimes working class with brilliant minds and a driving work ethic that was ratcheted up even tighter by the Park's shared purpose. Then there were the WRENS and other women who ran their feet off delivering messages between huts, typing, and creating a complex filing system so the already decoded messages could be collated easily against newly translated ones. Bletchley was a closed community so it also required waitresses and cleaners. The truly amazing thing is no one betrayed the secret that was Bletchley! Well almost no one but there was some clever damage control in these cases though it happened seldom.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is more a social history of the time and place, Bletchley Park, than the actual business of codebreaking that went on there. Within this focus, the book is interesting, and contains many interviews with men and women who spent the war there, almost self-contained within the grounds. While references to the war itself are present, this book really does not assess the impact of the work of the codebreakers on the unfolding war itself in other than a passing way.
If you're interested in individual's daily life during WWII, this book will interest you. Serious students of the ebb and flow of the war itself would be better served by other works.
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Format: Paperback
I have to admit that the activities of Bletchley Park during WW2 and the ordinary and extraordinary people who worked there to crack the Enigma code have always been something of a fascination. I grew up a couple of miles from Bletchley in the late 1970s, so the fascination always had a strangely detached but familiar side, particularly since everyone knew something had happened there during the war, but would only speak in whispers about what it could have been, and this was when the secret was out! So, the secrecy described in this book, provided to me by the publisher, about how questions weren't asked of those who worked there, and how the local population essentially colluded in what was going on, by keeping their mouths shut, was very true to how it actually felt all those decades later.

There are other books which explain how the Enigma code was cracked, and about the technological advances made at Bletchley which were the foundation for other technological advances, but this book talks about the lives of the people who worked there, and, most interestingly, explains the boredom of much of the work, and how not every single person located there was a codebreaker, but nonetheless treats their experiences with real respect.

If I have any criticisms, they are focused on simply not being able to interview more people. Their insights are quite the most interesting thing about the book, and remind me of speaking to my parents about their wartime experiences, but the passing of time has meant that many of these people have now passed on, and the secrecy and lack of records has meant finding those still with us, who might be willing to share their experiences, is incredibly difficult. It's such a shame.
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Format: Paperback
Imagine being a member of a team whose work was said to have shortened World War II by at least two years--and not being able to tell anybody about it for decades. Your friends, neighbors and family may even have thought you were a coward who failed to join up and fight for your country. That's exactly the position of the 10,000-plus men and women who worked at England's Bletchley Park to crack the codes used by the Axis powers during the war. They were summoned to Buckinghamshire with no disclosure of the reason for the summons and were required to sign the Official Secrets Act almost as they arrived.

It wasn't until over 30 years later that the requirement of silence was lifted. During all those years, unlike other wartime groups, Bletchley Park's personnel had no reunions and were deprived of the chance to sit and reminisce with old colleagues. By the time they could share their stories with their families, most of their parents had died.

Much has been written about how Germany's Enigma code was broken at Bletchley Park--or BP, as it was often called--but Sinclair McKay's principal focus in this insightful book is the people there; who they were, their working and living conditions, and the social environment in this hothouse atmosphere. And what a grab-bag of personnel BP was. University dons, debutantes and inner-circle graduates of Eton and Harrow, Oxford and Cambridge worked alongside the working class--mostly young women--with little of the social stratification that normally typified British life. Because of their long working hours and strict secrecy, they had to entertain themselves in their off hours. And they did, with amateur theatricals, singing groups, dancing, films, tennis, hiking and chess and bridge games.
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