The Codebreakers: The Story of Secret Writing by David Kahn. Book review by Roger Pineau

codes and code breaking, history of,
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Recent Books: Cryptology

the principal nations of the world, and communications-now by radio as well as cable-took on a new importance. British and French cryptology had an early lead; Germany had no cryptanalysts on the Western Front for the first two years of the war. In the United States, Hitt's Manual for the Solution of Military Ciphers, selling for thirty-five cents, served as the textbook to train cryptanalysts of the American Expeditionary Forces.
In "A War of Intercepts" Kahn covers the episodes of the war in which cryptology was involved, that of the Zimmermann telegram being the outstanding one.   This war "marks the great turning point in the history of cryptology."   From an infant science it had become big business. Radio made all the difference, but cryptanalysis bad matured, too.
"Two Americans" are introduced in chapter 12-Herbert O. Yardley, who "owes his fame less to what he did than to what he said-and to the sensational way in which he said it," and William Frederick Friedman, "uncontestably the greatest," whose eminence is due "most emphatically to what he did."   Of the latter:
His theoretical studies, which revolutionized the science, were matched by his actual solutions, which astounded it. Both are complemented by his peripheral contributions. He straightened out the tangled web of cipher systems and introduced a clarifying terminology for his arrangement.   Words he coined gleam upon more than one page of today's dictionaries.   His textbooks have trained thousands. His historical articles have shed light in little-known corners of the study, and the Shakespeare book has done much to quash one major area of a perennial literary nuisance. Singlehandedly. he made his country preeminent in his field.
The work of private individuals and corporations in developing new machines and new aspects of cryptology in the period between the wars is told in convincing and sometimes intimate detail in the chapter entitled "Secrecy for Sale."   The principal names are Vernam, Hebern, and Hagelin.   Kahn seems to have something of an obsession for his belief that "the armed forces had adopted the rotor principle from Hebern and used it without just compensation in hundreds of thousands of high-security machines in World War II and in the cold war."
Kahn missed, incidentally, an interesting anecdote about the testing of the Hebern machine at the Navy building. There were continuing electrical problems-fuses blowing and solenoids burning out-although other tests which the Director of Naval Communications had suggested be carried out at his home on Kalorama Road gave no such trouble. It was finally discovered that the Navy building was


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Posted: May 08, 2007 08:18 AM
Last Updated: Aug 05, 2011 01:53 PM