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The Code Book:
The Evolution of Secrecy from Mary, Queen of Scots to Quantum Cryptography

by Simon Singh

ISBN 0385495315 / 9780385495318 / 0-385-49531-5
Publisher Doubleday
Language English
Edition Hardcover
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Book summary

People love secrets, and ever since the first word was written, humans have written coded messages to each other. In The Code Book, Simon Singh, author of the bestselling Fermat's Enigma, offers a peek into the world of cryptography and codes, from ancient texts through computer encryption. Singh's compelling history is woven through with stories of how codes and ciphers have played a vital role in warfare, politics, and royal intrigue. The major theme of The Code Book is what Singh calls "the ongoing evolutionary battle between codemakers and codebreakers," never more clear than in the chapters devoted to World War II. Cryptography came of age during that conflict, as secret communications became critical to either side's success.

Confronted with the prospect of defeat, the Allied cryptanalysts had worked night and day to penetrate German ciphers. It would appear that fear was the main driving force, and that adversity is one of the foundations of successful codebreaking.

In the information age, the fear that drives cryptographic improvements is both capitalistic and libertarian--corporations need encryption to ensure that their secrets don't fall into the hands of competitors and regulators, and ordinary people need encryption to keep their everyday communications private in a free society. Similarly, the battles for greater decryption power come from said competitors and governments wary of insurrection. The Code Book is an excellent primer for those wishing to understand how the human need for privacy has manifested itself through cryptography. Singh's accessible style and clear explanations of complex algorithms cut through the arcane mathematical details without oversimplifying. Can't get enough crypto? Try solving the Cipher Challenge in the back of the book--$15,000 goes to the first person to crack the code! --Therese Littleton [via]

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