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Kahn drowns the reader into useless historical data
am 25. November 1999
You should DEFINITELY READ Kahn's book IF you want to know who the leading cryptographers and cryptanalysts in history were, where and when they were born, how many siblings they had, what their yearly salary was, what impact they had on history, how long they lived, what they died of etc. (I know there are many people out there who LOVE to read about such things.)
As for myself, I have no idea how much a French livre was worth in 1570, and even if I did, I couldn't care less whether a cryptanalyst's annuity then was 100 or 10000 livres. I am sorry that all these great people died, but I think whether it was because of lung cancer or pneumonia is of little relevance. High school history was bad enough, I do not need any more useless historical data, thank you very much.
What I expected from the book was that it would tell me a lot about the development of the METHODS of cryptography and cryptanalysis, describing what people tried, what worked, what didn't and why. (Including not only the algorithmic but also organizational and management issues such as key management.) If you have a similar interest, FORGET ABOUT Kahn's book. Kahn gives a decent description of the encrypting/coding methods, but this is so scattered among the irrelevant pieces of information that it is hardly worth the "mining" effort. There is HARDLY ANYTHING about the methods used to breaking the codes.
Mr. Kahn made an honest effort in researching the field (except for the chapter about the modern developments - DES and the like - that is just glued to the end of the book to make it sell better). Still, he shouldn't have poured everything he ever read into his book. Less would have been more.
The Codebreakers is reputed to be the best book on the history of cryptography. Apart from the content, I found the style only so-so. I wonder how poorly written the other books are...