The author of The Codebreakers and Hitler's Spies has collected his assorted writings and talks since 1950--when a...


KAHN ON CODES: Secrets of the New Cryptology

The author of The Codebreakers and Hitler's Spies has collected his assorted writings and talks since 1950--when a backgrounder on cryptology, pegged to the defection of two American cryptographers, ""led to an invitation to write a book. . . ."" That first New York Times Magazine piece, Kahn's annotations unblushingly disclose, is full of errors and out-of-date; there is also, as he remarks, considerable overlap among the pieces (and, frequently, with The Codebreakers). The pieces are written on different levels, from introductory to expert, and for different audiences, from the readers of Computers and Security to cryptology historians: the book has incidental interest, indeed, as a demonstration of the diverse uses to which specialized knowledge can be put--as well as being, centrally, an index of cryptology's recent shift from the shadows into the limelight. Cryptology buffs like himself, Kahn notes, were usually turned on by books; reprinted here are reports on his meetings with their authors; his introduction to the paperback edition of Herbert Yardley's landmark The American Black Chamber (and other Yardleyana); his N. Y. Times review of F. W. Winterbotham's now-it-can-be-told The Ultra Secret (as well as some later works). A choice item is the accolade to the much-battered third edition of Webster's Unabridged--for fully and accurately defining terms in the field; how, Kahn inquired, did the dictionary's cryptology consultant go about his work? A 1979 Foreign Policy article, ""Cryptology Goes Public,"" at once names and summarizes the phenomenon--clearly explaining how all kinds of radio communications are intercepted (by the USSR and the US), clearly outlining the conflict between ""the needs of national security through codebreaking and those of individual liberties through codemaking."" In the collection, this last concern of Kahn's pretty much balances his long-standing interest in historic ciphers and wartime Intelligence: though no one will want to read the book through, readers of many sorts may want to dip and skim.

Pub Date: Nov. 21, 1983


Page Count: -

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1983