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The Secret Lives of Codebreakers by Sinclair McKay #BookReview #BriFri

By Joyweesemoll @joyweesemoll

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Book: The Secret Lives of Codebreakers: The Men and Women Who Cracked the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park by Sinclair McKay
Genre: History
Publisher: Plume
Publication date: 2010 (first American printing, 2012)
Pages: 338

Source: Library

The Secret Lives of Codebreakers by Sinclair McKay

The stories behind the story of breaking the Enigma and other codes at Bletchley Park during WWII

Summary: Are you good at mathematics or languages or puzzles? Are you loyal and discreet? Are you patient? Are you willing to spend a few years creating your own fun with other smart people in the English countryside? Congratulations, you have the making of a World War II codebreaker. But you can’t tell anyone. Not now. Maybe not ever. Not even when your parents or spouse or children want to know what you did during the war. Not even on job applications to let future employers know that you’re qualified to do more than take dictation and type letters.

The Secret Lives of Codebreakers contains the stories behind the story of breaking codes in World War II. This book tells how the codebreakers were selected and recruited, where and how they lived during their time at Bletchley, and what they did for fun while they were there.

Thoughts: The history of Bletchley Park was just coming out when I was a baby programmer, studying computer science a year or two before the advent of the PC. I have always been fascinated by this story, particularly by the roles that the women played in operating the complex machinery, forerunners of our modern computers, that broke the enemies’ codes in World War II. The work at Bletchley Park is estimated to have shortened the war by at least two years and credited with breakthroughs that made victory for the Allies possible.

I felt like this should have been the second book I read on this topic, not the first. Or, maybe, it would have worked better if I had already been to the museum at Bletchley Park, one of the sites in England that I’m most looking forward to visiting. The Secret Lives of Codebreakers glossed over the more well-known parts of the story to get to the aspects that we could only know from first-person interviews and research with primary documents. But I needed a better review of the important work done at Bletchley Park to fully understand the significance of these stories. It looks like I’ll be able to pick up a book at the Bletchley Park gift shop to help me with that aspect, including a newer book by Sinclair McKay.

And, now, for a squee moment, brought to you by the Bletchley Park site. Benedict Cumberbatch, well-known as the modern-day Sherlock, plays Alan Turing in an upcoming film about Bletchley Park. That strikes me as perfect casting. The Imitation Game also stars Keira Knightley, another actor I love to watch. Check out the trailer:

I can’t remember the last time I was this excited about a movie.

Appeal: The Secret Lives of Codebreakers by Sinclair McKay is a great book for World War II buffs, computer geeks, and those of us interested in women’s history. You might want to read Sinclair McKay’s new book, The Lost World of Bletchley Park, first. Or, this book that he refers to frequently in the end notes: Code Breakers: The Inside Story of Bletchley Park by F.H.Hinsley and Alan Stripp.

2014 Nonfiction Reading Challenge
Challenges: This is my 8th book for the 2014 British History Reading Challenge and my 16th book for the 2014 Nonfiction Reading Challenge. I met my goal of 3 British History books long ago. My goal for nonfiction was 16 or more books, so I’ve met that by reading this book!

Reviews: As I mentioned in my final Nonfiction November post last year, I’m giving credit to Karen of Candid Diversions for putting this book on my radar. 

What do you know about Bletchley Park? Have you been there? Are you looking forward to The Imitation Game as much as I am?

Signature of Joy Weese Moll


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