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am 4. Juni 1999
I highly recommend this book. It is an incredibly thorough and complete description of cryptology history. I disagree with some previous criticisms about writing style and racism. I do not find the style difficult in itself, there are maybe too much details given on every historical bits... but this may as well be appraised! I cannot find any racism in Chapter 1, describing the US deciphering efforts of the japanese exchanges just before Pearl Harbor. There are hints of the US (allied actually) superiority in cryptography, but this is a plain historical fact. There is a criticism of 1940's Japan, but I cannot find this objectionnable... (the same is true about Nazi Germany). I could find nothing in the book against Japanese people or today's Japan...
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am 30. April 1997
The 1967 edition of this book is and always will be a classic. What a disappointment to find that this new edition offers such a poor updating of new information which has come to light over the last the 30 years. If the revelations of the 1970s about the Enigma decrypts and the Bletchley Colossus machines did not warrant at least a major chapter, what does? (They get only brief treatment in the new 15 page addendum.) Numerous other omissions come to mind. This book deserved better for its new edition
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am 21. Oktober 1999
I first came across "The Codebreakers" in the original edition, published in the 1960s. It was a massive read, and one which I never finished in one sitting; however, a love of history, the romance of espionage and the fascination of working with mysterious information kept me going. It is a pleasure to see the book has been reissued.
Kahn does not create a textbook for the serious cryptologist; such a work would be more mathematical in approach. What he does is give, from a layman's view, a good mid-level history of the art/science of cryptology. The first chapter, covering the cryptanalytic events of Pearl Harbor, brings you in; then he goes over the history of secret writing from the days of Egyptian hieroglyphics to roughly the present day. Interesting areas include the discussion of the European "black chambers" of the 1600s and 1700s, a good talk about how rumrunners in the Prohibition days used complex code/cipher combinations to thwart the Noble Experiment, and a highly entertaining chapter on the "ciphers" that proved Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare's works.
The updated edition falls short in its attempt at updating, which is why I don't give another star to the book. The discussion of cryptography in the world of the Internet is far too thin to satisfy. This, of course, could be a function of the beast; the Internet and electronic cryptology changes faster than any book could keep up with. In addition, information on the Enigma and other areas of World War II cryptology, declassified since the previous edition, could have been added to increase understanding of this critical time. However, the remaining "classic" text is still excellent, and has served as the layman's reference on cryptologic history for thirty years.
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David Kahn's newest book updates his previous work, which sits on every Cryptographer's, Cryptanalyst's, and government Special Intelligence officer's bookshelf in the entire world. If you REALLY want to how ciphers, codes, and systems are broken, Kahn is the author who tells you. Any person knowledgable in the field of Cryptology or Intelligence will tell you that Kahn' book has never been equalled. It is known as "The Bible of Cryptology" within the field.
From early Sparta and Rome to the present day, the strengths and weaknesses of systems and devices are presented in clear, concise terms -- occassionally with a bit of levity, where appropriate. Novices in the field will find much useful -- and highly interesting -- information. Professionals always find reminders of the fallability of "unbreakable" systems.
Kahn's writing style is clear, concise, and analytical. It is never boring.
I was employed by a maker of Cryptographic equipment, and was authorized to discuss key generator and cipher system issues with the heads of national governments. A copy of "Codebreakers" was our most requested -- and welcomed gift. That speaks more eloquently than any words I might craft.
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am 28. September 1998
This book is the meat and potatos of this subject. I know of no other book which attempts or even reaches for the scope of this one. The content is quite fascinating, but I find the writing style to be slightly distastefull.
If this book were written today, the writer would be roasted for his lack of racial sensitivity in the first chapter. As an American living in Japan, I was repulsed by the tone with which the author treated Japan as a nation and as a people. Since that seemed to be the standard in 1967, perhaps I cannot fault him, yet by my standards, I found the tone revolting. Was this material not revised in the second edition to preserve the style of the original edition or just to display the author's prejudice?
Other than this, the author's stories and anecdotes often help the reader navigate what might otherwise be very dry material.
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am 22. Juli 1997
This is the view of a french reader. I bought the french translation in 1980 and was enthralled. Now that I've seen the original one, I realized that many things were left over in the translation (incl. many pictures) and this edition, although it should have been more updated, is a real, renewed pleasure to read. Great book
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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...
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am 30. April 2000
AS EVERYONE IN THE INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY KNOWS, THIS IS THE CRYPTO BIBLE. HAVING READ BOTH THE TITLE AND THE SYNOPSIS ABOVE (WHICH BOTH CLEARLY STATE THAT THIS IS AN HISTORY), YOU SHOULD NOT BE EXPECTING AN HOW-TO BOOK. THERE ARE PLENTY OF THOSE OUT THERE (GOOD AND BAD). IF YOU WANT A COUPLE OF GOOD ONES, START WITH MILITARY CRYPTANALYTICS PARTS I & II BY FRIEDMAN AND CALLIMAHOS. IF YOU WANT THE DEFINITIVE HISTORY OF CRYPTOGRAPHY, THEN YOU ARE IN THE RIGHT PLACE AND IN FOR A TREAT. YOU CAN REALLY SINK YOUR TEETH INTO THIS VOLUME. THERE'S SOMETHING HERE FOR EVERYONE. I'M GLAD THAT DAVID KAHN HAS TAKEN THE TIME TO UPDATE THIS VALUABLE TOME. I NEED TO GET THIS EDITION MYSELF AS I HAVE THE 4TH EDITION (1968) AND AN OLD ABRIDGED PAPERBACK VERSION (FULL OF JUST STORIES, NO TECHNICAL STUFF, COVERING ABOUT A 1/3 OF THE BOOK). THIS WOULD MAKE A GREAT PRESENT FOR THAT FORMER 98B, RECENT T9 GRADUATE, OR RETIRED INTEL OFFICER IN YOUR LIFE. WHY NOT DO YOURSELF A FAVOR AND BUY IT FOR YOURSELF? YOU MIGHT LEARN SOMETHING. I DID.
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am 8. Dezember 1998
This book is the best i have readed. Of all the other books i have readed, David Khan's book Go's in details about codes & cipher.
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