Friday, November 24, 2017

Review of Codebreakers by James Wyllie and Michael McKinley (2015, Ebury Press)

Codebreakers tells the story of codebreaking by the British in the First World War and how it impacted on the course of the war and specific actions. The book covers a number of themes, such as the art of codebreaking, which often relied as much on dare-doing elsewhere to recover code books; the institutional politics in and between government agencies, and specifically Room 40 and other units; international politics and especially tackling German spying in America, and attempts to bring the US into the war. The tale is told in a loose chronological order and mainly focuses on particular key individuals, their personalities and stories. The strength and the weakness of the book is that it tends towards the large picture and spying in general, rather than specifically on codebreaking. Clearly, codebreaking is a key aspect of spy work and how it functions and used fits into a larger set of practices. At the same time it would have been interesting to get more insight into the actual day-to-day work of the codebreakers and their strategies and work. As the authors note, this was limited by a lack of written archival sources. Nonetheless, Codebreakers is an interesting and informative read, detailing a number of now little-known but important events and the intersection of codebreaking, politics and military action in the First World War.

1 comment:

Mathew Paust said...

We had cryptologists in the section I worked in while in the Army back in the '60s. They were a rather mysterious sort. This sounds like a book I could sink my teeth into. Thanks, Rob!