- Hardcover: 624 pages
- Publisher: Princeton University Press (May 30, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0691167672
- ISBN-13: 978-0691167671
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.8 x 9.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 9 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #314,980 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Unsolved!: The History and Mystery of the World's Greatest Ciphers from Ancient Egypt to Online Secret Societies Hardcover – May 30, 2017
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Unsolved! spans a huge arc of time and space, from Julius Caesar's simple substitution cipher to composer Edward Elgar's 1897 Dorabella Cipher. . . . The book's combination of convincing logic and . . . speculation is a familiar mix to those of us interested in undeciphered writing.---Andrew Robinson, Nature
He carefully introduces numerous encryption techniques as he goes along, from simple substitution ciphers – according to which each letter corresponds to another – right through to the modern RSA cryptosystem, which relies on the ease of multiplying prime numbers but the difficulty of factorizing a large number as a product of primes. He gives examples, and works through the steps clearly and carefully, so that the explanations will be accessible to a wide audience, not only those with mathematical experience (Times Literary Supplement)
Bauer proves an able and entertaining guide to the world of real-life ciphers, codes, and encryption in his fascinating book Unsolved! . . . Bauer caters to newcomers while keeping things interesting for experienced code breakers as well. . . . Unsolved! is suited to all who enjoy the thrill of the chase.---Peter Dabbene, Foreword Reviews
An in-depth guide to history's greatest unsolved conundrums. (BBC Focus)
The Da Vinci Code has nothing on this exhaustive collection of cryptographs and codes--because they are real. From a still-indecipherable 14th-century manuscript to spy communications to the infamous coded taunts of the Zodiac Killer, Bauer shows how experts try to crack the case. (Discover Magazine)
A fantastic insight into how codebreakers really work.---Martijn Van Calmthout, De Volkskrant
This chunky book proved to be an unexpected pleasure. . . . A thoroughly engaging read.---Brian Clegg, Popular Science
Can you imagine: a book on cryptography that gets you hooked and keeps you reading like you would read a Dan Brown page turner. This is what Craig Bauer achieved with this book. . . . I am blown away by this book. I have never read a non-fiction book before that is so thrillingly entertaining.---Adhemar Bultheel, European Mathematical Society
Bauer's lengthy book offers a panoply of ciphers ripe for the solving.---Brenda Jubin, Reading the Markets blog,
[Unsolved!] is filled with fascinating stories. . . . The book discusses, in a story-telling, informative style, a variety of ciphers spanning several millennia. . . . The author does not just summarize the history of these ciphers but also talks about possible solution methods and his own contributions to their investigations.---MAA Reviews,
From the Back Cover
"A mind-bending joy of a book. Bauer investigates the mysteries of secret writing with a storytellers eye and the latest technology, digging into spectacular and macabre tales of murderers, spies, Viking runestones, strange manuscripts, buried gold, and wireless messages from Mars. Unsolved! makes the world seem bigger, weirder, and more wonderful."--Jason Fagone, author of Ingenious: A True Story of Invention, Automotive Daring, and the Race to Revive America
"In this intriguing casebook of hidden clues and secret messages, Craig Bauer is the perfect guide to cracking ciphers."--Adrienne Mayor, author of The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World
"A connection between the cipher language of a fifteenth-century manuscript and the taunting enciphered messages of the twentieth-century Zodiac Killer seems unlikely. Yet in this well-chosen survey of unsolved cryptographic problems, we learn how these and a host of other cipher conundrums are related. Illuminating examples, clear technical explanations, and a brisk writing style combine to make Unsolved! an informative and rewarding read."--Glen Miranker, former Apple chief technology officer (hardware)
"A stunning journey through the mysteries of codes and ciphers! Excellent and outstanding!"--David Naccache, École normale supérieure, France
"A great book and a major contribution."--Klaus Schmeh, author of Cryptography and Public Key Infrastructure on the Internet
"Exceptional. Not only are these ciphers fascinating individually, but together they provide a comprehensive picture of the different methods and types of encryption, which Bauer explains and guides readers through in turn. I thoroughly enjoyed this book."--Todd S. Sauter, former docent at the National Cryptologic Museum
"A welcome addition to the growing popular literature on cryptology. Bauer explains concepts very clearly and illustrates them with examples, so that the book is self-contained and requires little prerequisite mathematical or cryptological background knowledge on the part of the reader."--John W. Dawson, Jr., author of Logical Dilemmas: The Life and Work of Kurt Gödel
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A good introduction to codes, code-breaking, secret writing, mysterious books, etc. Topics covered include, in rough order, the Voynich Manuscript, ancient ciphers, the Dorabella code, the Zodiac killer ciphers, various killer ciphers, the Somerton man mystery, and challenge ciphers of various sorts. Bauer writes conversationally, describes the types of codes, gives easy-to-follow examples, and offers interesting insights. A good refresher on codes you may already know and a good introduction to codes you may not know about yet. Lots of illustrations, decent endnotes, and a good bibliography of material for those who want to dig in to particular cases more.
I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in historical ciphers and cipher mysteries.
I'm going to start by saying that my relatively low rating is a reflection of the fact that the author's chosen style drove me nuts, and is therefore entirely subjective. In fact, I think the book is very good – just not for me. Let me start by explaining why and then I can get onto the more positive aspects.
I admit – the clue is in the title, so I should have known the book would annoy me. I really don't like unsolved mysteries and this book reminded me forcibly of that fact. Part of the ostensible reason for the book is to encourage a wider pool of people to try their hand at solving these ciphers, and I think that's a fun and interesting idea. However, while I can make a stab at something like the dancing men cipher in Sherlock Holmes – a simple letter substitution – I fear that when higher maths, massive computer power, or knowledge of ancient Greek is required, then it's well beyond my capacity and my interest flags. From the first chapters, I found I was reading the stories of the ciphers and then skipping most of the stuff about the methodologies of attempts to solve them. I suspect Bauer has explained all the mechanics of it very well for people who are interested and have enough mathematical aptitude to follow along, but sadly that's not me. Even with the simpler stuff at the beginning, Bauer frequently sets a challenge – say, to solve a group of anagrams – and then doesn't provide solutions. I found this intensely irritating.
However, what annoyed me much more was Bauer's decision not to include all the information in the book, but instead to refer the reader frequently to websites. If I wanted to look up unsolved ciphers on the internet, then I would simply google – but if I'm reading a book on the subject, then all relevant information should be on the page. I'm not even an enthusiast for being referred to the notes at the back of books much less being sent off to fire up the laptop. One example was where he tells a story, tells us that the cipher in this case has been solved, doesn't give the solution but instead gives a web address a zillion characters long. Having carefully keyed it all in, I was taken to a website... in German! OK, so Google translate... nope, still no solution in the body of the post. Presumably it was hidden somewhere in the vast stream of comments on the post, but frankly I had lost the will to live by then. It felt like Bauer was playing games with his readers – fine if you like that sort of thing. I don't.
On the plus side, a lot of the stories Bauer tells are interesting in their own right even when the ciphers remain unsolved. From ancient Greece to modern murders, ciphers have appeared in the oddest of circumstances – medieval manuscripts, tombstones, personal letters, even taped to the stomach of a murder victim. Sometimes there is doubt whether a piece of gibberish is actually a cipher or simply a piece of gibberish, and Bauer details how experts go about the task of trying to decide.
Spy stories feature, of course, but there are other circumstances when ciphers have been used that I found just as interesting. There are a couple of hidden treasure stories, where the ciphers remain unsolved and the treasure unfound so you might want to grab a spade and start digging. Many people have used ciphers as a means to test whether it's possible to communicate from beyond the grave, by leaving behind a code that requires a keyword to solve, intending to see if they can then transmit this keyword from the great beyond (so far with no success). Bauer also tells of the way ciphers have been used to send messages out into space as a means of alerting passing aliens to the existence of intelligent life on earth. One has to hope the aliens are better at solving codes than I am... or perhaps we should hope they're worse since, as Bauer points out, they might have bigger guns and worse attitudes than we do.
So there's plenty of good stuff in here, and I'm certain it would work very well for someone who is more interested in the maths side of it and less annoyed by being sent off to websites than I. But for me, there were too many aspects that irritated me to make it an altogether successful read despite finding some of the stories interesting.
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Princeton University Press
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