The Secret Life of Bletchley Park: The History of the Wartime Codebreaking Centre by the Men and Women Who Were There
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The Secret Life of Bletchley Park: The History of the Wartime Codebreaking Centre by the Men and Women Who Were There

3.6 of 5 stars 3.60  ·  rating details  ·  664 ratings  ·  135 reviews
Until the mid-seventies Bletchley Park remained a secret. At a rambling Victorian house in the Buckinghamshire countryside, thousands of young people decoded and translated intercepted messages, whilst some of Britain's most brilliant minds effectively invented modern computing. Their greatest collective achievement was the cracking of the Enigma code. The intelligence gai...more
Kindle Edition, 372 pages
Published April 1st 2011 by Aurum Press (first published May 25th 2010)
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Cynthia
Now it can be told

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...more
James Cridland
First, I need to declare an interest: my grandmother was a codebreaker at Bletchley Park during the war. (Yes, a codebreaker, not a wren or a secretary.) So I didn't read this dispassionately.

This is an interesting book because of my family connections, therefore. It takes an interesting subject, and covers it, kind of chronologically, through Bletchley's time as a decrypting station. More or less chronologically, since each chapter is about a particular theme - so sometimes it can be a little c...more
Will

It has been some 40 years since Bletchley Park was first “outed”, and since then there was a steady stream of revelations both shocking and intriguing. But now most of what’s interesting and intriguing has already been written up, and this book doesn’t really add a lot.

For one thing, it is completely devoid of any real information about exactly how Enigma worked and more importantly, how the “bombes” that decoded it worked. We’re told they were basically “great big proto-computers” (although I...more
Veronica
Undeniably an interesting subject, but I was a bit disappointed with this book. The idea of writing about the people at Bletchley, rather than the technology, was a good one, but the execution seemed a bit waffly and shallow in places. I felt McKay probably simply hadn't been able to gather enough in-depth material, both because of ongoing secrecy and lack of living witnesses willing to talk.

What disappointed me most was that McKay clearly doesn't know anything about the maths and science behind...more
Lil
I debated whether this deserved three stars or four... early in the book, it was near to earning five, because it was exactly the account of the sociology of Bletchley Park that I'd been seeking. This was such a great relief after struggling through so many mathematical accounts of BP's work. And this book did shed a light on what the actual lives of the people there would have been like - both the big brains like Turing and Knox and the Debs and the girls from Scotland who all got mixed into th...more
Ruth
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...more
^
The stories of many of the men and women who worked at Bletchley Park (BP) (SIS Station X) during and immediately after World War 2, are described within the pages of this book.

Once I’d finished pulling a face and managed to control my annoyance over the small-sized typeface with excessive white line-space above and below, my mind enthusiastically locked into learning how Bletchley Park , and some greatly moving memories. On the flip side I thought it unfortunate that somehow the author didn’t q...more
Vic Heaney
I spent time at Bletchley Park. Not during the war, but not too long afterwards. It amazed me for many years that so little was known about the work carried on there, which by common consent shortened the war - the only debate is by how many years. What is really astonishing is how all those thousands of people kept the secret for another 30 years.

This book paints an excellent picture not only of what was done at BP, but of the type of people who did it.

I remember being in the area in 1988 and...more
Mary Ronan Drew
Bletchley Park. For most of us these days the name evokes a world of secrets and codes, the Enigma machine and the breaking of the German code, intelligence work and an important contribution to the Allies' winning World War II.

But from the end of the war in 1945 until the 1970s almost no one knew what had gone on there, what the 12,000 or so people who worked there did during the war. As they left, the employees were asked to sign the Official Secrets Act and forbidden to tell anyone what had b...more
JackieB
I thought the material in this book was very badly organised. The chapters skipped around between social aspects of life at the park, details about the codebreaking and the effect of the work at Bletchley Park on the war in general. I found it impossible to follow. I would have arranged the material in sections, so there was a section about the social life first, then a section about the code breaking and finally a section on the contribution of Bletchley Park to second world war 2 generally. As...more
Ann
This book is an intimate history of the code-breaking efforts at Bletchley Park during WWII. Its content seems largely drawn from extended interviews with a handful of Bletchleyites, some 60 years after WWII, together with an overview of other books written on the topic of Ultra and Enigma.

Bletchley Park was a rambling estate with a hideous Victorian house and several hastily built "huts" where a heterogeneous crew of codebreakers sweated over the Nazi and Japanese codes. The original recruits...more
Elisa
This book was very well written but challenging to get through. The true story of young men and women breaking code outside of London during WWII is extremely interesting to me. Using German, mathematics and engineering, the workers tried to interpret messages sent by the German Enigma machine. They also tried to invent a new machine that would think like a human mind (yes, a computer)which would break code faster. Most men brought to Bletchley were at college or had just graduated. The women wh...more
Steve Cassinelli
An interesting history of some of the people who were picked to work at Bletchley during WWII. I had read other books that went into plenty of technical detail about the Enigma codes and the science involved in decryption (Simon Singh's "The Code Book" has an excellent description), but I had never read about the actual people involved in the process. It was interesting to see that perspective and to remember that these were (mostly) everyday people thrust into this super-secretive world for sev...more
Lexie Graham
The story of the World War II codebreakers at Bletchley Park is a fascinating one but this book is a bity dry. I didn't know that there were various types of Enigma machines and different levels of encryption depending on which branch of the German military was sending coded messages. The codebreakers started finding success fairly early in the war and their tireless work saved thousands of Allied lives. They labored day and night to keep up with changes in German coding and also worked to break...more
Allison
Should have been interesting, but it was pretty poorly written.
Drew
I hate to be too hard on this book, but I personally found it a very dull read on a subject I am fascinated by.

It's not easy to write engaging non-fiction, but if ever there was fertile ground for it, it was the story of Bletchley Park in the 30s and 40s.

There was nothing new for me in this recounting of the facts- though there were some interesting "telling" about some of the more interesting personalities and management styles, but it all read like a newspaper account- there was no "showing"....more
Ollie Ford
Not very technical (a plus for some) but very interesting.
Jennie
I picked up this book after I read two fascinating accounts of British intelligence operations in WWII. After those, I have to say I had some rather high expectations for this, the story of the center of British codebreaking during the war.

I mean absolutely no disrespect to the grueling work the codebreakers did, their importance, their dedication, or their accomplishments, but this book didn't do them very much justice. I found it disjointed and hard to follow, with very little, really, about...more
Bookworm1858
Source: Library

I picked this up after having my interest piqued with the news that "The Bletchley Circle" will be coming to PBS in April. This show follows women who had worked at Bletchley Park during WWII. I was also interested in the life and times of Maggie Hope and just a general interest in code breaking.

Although I knew a little about breaking the German Enigma code, there was still much ground to explore as this book covers some of the ciphering that went on during World War I as well as...more
Peg
Bletchley Park was the heart and body of Britain's code-breaking efforts during World War II. The German war machine used the very complicated Enigma Machine to communicate with the High Command's troops in the field, at sea and in the air. Confident that their code protocol was unbreakable, they passed messages back and forth at will. If it were not for the odd collection of men and women who worked at Bletchley Park from the late 1930's until the end of the war in 1945, the outcome might well...more
Geoff
I stumbled across The Secret Lives of Codebreakers on NetGalley and decided to request a copy as I planned on reading David Leavitt’s The Man Who Knew too Much, and I am glad I did. This book tells the stories of the individuals of Bletchley Park—not just what they were working on, but what they did in their spare time, where they came from and where they went after the war. In essence, it does everything I wanted The Man Who Knew too Much to do about Alan Turing but didn’t.

I received a copy of...more
Mary Miller
I have long been interested in the stories of espionage of World War II. The name "Bletchley Park" will crop in these stories, but nobody before now has tried to tell what really went on in this nondescript estate in Buckinghamshire. It is best known perhaps, as the setting of the spy novel and movie "Enigma".
This book is frustrating and fascinating in many ways. Most of the information the author has collected has come from about a dozen people he was able to interview, out of the eight thousan...more
Ashley
I really think this deserves between a 3 and a 4. Overall it was a good book; informative, I learned quite a bit and I liked it. Some things I didn't love were the chapter transitions. It felt a bit like a high school research paper and the lame segweys one tries to use to smooth the way between point A. and point B. Also, it could be repetitive at times. While I was happy to learn many news facts and read the sometimes mundane details of those recalling time at Bletchley, I found myself thinkin...more
Caitlin
A social/oral history of life in Bletchley Park during WWII. It's easy to forget how incredibly heroic the British were during WWII - all that they endured, all that was sacrificed. It's good to be reminded and to be inspired. Breaking the Enigma Code and turning the information into actionable intelligence was the work of many people from crossword puzzle enthusiasts to dons in Mathematics from Cambridge and Oxford. There were military men, scores of young women, and all the logistics associate...more
Ali
Bletchley Park was where one of the war’s most famous – and crucial – achievements was made: the cracking of Germany’s “Enigma” code in which its most important military communications were couched. This country house in the Buckinghamshire countryside was home to Britain’s most brilliant mathematical brains, like Alan Turing, and the scene of immense advances in technology – indeed, the birth of modern computing. The military codes deciphered there were instrumental in turning both the Battle o...more
Kat Davis
What a fantastic book! Told more from the human perspective of those who worked at BP rather than the intellectual, it still, nevertheless gives a wonderful rendition of the cryptographic excellence this mixed group of people managed to achieve. The fact that the goings on at Bletchley were kept secret for so many years, to the detriment of British computing genius and deserved individual honours (Turing), is astounding.

Reading this book I often felt humbled and wondered how today's youth would...more
L.K. Jay
I love anything to do with code-breaking and Enigma and this book really fit the bill. The very fact that I'm typing this review on a computer is testament to the work and development that occurred at Bletchley Park in the war.

This isn't a book about the code-breaking itself but rather the social history of life at the park and the extraordinary work that went on behind the scenes of the Second World War I had no idea just how large the operation was, approximately 9000 people were working there...more
KOMET
Bletchley Park -- described as an "idiosyncratic" Victorian house set on 55 acres situated halfway between London and Birmingham --- served during the Second World War as Britain's nerve center for the breaking and deciphering of the German Enigma codes.

In reading this story, the reader learns about the unique set of men and women -- military, civilian, university educated, debutantes, and some of the most brilliant minds ever brought together for one noble, overarching, salutary objective ---...more
Stuart Aken
A Christmas present, this was a book I was unlikely to pick up for myself. However, I'm very pleased I was given the gift. WWII is long gone, of course, and for many of the younger generation probably holds little interest. I was born some years after its end and my parents were involved, of course, so it has some personal resonance for me.

I had, of course, heard of Bletchley Park; the place has shed its cloak of secrecy over the past few years. Several books, TV documentaries and other items h...more
Mark Lancaster
Absolutely fascinating. Bletchley Park is the former house and grounds acquired by the intelligence services just before the outbreak of World War II in 1939. McKay's account is beautifully written and well-rounded, exploring all aspects of the lives of the Bletchley workers. Being part of the intelligence services, the Bletchley employees had to sign the Official Secrets Act and couldn't speak a word about their work during or for thirty-plus years after the War. The workers were a mishmash of...more
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Sinclair McKay writes regularly for the Daily Telegraph and The Secret Listeners and has written books about James Bond and Hammer horror for Aurum. His next book, about the wartime “Y” Service during World War II, is due to be published by Aurum in 2012. He lives in London.
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