For almost four desperate years, between 1939 and 1943, British and American navies fought a savage, losing battle against German submarine wolf packs. The Allies might never have turned the tide of that historic battle without an intelligence coup. The race to break the German U-boat codes is one of the last great untold stories of World War II.
David Kahn, the world's leading historian of cryptology, brings to life this tense, behind-the-scenes drama for the first time. Seizing the Enigma provides the definitive account of how British and American code breakers fought a war of wits against Nazi naval communications and helped lead the Allies to victory in the crucial Battle of the Atlantic.
©1991 David Khan (P)1994 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"The best historian of cryptography explains the cracking of the Naval Enigma cipher.... David Kahn writes with authority and enthusiasm." (Simon Singh, author of The Code Book and Fermat's Last Theorem)
"[Kahn] underscores the strategic importance of submarine warfare in the Atlantic, giving a balanced account of the ultimate importance of code breaking in that arena. High drama at sea seizing German codebooks and equipment and analytical genius ashore were essential. Kahn describes both of these matching efforts expertly. Informed laypersons and specialists will find this book valuable and intriguing." (Library Journal)
"Kahn provides detailed, action-packed accounts (drawn from interviews with surviving eyewitnesses on both sides) of the bold seizures that yielded vital documents...A first-rate briefing on the use of brawn as well as brains to alleviate the U-boat threat." (Kirkus Reviews)
I knew that U-Boats were a scourge during WWI, but not to the extent I found out in reading this book. It describes the devastating impact U-Boats had on the execution of the war, and of the desperation and creativity used to protect as well decipher the codes. It's story is so compelling that it made me think the land battles were just a side shows in the outcome of the war.
The only problem is trying to follow along as the reader describes the wire by wire detail of the ciphering machine design, and of the letter by letter explanations of some of the code breaking successes. This is one of the problems with listening to technical books that obviously require diagrams and tables.
just about everything you need to know on the subject, short of planning to build an enigma maxhine yourself.
It is a very fair handed account unlike many books on the subject
I found this book to be hugely informative but about 90% of it went over my head. it is very difficult to imagine technical wiring diagrams without an image; equally difficult to imagine a location in the north Atlantic without a physical map. but these are my limitations. the people who studied and deciphered code during the war were far smarter than i.
"Various vignettes makes codes breaking come alive"
The author excels at making the history come alive by telling multiple stories that go into understanding the Enigma code breaking and its importance for the Battle of the North Atlantic. At first, I didn't understand why he was telling me some of the stories in great detail, but than he would always tie the story into why it was important for understanding the Enigma code breaking.
He makes you realize all the moving parts that goes into understanding any one facet of WW II. For example, he'll go into great detail about an allied convoy and what it means when some of the message traffic is intercepted and what it meant for the convoy. He made it such that you felt you were on the convoy and any moment a German U-boat could be threatening.
He really cleared up in my mind what it means when people say we broke the code. It's much more nuanced then I had always believed. The story of the Polish mathematicians and their approach kept me on the edge of my seat and is just one of the many, many different stories the author makes come alive.
A good author is one who loves his subject and can put it into the context of the whole. This author obviously loves the topic and knew how to put it into the context of all the moving parts within WW II, and why it was so important for the Allies survival.
One warning, this is one of the view books where I would get lost by the mathematics, but the flow of the story is still understandable and exciting, and I really have corrected some major misunderstanding I had about the cracking of the code and what it meant.
"A tough coice for audio"
This is a somewhat less-than-great presentation of a great story. It documents what is likely the most amazing feat of sustained intelligence analysis ever performed against a target that should, by all rights, have been unbreakable. The intellectual level achieved by people like Alan Turing, as well as the selfless efforts of hundreds of others at BP are nothing short of amazing in retrospect.
The presentation is factual, detailed (some might say dry), and often hard to follow due to the lack of photos, numerical tables, and other information that is not conveyed by the audio alone. For example, if you can visually picture an Enigma machine after having listened to the written descriptions only, I congratulate you. I cannot. But I will now go seek out the photos, and I will know what I am looking at.
If you are looking for an action-packed war adventure, this book is not for you. If you are looking for thoughtful account of a crucial aspect of the war in the North Atlantic, you will like this one. I certainly did.
"A somewhat slow narrative"
The Enigma story is like something out of a thriller- the author recounts several daring exploits in the quest for Enigma, but they fall a little flat. I think part of the problem is the narrator; I have several other books narrated by him which I quite enjoyed but his lack on inflection in this recording is disappointing. I still enjoyed the book, but I wasn't able to just listen all the way through as is my habit.
"Techno Thriller but it is a True Story"
The story of how the enigma machine was conceived and developed after WW1 then perfected by the German Navy in WW2. Then how the Poles almost cracked it before moving to Britain where a massive secret program at Blechley Park and throughout the Navy ultimately destroyed the German submarine packs and won the war.
The best thing about this book is the way it describes how the machines were constructed and how the messages were decrypted. Ten times better than the movies I've see on the subject. I want to read more from David Kahn but only after I have built an enigma machine myself.
"Great book on ENIGMA"
The author develops the story chronologically while giving credit to the Poles for discovering the weaknesses in ENIGMA, to the British for exploiting them and to the Americans for building the really big machines that fully expoited it.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of encipherment or who currently works in cryptography.
"Fascinating Story - I learned a lot"
I would definitely recommend this book.
It tells the story behind the challenge to break the German U-Boat communications that was the key to the Allies reducing the toll of sunken ships and associated loss of lives and materials critical to fighting and ultimately winning the war. It provides interesting background stories of the players including several unsung heroes (including the Poles) that led to the ultimate success in the Battle of the Atlantic. Unlike other books and TV documentaries I've read/seen that have told a rather simplistic story about cracking Enigma (which apparently didn't actually occur in a sustained way until the very end of the war), this book tells the more nuanced story of the hard detailed grunt work and multiple approaches that gradually (and periodically) improved the ability of the allies to get more timely and accurate information on German plans, even as the the codes and methods evolved.
Particularly fascinating to me was seeing how successes were often the result of taking advantage in weaknesses in well-intentioned German implementation procedures rather than in Enigma itself. For example, the author points out that the German guidance that a code should never repeat the same character -- guidance that is usually applied to modern passwords to this day -- actually weakened the overall strength of the encryption by eliminating an entire letter from consideration. As another example, the practice of sometimes send out the exact same message both to Navy warships using Enigma and other vessels using a lesser (i.e. cracked) coding method would provide a template for reverse-engineering the enigma key (another practice that would still apply today).
Bernard Mayes' has a nice voice with an even cadence that I generally found enjoyable. Much of the book is telling a highly suspenseful story, and in these sections his even cadence let's the natural excitement of the book shine through.
However, as noted by other reviewers, there are places where the book goes into fairly dense levels of detail, and in these sections Mr. Mayes' even cadence can be very slow going. Had I been reading the book in paper format I would have just skimmed these denser sections, going to re-read any that I found interesting or useful, but that's not possible in the audio format. And, I didn't want to just skip these sections as the background being provided is important to the overall understanding of the book.
Then I got the idea to mimic skimming by using the Audible Apps Narration Speed control and the Jump Back button. When set to about 1.2-1.3x speed, the reading still sounded natural but went by at a fast enough pace that kept my interest. And whenever a section proved interesting but I felt I might have missed something, I would hit the Jump Back button to re-listen to 30 or 60 seconds. Then, when the story resumed, I would go back to normal 1x speed.
All-in-all, it's a great story that's well told and provides lessons that are still useful today. I highly recommend it.
This is a history in great depth of one important aspect of World War II: the cracking of the German cipher system (the naval Enigma in particular but with a good overview of the whole process) by Polish, British, and later American code breakers. Kahn is an excellent writer, and as narrative history this ranks with Barbara Tuchman. There are so many fascinating aspects to this story: as an example, the serious problem the allies faced in using Ultra intelligence without the Germans' concluding that their cipher had been compromised. The narration of specific naval engagements is very well done. The book has the feel of drawing constantly on primary sources without ever being dry.
I greatly enjoyed Mayes's reading. It's always good for a reader to give the impression that he understands what he's reading. Personally I thought this book benefited from a slightly sped-up playback. Mayes loses a star because his German pronunciation is not great: a minor flaw.
If you are interested in the history of code breaking, this is an excellent choice.
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