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The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography

Simon Singh · 18 HN comments
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Amazon Summary
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 you wonder how private that e-mail you just sent really is.
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Hacker News Stories and Comments

All the comments and stories posted to Hacker News that reference this book.
Lol. I’ve read part of this book but didn’t see the full title. This is a book by Simon Singh.

Check out his other book - Fermat’s Last Theorem

(Including Amazon links, but just for convenience, buy wherever you want)

Code by Petzold ( - non-technical (in the sense it isn't something to "work through"), covers a lot of interesting topics. Especially approachable for that age.

Elements of Computing Systems by Nisan & Schoken ( - more technical (has content to work through). I've read the first edition, not the second. Has a companion site: It's well-written, and a motivated high schooler could work through it.

The Code Book by Singh (

The Codebreakers by Kahn (

I was always interested in ciphers and such as a kid so those two books got my attention when I found them in high school/college. I'm a bit fuzzy, now, about which one I was more interested in but both were good books. (I still have them, may give them a re-read next month.)

There are a few others I have in mind, but just can't recall the titles at the moment.

This looks like it could have been inspired by the Cipher Challenge[1] from The Code Book[2], which starts with monoalphabetic substitution problems.



If you just want to get somebody interested in cyptography, I HIGHLY recommend: The Code Book ( It's a great read for anybody who's done a little bit of history by walking you through the role of cryptography and hiding messages throughout history.

Covers most everything in the context of war history as far back and shaving a person's head, writing a message on it and then letting the hair grow back to hide it. Great read that will lay the groundwork of interest for a lot of people.

Another good book, but broader than just Enigma, The Code Book by Simon Singh:

I'll second the recommendation. That's a really fantastic book.
Yep, sorry I wasn't at my computer when I posted the message. Here it is:
Not a computing history book per se, but has some chapters about Alan Turing and the work done at Bletchley Park in WWII. Also the best introduction book to Cryptography.

Simon Singh, The Code Book

Naked links offer varying level of affordance on different platforms. I've frequently been on systems (or networks) in which following through on individual links is a pain. What's particularly annoying in this case is that Amazon's full links do include item descriptions (for books: the title) in them, though you'd have to click through to the links here, search the fucking title and then click on that link before you get what you're looking for: fully expanded is:

e12e's comment was helpful: it supported the original post and included additional information of use to others. And as it happens, Singh's The Code Book was not included in the original list. You can find it here:

munin would have performed a superior service (remember: writing is for the benefit of the reader) if he'd at least included descriptive URLs, if not the titles of the works in question.

And your attitude could use considerable improvement.

If one bothers to post on hacker news, it should be for the benefit of the community. It was a lazy action and you can spare me the snide remark.
May 03, 2013 · youngerdryas on Can you crack a code?
Simon Singh's "The Code Book" is a good overview and well written.

Thank you, I'm definitely going to check it out!
For those interested in learning more, Simon Singh's "The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography"[1] has a great chapter explaining in detail the creative breakthroughs that allowed Turing to break the Enigma machine when it was stumping pretty much everyone else at Bletchley Park.



Jun 22, 2012 · showerst on Ask HN: Summer reading
If you'd like a great non-technical tour of how computers really work conceptually, starting from simple morse-code switches through to assembler, Charles Petzold's "Code" is awesome:

Even having understood for years how computers work in principal, nothing quite put it together for me like this book.

There's a similarly great book on the history/methods of cryptography called "The Code Book" by Simon Singh that I recommend too - It's great because it traces the history but also walks you through how the cyphers actually worked, and provides the best intros I've ever seen to public key and quantum cryptography.

Simon Singh's book was my introduction to crypto and the wonderful Mathematics and mathematicians behind its vivid history. I had it with me all the time while doing the online course a couple of months ago for a good historic perspective supporting Prof. Boneh's hardcore crypto topics. Highly recommended. Actually, his Fermat's Last Theorem book is also fascinating if you are interested in Math history.
"The Code Book" by Simon Singh is awesome reading. It certainly explains how and why naive schemes like this are easy to crack.

"The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography" has a chapter about the Enigma. This book is easy to read as a nice intro to many crypto topics.

"Alan Turing: The Enigma" , supposedly the best biography of Turing, I enjoyed it. There's quite a bit on his work on the Enigma but not technical.

"The Code Book" is great. Very good read and very insightful in the toppic.
I highly agree with linguist on this point. It's very unlikely a homophonic substitution was used here. It's more complicated than you'd think. A great read on the subject can be found here: if anyone's interested in learning more about cryptography. Very interesting.
If you're looking for an overview of cryptography in an easy-to-digest format, take a look at:

  The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography
Amazon link:

It is light on the math but Simon Singh does a great job reviewing cryptography over the last 4000 years. It was a fun summer read.

Simon Singh is the star speaker. His specialty is taking very dry subjects and writing about them in a way that makes them fascinating. "The Code Book" is his best IMO
tangental - Simon Singh (the guy being sued) is the author of this excellent book on cryptography
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