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The American Black Chamber

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  76 ratings  ·  11 reviews
During the 1920s Herbert O. Yardley was chief of the first peacetime cryptanalytic organization in the United States, the ancestor of today's National Security Agency. Funded by the U.S. Army and the Department of State and working out of New York, his small and highly secret unit succeeded in breaking the diplomatic codes of several nations, including Japan. The decrypts ...more
Paperback, 375 pages
Published January 15th 2013 by US Naval Institute Press (first published 1931)
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May 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those interested in history and/or cryptography
Recommended to Deana by: coworker
"The American Black Chamber" is a really interesting book about the organization that preceded today's National Security Agency (NSA) in the United States. The author, Herbert O. Yardley, founded the nation's first cryptologic bureau, when he discovered that enciphered messages could usually be decrypted using logic and mathematics techniques.

The book gives a really interesting history, as well as showing some of the cryptographic messages and simplified explanations of how they can be solved.
Feb 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The author headed the titular Black Chamber, a euphemism for MI-8, the branch of US Intelligence that dealt with ciphers, codes and “secret inks” through WWI and beyond, until the branch was summarily closed by a spectacularly naive and short-sighted Secretary of State. Hardley is a fine raconteur, detailing step-by-step the painstaking ways he and his staff decoded, for example, messages that were composed solely of long strings of five-digit numbers (which turned out to be references to a dict ...more
Feb 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Ever wonder what spies did in the 1930's? Now's your chance to find out from an insider. Written in a purposefully glamorized style, this book is what happens when the government abruptly fires the man responsible for a lot of their secret communication. haha.
Nov 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
When the United States stumbled into World War 1, the War Department and the State Department were under the impression that their ciphers could not be broken by foreign spies. Herbert Yardley, author and hero of the this secret history, demonstrated to the head of military intelligence that American codes were crap. The chief was so impressed that he quickly placed Yardley in charge the US Army's cryptography department, MI-8 aka the American Black Chamber. But American wartime leaders weren't ...more
Kevin DeLong
May 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
I really got into this book. Made codes and ciphers interesting and illustrated their practical use in national affairs. Some parts got complicated or wordy, but I still liked it. I could imagine myself their with the author in history. Sad ending.
Aug 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a fascinating book to me since I spent much of my Air Force career in the intelligence field. When I joined the Air Force and was going through training in 1967/1968, this book was "banned" and was not available. With the appropriate security clearance, I was able to see this book in a secure, controlled-access library. I can certainly see why the book was considered classified in the late 60's.

Herbert O. Yardley was brilliant. However, everyone did not appreciate his work and book. Her
Oct 03, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Encyclopedia Brown
This embellished non-fiction account of MI-8, the US military intelligence office of codes and cryptography, was a hoot. My favorite chapter dealt with secret inks - spies would wear ties infused with special dyes, which they would use to write messages by dipping in water! Herbert Yardley, who founded and ran MI-8, wrote this in the 1930's after the office was disbanded, and he spends a good deal of time patting himself on the back for all the codes he cracked. There are some interesting exposi ...more
May 03, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is probably an essential read and written by the man credited with inventing American cryptography when it comes to espionage and sigint. He was blackballed for writing it after the American Black Chamber was disbanded and was never able to work for the American government again (though he worked for others as a consultant). He covers some of the basics of how decipherment occurred as well as how espionage was conducted in his era. Some of his examples go on, at much too great length, ...more
Tom Mueller
Interesting 1931 History of Cryptology & the beginnings of MI-8, Military Intelligence, Cryptographic Bureau. Reads partly as an autobiography of Merbert O. Yardley, author and creator of this bureau.
Apr 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. A friend loaned me a copy from 1931 - he's a collector - and it was just an all around exciting and superb experience - not to mention the thrilling story of American Cryptography. Just an all around cool experience and a very cool book.
Mar 05, 2007 rated it liked it
Interesting because it was once a banned book and is non-fiction. Definitely some gratuitous self-promotion by the author, but worth reading if the topic appeals to you.
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