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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
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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

3.64 of 5 stars 3.64  ·  rating details  ·  1,303 ratings  ·  221 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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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
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

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
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
A Kódjátszma c. film késztetett a könyv elolvasására, annyira lenyűgözött az angol kódfejtők története. Én azelőtt soha nem gondoltam bele, hogy a háborúban egyáltalán folyhatott kódfejtő tevékenység, pedig hát annyira evidens. Ha hallottam is erről valaha, elengedtem a fülem mellett...Pedig szeretem a matekot, a rejtvényeket, az ilyen nagy és fontos dolgokat pedig még annál is jobban.

A könyv olyan, mintha egy kellemes, laikusoknak szóló dokumentumfilmet néznénk. A narrátor mesél, időnként pedi
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
Inspired by the wonderful Bletchley Circle on PBS, I set out to learn more about Bletchley Park and what went on there. The book did not disappoint; in fact, it's everything a good nonfiction book should be. It's well paced, well organized, and concise but not skimpy on details. There are clear descriptions of difficult concepts, like bombes and the Colossus, that are complete but not too complicated as though one needs a PhD in binary code and electrical engineering to understand them. The huma ...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
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
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
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
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
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McKay begins by telling the story of a few individual men and women who worked at Bletchley Park. They estimate by the end of the war, over 1,000 people were working there. By focusing on a few individuals and weaving their story throughout the book, he makes the story more personal and interesting. Turing is only mentioned by name a few times and McKay rarely focuses on him. I thought McKay would have said a little more about Turing. T
Rickard Schroeder
As a veteran, it was interesting for me to discover Bletchley Park, because much of what I did can be traced to that era. I liked reading about the evolution of cryptography through the lives of the people there. But this author fumbled when it came to the complexity of encryption, using very vague terms. I wish there was more research done on the subject. Also, the pacing of the story was uneven. For that, a 5 star book becomes 4. Or maybe my expectations were too high? I am still looking for b ...more
After reading Alan Turing: The Enigma, I wanted to learn more about the work that went on at Bletchley Park. This was just what I was looking for. It described both the code breaking, and the lives of the codebreakers when they weren't working. It's really a fascinating topic that I wish more people were aware of. My only complaint with the book was that some parts were quite repetitive, and could have been worded differently.
As I was reading this, I noticed that the writing doesn't get in the way of the story. "This is nice," I thought, "the author isn't interjecting his invented vision of morning mist rising as the codebreakers start their day." And it's true, the writing moves along without being noticed, neither enhancing nor encumbering the narrative. It's very utilitarian, and it tells the story well. Very British, no?

Then I started reading Unbroken, and holy moly it was like seeing (or reading) in color. Sure
Victor Gibson
I changed editions and lost my review, so here I go again. At 2 stars I rated this book as "OK", because for my money there was too many quotes from the ex BP people, which naturally were a bit ponderous because now they are all pretty old, and the author has been faithful to their words. Well, he is a journalist, so that's his job. That it may be, but it does not really make for a riveting read. As I said in my lost review, it may well be a book for the 10,000 people who worked at the Park over ...more
This is not a book for the more technically minded readers who will find much of the narrative superficial and would fail to appreciate from its pages that this was the dawn of the computer age. Nor is it a history of British Intelligence operations in WWII. But for the general reader this a very accessible and engaging human story of the daily lives of the code breakers at Bletchley Park whose numbers swelled from the 'hunting party' that arrived in 1939 to the 9,000 who traipsed in from outlyi ...more
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
After seeing the movie, "The Imitation Game," I wanted to know more about what really happened at Bletchley Park. I knew women's presence was much more vital than portrayed in the movie and this book verifies that fact.

The book reads smoothly, though I got a bit bored halfway through. The author doesn't spend a whole lot of time on the minutiae of actual code breaking (which I wasn't looking for anyway), but after dealing with the basics of the work that was done at the park, the author focuses
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
McKay successfully balances the war-related work and the BP social aspects well despite a tendency to be repetitive. And the book flowed nicely and was engaging. Having read a good bit already about Bletchley, I still found new and fascinating information in this book.

"It was a fine national moment of class cohesion--or at least as close as Britain would ever get to it. For as soon as the war ended, the change was astonishingly rapid" (128).

",,,a slightly more philosophical explanatio
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
The Secret Lives of Codebreakers: The Men and Women Who Cracked the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park, also known as The Secret Life of Bletchley Park, delves into the history of British counter-intelligence during World War II by way of anecdotes from the numerous Britishers who served in it. Until the 1970s, a code of silence concealed all knowledge of Bletchley Park activities – the individuals who worked there continued to stringently conform to the Official Secrets Act that they had pledged to ...more
Absolutely fascinating subject but this book, although containing some interesting snippets of what went on, didn't quite do it justice and wasn't as enthralling as it should have been. Has whet my appetite for reading more on the subject though.
Tough to rate this book. While I found the subject matter intriguing, I couldn't adjust to the style of writing. Seemed like the book was still in the "compiling my notes" stage of writing. The information was organized into chapters, yes, but the book still read like a bunch of news clippings taped together.

That said,if you're reading this book to find out more about how Enigma and the Bombes worked, look elsewhere. As the title indicates, this is clearly about LIFE at BP, not a a behind-the-sc
The top secret codebreaking centre of Bletchley Park and the vital work that was done there during WWII is an immensely fascinating topic. Drawing on numerous sources including interviews with veterans who worked there as well as surviving documents, Sinclair McKay's history of the place pays homage to all those who worked there (both the most brilliant and famous like Alan Turing and the almost entirely unknown who are equally deserving of recognition for their part), the challenges they had to ...more
This was an interesting look at Bletchley Park, the British amateur team that worked to break Enigma and decode enemy transmissions during WWII. Their work was utterly secret, as were their identities, and it wasn't until one of the BP veterans broke silence in 1974 that anyone knew of their activities.

The most famous BP alumni is Alan Turing, but there were thousands of people who worked at BP during the course of the war, in decoding, translating, filing, and cross referencing the messages tha
Susan Kent
Did not realise what happened at this place, opened my eyes. Worth reading.
Should have been interesting, but it was pretty poorly written.
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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.
More about Sinclair McKay...
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