Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Book Review: The Secret Lives of Codebreakers

The Secret Lives of Codebreakers: The Men and Women Who Cracked the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park
Sinclair McKay
History, biography

Want to know how they broke Nazi codes at Bletchley Park? There are a number of good books on the subject. Want to know what it was like to live and work there? That's harder. With the exception of Andrew Hodges's excellent Alan Turing: The Enigma (the exceedingly approximate source for The Imitation Game), biographies and social histories of Bletchley seem surprisingly sparse.

The Secret Lives of Codebreakers is a nice attempt to rectify the disparity. It's not super-deep, but it's a good overview and a quick read. It might not appeal to readers with no interest in the subject, but for the rest of us it's a lively portrait of a very particular place and time. It would be great preparation for a visit to Bletchley--an activity which I can't recommend highly enough. (We have some tips if you're interested.)


  1. I rather enjoyed the _Imitation Game_. I was aware of some of the story, but it was still a decent 90 minutes. Curious as to your thoughts.

    1. I liked it very, very much. I liked it even though it was wildly inaccurate, in ways to numerous to count. Even the portrayal of Turing was not terribly accurate: he liked practical jokes, for example, and many people (smart people, anyway) found him friendly and approachable. Plus his homosexuality was an open secret, if that. (The Hodges biography is hefty but good, and generally non-technical.)

      The thing is, the true facts wouldn't have made a particularly good story. So I enjoyed The Imitation Game for what it was: a well-made film, about smart people, but pitched to ordinary people, in which the actual facts were used as a springboard for the narrative.