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The Code Book: The Secret History of Codes and Code-Breaking

4.24 of 5 stars 4.24  ·  rating details  ·  9,076 ratings  ·  550 reviews
Combining impeccable history and intriguing stories of espionage and intellectual breakthroughs, this riveting bestseller, by the author of the popular science classic Fermat's Last Theorem, brings to life the secret world of cryptographers and code-breakers from Ancient Egypt to the age of the internet.
Paperback, 402 pages
Published 2000 by Fourth Estate (first published 1999)
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Sep 18, 2008 Jim rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Geeks and people who like geeks.
Shelves: pop-sci-geek
The Code Book is like geek porn. Explanations of the theories behind cryptography are woven together with anecdotes of times when code-making or code-breaking was integral to historical events. Singh strikes an excellent balance with this book. The clarity of his writing makes the explanations of the mathematics of cryptography very straightforward without dumbing them down, and the historical connections are always fascinating.

Personally, my favorite part was the section devoted to the role cry
Singh, author of Fermat's Enigma, has even included a code to practice one's deciphering skills on. The successful cryptanalyst will win $15,000. In the appendix, he discusses other famous attempts at breaking codes, including the recent book, The Bible Code, by Michael Drosnin. This work caused quite a stir a couple of years ago when Drosnin, building really on the work of several Hebrew scholars, claimed to have discovered several prophecies hidden in the text of the Bible, a forecast of the a ...more
I never thought I'd love a book about mathematics, or ever see the beauty of mathematics. My mother was definitely right when she kept pestering me to work harder on my math and argued that it was EVERYWHERE! (I had argued back saying I would be fine as long as I could perform the basic calculations!)
Maybe this is what growing up is about!
That being said, this is a very informative book about the past, present and future of cryptography. Singh takes us on a journey from ancient times where simpl
By far the best and the most interesting book on the subject. recommended to anyone interested in Cryptography and its history. I read it in three days mainly because I couldn't put it down.
I was fascinated with codes and ciphers when I was a kid. I even had a "junior spy code kit" with a bunch of cool stuff and I could send little notes to friends with secret messages like "Mr. Nutzenjammer is a dork" and "Cindy eats her boogers" and we would all congratulate ourselves with our cleverness. That's all pretty juvenile, but the ciphers included in my little spy kit were the basics in modern encryption systems and you can read all about it in Simon Singh's The Code Book, an excellent ...more
Bryce Holt
Prepare to dork out with your bad self, because this book is for those of us who A) Had a code dial as a kid (like Ralphie in "A Christmas Story"), and B) Didn't get laid until at least college. The truth is, though, that Simon Singh's "The Code Book" rocks the pants. This guy's knowledge and history is astounding, and while much of it is beyond me to fully understand, I am enamored with the way the stories unravel.

Enjoyably crafted and with the lay reader in mind, I think many could enjoy this
great read.

nice history lesson. parts are math heavy, but i have been told by my students that these sections can be skipped/skimmed (the horror) without losing any of the history . .

i get to lead a discussion of this book with a bunch of college age students later today . . .
i picked this up at my brother in law's house and started reading it, immediately went out and bought a copy....
what a FANTASTIC book...
mathematically oriented non-fiction that reads like an anthology of suspense stories...
highly enjoyable...
Jigar Brahmbhatt
A tour de force for anyone remotely interested in cryptography. Singh has done a marvelous job of chronologically describing the art of hiding information from the Rosetta stone, to the lesser known message hiding tricks used in Queen Mary's court, followed by the Enigma machine, till the emergence of computers. He backs up the technical details with intriguing history, which only makes up for a wonderful reading experience.

My favorite part in the book was the explanation of Quantum Cryptograph
Julia Hughes
Mr Singh manages to explain concepts that should be way beyond this thickie's level of understanding. That he manages to do so in an entertaining page turning manner is testament to his skill both as a mathematician and a writer. This book examines how from earliest history in parallel with writing, it became necessary for human kind to devise ways to send messages in code. So we learn how complex codes developed from very simple ones, and Simon explains along the way that there are ancient code ...more
A little disappointing given how much I loved Fermat's Last Theorem, although still really well-written. The beginning half was really good, but then when it became about secure internet banking and not wars and beheadings and secret languages it kind of got a little boring. Also it was SUPER Anglo-centric. I don't agree with that choice.

I learned that once in ancient Greece somebody shaved the head of his messenger, wrote the message on his scalp, and then waited for the hair to regrow as a for
I thought this book would be dry and boring, but oh no! I love a good puzzle, and this history of making, cracking, and innovating secret codes was enthralling. And it gets better ... at the end of the book there are codes to try your hand out. I got pretty excited when I solved the first (and easiest one). They got harder and the book became overdue at the library so I gave it up. For about a week I had the idea that I was going to be the best code cracker ever and that the CIA would HAVE to hi ...more
A fantastic mix of cryptography and history -- and good writing! In general, Singh presents the intuition well without assuming the reader has a technical background. This particularly helped for the last chapter dealing with quantum cryptography. Earlier in the book, however, I felt a bit babied (ex. He spent a paragraph explaining the definition of a prime number). Having a stronger technical background, I would've liked something a bit more math-based.
This is the second work of Simon Singh that I have read, and in my opinion it is the greater of the two. It explores the art of ciphering codes and encryption which has developed profusely over the centuries, with alot of help from Charles Babbage and the computer.

Singh delves into the story of Mary Queen of Scots and explains in an epic and intersting way about how Mary's life depended upon whether her encrypted messages were deciphered. It goes on to the key role of mathematicians in WWII par
I'm fascinated by the history of encryption, so this book was up my alley. Singh traces the evolution of encryption techniques using stories from history to illustrate.

Singh takes care to also give more technical explanations for what's going on, and you can use the charts to try out some of them for yourself.

Just recently, there's the story of the "runic code" that was finally solved - and it turns out it was used mostly for fun (with one of the translated messages saying, simply, "Kiss me"). S
Zainab Moazzam
The extent to which human brain can produce such encryptions is beautiful... all for the sake of just one thing, secrecy!
Skillfully written and engaging history of the 2000+ year old struggle between the people who try to make messages secret and the people who try to decipher them. Singh is brilliant at creating detailed examples phrased for the general reader to demystify the math behind most modern cryptography, as well as finding historical examples of cryptography's often crucial role in world events. The only reason this book gets four stars instead of five is that it outdated... the last 10 years have seen ...more
Can't say I followed everything in this book but I comprehended enough to enjoy it immensely. The secret codes used in early Western History (substitution and frequency codes) are easy to understand i.e. Mary Queen of Scots secret messages were fairly simple and it's a wonder she wasn't beheaded earlier. The Enigma machine and quantum cryptography made me dizzy. The author includes "fun exercises" in the back of his book. I skipped them. My brain is too out of shape. I mainly read this for the h ...more
This is a *must* read before reading Cryptonomicon. Or maybe after, like I did.

If you at all feel uncomfortable in your knowledge of one time pad cyphers, public/private keys, or the importance of really good cryptography for average folks, please read this book! It's sadly a bit out of date, but Singh does such a brilliant job of methodically building up the complexity in cyphers though history, that you will inevitably learn a ton.
Paulo Glez Ogando
This is a very good book, one I've enjoyed very much. I knew Simon Singh from Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem and The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets, both of them books I liked. Thus with these precedents, it seemed a sure choice. It was.

It is a little of the history of cryptography, as well as some anecdotes around it. Middle age in Britain and Scotland, World War (I and II), security in the Internet or quantum computers are some of th
An excellent book on a fascinating subject. Simon Singh traces the evolution of cryptography and its perpetual battle with cryptanalysis right from ancient history to the end of the 20th Century in a very readable, entertaining style. He describes both the making and breaking of different codes over history, and details the algorithms in a very accessible manner. Honestly, you don't require any mathematical skills to appreciate any of this, but I guess it does take a certain kind of person to en ...more
The book takes the reader from something as simple as the mono alphabet substitution cipher to making him/her relatively comfortable with understanding quantum cryptography. What is interesting is that the author has not intimidated the reader with jargon and technicalities, but has kept the book true to its name, popular science. A must read for everyone, especially to understand what it means to live in the information age and why cryptography is the daily bread of our communication systems.
Very fun! A mixture of puzzles (codes), math (very light) and history. It was a pretty easy read that can be done over a period of time.

Most interesting was tying the development of codes to actual historical impacts of codes, ciphers, codebreaking, and cryptology. Perhaps one of the best explanations of Diffie-Hellman and RSA techniques - very understandable!
Stephen Futterer
Come to find out that I'm a tough grader... no 5-star ratings, as yet... I like when non-fiction books feed me detail a little beyond what I actually want... this book did that... fluid writing style that builds tension and then pays off... for the most part, it did... one that ties together improbable elements like Mary Queen of Scots and the Enigma Cipher... yup... but I was ready to put it down... the great ones you want to go on forever...

His discussion of the future of cryptography (this bo
I'm a fiction reader, mostly fantasy, and yet this non-fiction book captured my imagination and kept me reading late into the night. Codes, secrets, mysteries - The Code Book has it all, unfolding in compelling and fascinating true stories of the history of codes.
Very informative and very accessible to the unspecialized reader. The Author has remarkable capability at simplifying many concepts and communicating the basic idea, no matter how complicated, in a very easy and concise way at the same time.
History of crypto, from its very beginning to public key cryptography and a sketch of quantum cryptography. Very well written and researched, balancing accuracy, ease-of-reading and entertainment. One of the best non-fiction read recently!
Dáma Eleonora
Got this from the library.

Very entertaining and good read, up until the last chapter, where the author passes from RSA and PGP into more complex encryption, where I completely lost interest and skipped to the appendices.

I really enjoyed the interview snippets and the historical information, as well as the biographical information on the person he's speaking about. It really adds character and dimension to the person, instead of just a name and accomplishments.

I took extensive notes and have som
This is one of the best non-fiction books I've read.

Of course, the subject is inherently interesting. But Singh stays away from what could presumably be some very interesting stories, and instead goes through how a variety of ciphers were invented and and exactly how they work.

This could be a very dense and confusing book, but he keeps it readable without being condescending (which many popular books like this would do).

By the time you finish this book, you'll understand RSA/PGP encryption, the
Very interesting book, shows the history of codes and how we depend on them. For the depth in which it covers it's a very easy read.
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Interesting book 2 23 Jul 04, 2014 02:04AM  
an eye-opener... 3 61 Sep 06, 2011 08:25PM  
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Simon Lehna Singh, MBE (born 1 January 1964) is a British author who has specialised in writing about mathematical and scientific topics in an accessible manner. He is the maiden winner of the Lilavati Award.

His written works include Fermat's Last Theorem (in the United States titled Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem), The Code Book (about cryptogra
More about Simon Singh...
Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets The science of secrecy: The secret history of codes and codebreaking

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“the Arab scholars were also capable of destroying ciphers. They in fact invented cryptanalysis, the science of unscrambling a message without knowledge of the key.” 0 likes
“One way to solve an encrypted message, if we know its language, is to find a different plaintext of the same language long enough to fill one sheet or so, and then we count the occurrences of each letter. We call the most frequently occurring letter the “first,” the next most occurring letter the “second,” the following most occurring letter the “third,” and so on, until we account for all the different letters in the plaintext sample.” 0 likes
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