Wednesday, 1 January 2020

The Story of Codes - Stephen Pincock & Mark Frary


From the Bible code to the Voynich manuscript, from subtly altered hieroglyphs carved into ancient Egyptian monuments to clues hidden in Renaissance paintings, we are surrounded by mysterious codes bearing hidden messages from the past. What does it take to write a fail-safe code? What does it take to break one?

Taking in the full history of code making, from the scribes of ancient Egypt to modern-day computer programmers, The Story of Codes provides a fascinating insight into this most secret and mysterious of crafts. It shows just how Julius Caesar obscured the meaning of vital wartime messages using a method of shifting letters and explains the way that Sir Francis Walsingham was able to use coded letter to foil plots against Elizabeth I. It gives an account of the ever-more complicated ciphers that were devised and cracked during the Cold War and investigates how codebreaking is being used today to fight crime and terrorism. And it shows you how to decipher codes from all periods of history, including many that are still employed today.


What did I think?

I wouldn't say that I have always been fascinated with codes but I'm a great fan of numbers and logic so The Story of Codes appealed to my inner geek.  I love reading something different in non-fiction now and again, and The Story of Codes fits that bill as it is unlike anything I've ever read before.

The layout of the book is very reader-friendly with 7 imaginatively titled chapters to hold the reader's interest: Originality, Ingenuity, Wit, Perseverance, Speed, Vision and Realism.  I really liked this touch as it appealed more to a lay person such as myself and each chapter starts with a brief list of the subjects that you can expect to be covered within.  It's quite a dry subject so it's not a book to be read cover to cover in one sitting, more a book to be digested at your own pace; I treated it like a 7 course meal with lots of rests to digest each course. 

It's quite detailed and technical at times so the text is broken up by some beautiful pictures, which in itself caused me a minor grumble.  When concentrating on a paragraph of what to me is quite a complex and technical subject, I really didn't appreciate completing the sentence 5 pages on.  Flicking back and forth interrupted the flow of the book for me and it's not a dig at this book at all, as I find it happens a lot in non-fiction.

I loved the 'Code Analysis' pages giving examples and showing me how to decipher the code that is being discussed; it really is easy when you know how!  The Story of Codes isn't going to make a codebreaker out of me but it has definitely given me a greater understanding of what goes into the encryption and decryption of codes.

The Story of Codes is a wonderfully written insight into such a vast and complex subject, although I admit that some of the more techie stuff went right over my head.  It's a fascinating account of codes past and present which really opened my eyes to the ingenuity and intelligence of all codebreakers.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:


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