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Battle of Wits: The Complete Story of Codebreaking in World War II
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Battle of Wits: The Complete Story of Codebreaking in World War II

3.95 of 5 stars 3.95  ·  rating details  ·  175 ratings  ·  28 reviews
A million pages of new World War II codebreaking records have been released by the U.S. Army and Navy and the British government over the last five years. Now, Battle of Wits presents the history of the war that these documents reveal. From the battle of Midway until the last German code was broken in January 1945, this is an astonishing epic of a war that was won not simp ...more
Paperback, 448 pages
Published April 9th 2002 by Free Press (first published 2000)
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Igor Ljubuncic
Excellent work, and once again, the author does not disappoint. Stephen does a marvelous job of turning history into a thriller. Instead of just focusing on dry facts, he tells a tale about the people involved, about the little details, the little vices, the funny personality flaws, the ugly and weird background stories, all of which add color to what is essentially a lesson in WWII. Plus, you do learn a bunch about cryptography, mathematics, the birth of the modern computer, and more cool and s ...more
Kay
I've read several books about code-breaking during World War II, and I even make a trek up to Bletchley Park while visiting London a few years ago. So I guess you could say I've got an abiding interest in this subject. This is a wonderfully readable and impressive book, encompassing all the major Allied efforts to decode German and Japanese codes. Interestingly, some of this information would probably still be secret had not British Government lifted the Official Secrets Act regarding WWII decod ...more
Elizabeth S
Absolutely amazing, and absolutely readable, description of codebreaking in World War II. Covers the Bletchley Park story and breaking Enigma, and fixes some previously incorrect beliefs of the general public. Also covers, but in less detail, the breaking of Japanese codes, the Germans breaking Allied codes, etc. It was fun to read about the codebreaking, and how the intelligence was used in the field.
Anas Abu Samhan

كتاب رائع جداً في فكرته - معقد جداً في تركيبه
بحاجة لتركيز عال، وقراءة متقطعة لساعات طويلة . . !

لا أنصح القراء الهواة بهذا الكتاب أبداً ~ !
...more
Valerie
I learned an amazing amount of history and science by reading this book. I also interested some students in the subject of codebreaking.
Ilya
This is a story of Polish, British and American cryptanalysis during World War II. Most of the book is dedicated to the celebrated breaking of the Enigma code, achieving a fair balance between the technical description of the codebreaking and the concurrent human drama. What this book tells, and the recent biopic of Alan Turing doesn't, is just how massive the decryption effort was. The film shows one cryptanalytic machine, restored by the museum at Bletchley Park; in fact, there were 142 machin ...more
Julie
I really enjoyed this book, especially the author's descriptions of how human personalities and national characteristics affected codebreaking during the war. The technical descriptions of the machines and code breaking methods used during World War II were a little over my head, however. On recruitment of codebreakers in Great Britain, Budiansky remarks: "An almost infinite tolerance for drudgery and repetitive detail was a requirement for almost every position, but in some cases it seemed that ...more
Heikki
Codebreaking is as old as codewriting. For a very good overall look into ciphers and other methods of secret communication, there's always The Code Book by Simon Singh. And if you are into the maths of breaking Enigma, try insley and Stripp's Codebreakers.

But for a definitive book on the efforts of codebreakers in World War 2, this book is your best bet. Budiansky manages the fine art of writing of very complex issues in a way that any reader can understand, and if you have some background in th
...more
Converse
Got to page 300. I wouldn't call it "the complete story of codebreaking in World War II," because it doesn't seem to have much to say about the Germans, Japanese, or Soviets. Basically its another history of the code-breaking efforts of the United States and Britain, focusing on the Japanese diplomatic (called "purple" by the Americans) and naval codes, and the decrypting of the German Enigma codes. The Japanese codes were originally the focus of the Americans, the Enigma (the name of the German ...more
Sarah
This book clearly supposes that the reader has some familiarity with Word War 2, somewhat familiar with currently obsolete tech , and despite it's claims, it's not really complete. It mostly focuses on the US and England's technological efforts to break the radio (or telelgram) transmitted Axis code. It also cuts off right before the Cold War which would be fine, except he spends a chapter teasing the reader about it.

More technological than I would like (You really need physical copies of the m
...more
Shimon Whiteson
A fascinating story given an impressively thorough treatment by a first-rate writer. Budiansky clearly did his homework, though he sometimes reports the results of it in far too much detail. A lot of the minutiae about Allied code breaking was quite mind numbing to me, despite a real interest in cryptography. Still, the story is compelling and the intertwined depictions of the larger war effort are masterfully executed.

I was particularly intrigued to learn about the bureaucratic obstacles that h
...more
Kamryn Gillenwater
Battle of Wits is a nonfiction book about codebreaking in WWII. Stephan Budiansky, the author, was trying to cover the relatively undiscussed story of breaking codes. Most aren't willing to write about this topic because there are not that many people it will hook to. While this is true, for those few who appreciate that, it has plenty of information for them. I was not one of these people, although I do love WWII.
The book is about a young man who's profession is deciphering code. He struggles
...more
M. Thomas
3.5 stars.

Certain technical descriptions of cryptanalysis are interspersed in the text, while others are tucked into appendices. I preferred the better focused appendices. In both cases I got the sense that having complete command of the descriptions given left me with only a facile understanding of the actual cryptanalytic processes involved. That's OK, but I was hoping for a bit more insight given the obvious effort exerted to make the descriptions sensible.

The bureaucratic narrative and por
...more
Jenny
The fascinating story of cryptography including its history leading up to WWII and the endeavors on both sides of the Atlantic to decipher the enemy's codes. At times the book is a bit technical and intellectual during discussions of the machines and mathematics used to break codes. The technical aspects arebalanced by the detail of the people involved in the efforts.
Ellissm90
This is an extremely interesting and very detailed explanation of Allied codebreaking during World War II. Written by a Harvard mathematician, the explanations of various codes are intricate but accessible. I would not recommend this book for easy bedtime reading, but for anyone with a genuine interest in World War II intelligence, this is a must read!
Sallyavena
While the details and descriptions of the actual machines and sometimes the code breaking process were a little difficult to plow through at times, I found the human stories fascinating. I also appreciated the different perspective of WWII and even learned some new things about what went on far away from the main theaters of action.
Michael Kallan
Solid history of the Allied code breaking efforts leading up to and during World War II. Strongest part of the book was the opening chapter describing the contribution of these efforts (on the American side) towards victory at the Battle of Midway in 1942.
Jane
Excellent. I actually understood details of decoding the Enigma messages while I was reading it, though I couldn't explain it now. Also recommended for readers of Sayers' _Have His Carcase_ who want to understand more than the Playfair explanation there.
Booknerd Fraser
A good if challenging (in terms of mathematics, at least for me), history of WWII code breaking. To be fair, it's really a history of *Allied* code breaking, and then mostly the Anglo-American efforts, but it goes into quite a bit of detail on those.
Melanie
I loved the history, the details and I learned a lot about myself reading it. I also developed a stronger appreciation for those who fought the Axis in WWII. Although a little tech-y and hard to fully comprehend at times, it was a phenomenal book.
Noladishu
Could have been better organized. It's mostly a wrap up of the Allied codebreaking efforts, with very little on the Axis.

The part about the Poles was overwhelmingly the best part of the book.
Patricrk patrick
I thought this was an excellent account of the code breaking by British and American groups during the war. Gives a history of the problems and the breaks that allowed it to happen.
Nathan
Read it if you like history or cryptography. The best part is its true and history is a lot of times more interesting than anything you could make up.
Craig
Hands down the best book on WWII Codebreaking
stephanie
Sep 22, 2012 stephanie marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: on-pause
had to return to library . . .
Chris
Challenging but fun!
False Millennium
Fascinating subject.
Kelly
Very interesting resource.
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99775
Historian and journalist STEPHEN BUDIANSKY is the author of twelve books about military history, science, and nature.

His latest book is THE BLOODY SHIRT: TERROR AFTER APPOMATTOX, which chronicles the struggles of five courageous men in the post-Civil War South as they battled a rising tide of terrorist violence aimed at usurping the newly won rights of the freedmen.
More about Stephen Budiansky...
Her Majesty's Spymaster: Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the Birth of Modern Espionage The Bloody Shirt: Terror After Appomattox Blackett's War: The Men Who Defeated the Nazi U-Boats and Brought Science to the Art of Warfare The Character of Cats: The Origins, Intelligence, Behavior, and Stratagems of Felis silvestris catus Perilous Fight: America's Intrepid War with Britain on the High Seas, 1812-1815

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