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The Code Book

Cover of The Code Book

The Code Book

The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography
In his first book since the bestselling Fermat's Enigma, Simon Singh offers the first sweeping history of encryption, tracing its evolution and revealing the dramatic effects codes have had on wars,...More
In his first book since the bestselling Fermat's Enigma, Simon Singh offers the first sweeping history of encryption, tracing its evolution and revealing the dramatic effects codes have had on wars,...More
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Description-
  • In his first book since the bestselling Fermat's Enigma, Simon Singh offers the first sweeping history of encryption, tracing its evolution and revealing the dramatic effects codes have had on wars, nations, and individual lives. From Mary, Queen of Scots, trapped by her own code, to the Navajo Code Talkers who helped the Allies win World War II, to the incredible (and incredibly simple) logisitical breakthrough that made Internet commerce secure, The Code Book tells the story of the most powerful intellectual weapon ever known: secrecy.

    Throughout the text are clear technical and mathematical explanations, and portraits of the remarkable personalities who wrote and broke the world's most difficult codes. Accessible, compelling, and remarkably far-reaching, this book will forever alter your view of history and what drives it. It will also make yo wonder how private that e-mail you just sent really is.

    From the Trade Paperback edition.

Excerpts-
  • Chapter One

    Mary Queen of Scots was on trial for treason. She had been accused of plotting to assassinate Queen Elizabeth in order to take the English crown for herself. Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth's Principal Secretary, had already arrested the other conspirators, extracted confessions, and executed them. Now he planned to prove that Mary was at the heart of the plot, and was therefore equally culpable and equally deserving of death.

    Walsingham knew that before he could have Mary executed, he would have to convince Queen Elizabeth of her guilt. Although Elizabeth despised Mary, she had several reasons for being reluctant to see her put to death. First, Mary was a Scottish queen, and many questioned whether an English court had the authority to execute a foreign head of state. Second, executing Mary might establish an awkward precedent -- if the state is allowed to kill one queen, then perhaps rebels might have fewer reservations about killing another, namely Elizabeth. Third, Elizabeth and Mary were cousins, and their blood tie made Elizabeth all the more squeamish about ordering her execution. In short, Elizabeth would sanction Mary's execution only if Walsingham could prove beyond any hint of doubt that she had been part of the assassination plot.

    The conspirators were a group of young English Catholic noblemen intent on removing Elizabeth, a Protestant, and replacing her with Mary, a fellow Catholic. It was apparent to the court that Mary was a figurehead for the conspirators, but it was not clear that she had actually given her blessing to the conspiracy. In fact, Mary had authorised the plot. The challenge for Walsingham was to demonstrate a palpable link between Mary and the plotters.

    On the morning of her trial, Mary sat alone in the dock, dressed in sorrowful black velvet. In cases of treason, the accused was forbidden counsel and was not permitted to call witnesses. Mary was not even allowed secretaries to help her prepare her case. However, her plight was not hopeless because she had been careful to ensure that all her correspondence with the conspirators had been written in cipher. The cipher turned her words into a meaningless series of symbols, and Mary believed that even if Walsingham had captured the letters, then he could have no idea of the meaning of the words within them. If their contents were a mystery, then the letters could not be used as evidence against her. However, this all depended on the assumption that her cipher had not been broken.

    Unfortunately for Mary, Walsingham was not merely Principal Secretary, he was also England's spymaster. He had intercepted Mary's letters to the plotters, and he knew exactly who might be capable of deciphering them. Thomas Phelippes was the nation's foremost expert on breaking codes, and for years he had been deciphering the messages of those who plotted against Queen Elizabeth, thereby providing the evidence needed to condemn them. If he could decipher the incriminating letters between Mary and the conspirators, then her death would be inevitable. On the other hand, if Mary's cipher was strong enough to conceal her secrets, then there was a chance that she might survive. Not for the first time, a life hung on the strength of a cipher.

    The Evolution of Secret Writing

    Some of the earliest accounts of secret writing date back to Herodotus, 'the father of history' according to the Roman philosopher and statesman Cicero. In The Histories, Herodotus chronicled the conflicts between Greece and Persia in the fifth century bc, which he viewed as a confrontation between freedom and slavery, between the independent Greek states and the oppressive Persians. According to...

About the Author-
  • Simon Singh received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Cambridge. A former BBC producer, he directed an award-winning documentary film on Fermat's Last Theorem that aired on PBS's "Nova" series, and wrote the bestselling book Fermat's Enigma. He lives in London, England.

Reviews-
  • Roger Penrose, The New York Times Book Review "Vividly recounted...I strongly recommend this book to anyone wishing to catch a glimpse of what is one of the most important and ill-understood, but oldest, cultural activities of humanity...an excellent and very worthwhile account of one of the most dramatic and moving events of the century."
  • The Boston Sunday Globe "How great a riddle was Fermat's 'last theorem'? The exploration of space, the splitting of the atom, the discovery of DNA--unthinkable in Fermat's time--all were achieved while his Pythagorean proof still remained elusive...Though [Singh] may not ask us to bring too much algebra to the table, he does expect us to appreciate a good detective story."
  • The Wall Street Journal "It is hard to imagine a more informative or gripping account of...this centuries-long drama of ingenious failures, crushed hopes, fatal duels, and suicides."
  • The New York Times "[Singh] writes with graceful knowledgeability of the esoteric and esthetic appeal of mathematics through the ages, and especially of the mystifying behavior of numbers."
  • American Mathematical Society "[Singh] has done an admirable job with an extremely difficult subject. He has also done mathematics a great service by conveying the passion and drama that have carried Fermat's Last Theorem aloft as the most celebrated mathematics problem of the last four centuries."
  • The Christian Science Monitor "The amazing achievement of Singh's book is that it actually makes the logic of the modern proof understandable to the nonspecialist...More important, Singh shows why it is significant that this problem should have been solved."
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    Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography
Simon Singh
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Simon Singh
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