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The Codebreakers - The Story of Secret Writing (David Kahn)

 

Kahn, David. The Codebreakers: The Story of Secret Writing. New York: Macmillan, 1967. 1164 pp. Revised edition New York: Scribner, 1996.

The Codebreakers: The Story of Secret Writing is a 1967 book chronicling the history of cryptography, from ancient Egypt to the book's publication, providing in-depth analysis of its development, and its importance in world history. The book begins with a discussion on the role of cryptography in the attack on Pearl Harbor, providing background on the development of cryptography in the inter-war years, and its critical role during World War II, with the American success in breaking Japanese coding schemes. Due to its original publication date in the 1960s, the book did not cover the breaking of the Enigma code or the efforts of Alan Turing, which were largely classified until the 1970s. Following his discussion on Pearl Harbor, the author presents the history of cryptography--the methods in which codes and ciphers are created and broken--from its earliest known usage, found in an ancient Egyptian tomb dated to 1900 B.C.E, through the subsequent millennia, appearing in various forms in India, Assyria, Rome, Greece, and elsewhere.(1)

The first examples of cryptanalysis appeared in the Arab world of the seventh century with the development of character frequency analysis, allowing the decryption of character-substitution forms of encoding. The book then follows the development of political cryptography in Europe, then in the United States, following numerous details and anecdotes about the characters and events contributing to the narrative of cryptography. Through characters such as John Wallis and Antoine Rossignol, Khan describes the early lead England and France experienced in cryptography, continuing into World War I, with Germany and the United States catching up during wartime, with events such as the intercept of the Zimmerman telegram having enormous significance for cryptography and history in general. The book devotes four chapters to the cryptographic history of World War II, leading up to the rise of cryptography in the early Cold War. David Kahn's book is widely considered the best account of the history of cryptography up to that time. The book was updated in 1996 to include some of the events that took place after its first publication.(2)

Notes

1 , 2 : https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/kent-csi/vol12i3/html/v12i3a09p_0001.htm


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