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  • Seizing the Enigma

  • The Race to Break the German U-Boats Codes, 1939–1943
  • By: David Kahn
  • Narrated by: Bernard Mayes
  • Length: 13 hrs and 32 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History, Americas
  • 4.2 out of 5 stars (18 ratings)

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Summary

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.

Critic reviews

“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)

What listeners say about Seizing the Enigma

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

Very revealing story about WWII

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.

5 people found this helpful

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Exceptional work

What did you like best about this story?

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

1 person found this helpful

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Best book ever.

Had to listen twice as so good. Great production and reading. Excacting and well researched story.

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Seizing the Enigma

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.

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  • Gary
  • 26-04-13

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.

9 people found this helpful

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  • Alan
  • 01-06-12

A tough coice for audio

Any additional comments?

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.

15 people found this helpful

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  • Bronwen
  • 12-07-15

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.

3 people found this helpful

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  • WD
  • 17-08-20

This is the COMPLETE history of the Enigma Code Breakers.

I thought I knew this history but no I learned I did know even half of the story. Great read, deep research and a superb performance. It can get a bit wonky and detailed. I’m no math whiz and I stayed interested and engaged. Well Done!

2 people found this helpful

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  • Barry J. Marshall
  • 21-06-15

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.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Stephen
  • 22-02-13

Great book on ENIGMA

What made the experience of listening to Seizing the Enigma the most enjoyable?

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.

Any additional comments?

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of encipherment or who currently works in cryptography.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Caroline Couture
  • 16-06-21

Very interesting

Very interesting; I didn't know that the Enigma was around before WWII. Interesting stories about the people behind the program on both sides of the war. The presenter was almost stereotypical British "stiff upper lip" narration which might not suit everyone. Parts were hard to follow when they went through long strings of encryption codes\ciphers.

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  • John Ray
  • 12-03-21

This time free is good !

Excellent history of history’s most important information war. This was well read and very interesting !

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  • Douglas H. Holly
  • 11-03-21

Very interesting with great background info

Terrific backstory on the enigma and code breaking in general. At times way to much detail but overall a fascinating and somewhat technical story told well.

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  • MAC33351
  • 19-02-21

Loved it, incredible detail.

Way more information than I ever knew about the Enigma. An excellent book for the history buff.