An entertaining history of brilliant minds at work against the Nazi behemoth.



A fresh account of “the greatest decryption achievements of [World War II] and the launch of the digital age.”

The satisfying revelations about Allied code-breaking have produced numerous books. The best is probably Stephen Budiansky’s Battle of Wits (2000), but it’s a field with an endless supply of intriguing material. Historical accounts of Bletchley Park emphasize the iconic Enigma machine, which enciphered messages from Germany’s military. In fact, Britain’s massive code-breaking dealt with many traditional codes from Germany, Italy, and Japan as well as other machines. In this page-turning study, Price focuses on a particularly difficult project called “Tunny.” Deployed by Germany in 1942, it used a machine vastly more complex than Enigma to send high-level messages between Berlin and army commands throughout Europe. By 1943, Bletchley had cracked its code, but decrypting a single message took days using the latest calculators, which were mechanical. It was then that Price’s titular geniuses went to work. Recruited by Alan Turing, then a relatively unknown mathematics professor, Max Newman devised a new kind of machine. He worked on it with electrical engineer Tommy Flowers, another Turing protégé, who proposed using electronics, an idea greeted with skepticism because it required vacuum tubes, which were considered unreliable. Despite a lack of enthusiasm, work began, and Price delivers a fascinating account of the problems Flowers and his team overcame before the massive machine called Colossus arrived in January 1944. The first electronic digital computer, it flabbergasted observers by churning out decryptions 500 times faster than before. Soon Bletchley was reading Hitler’s mail. Before the Normandy landings, Allied leaders knew that their deceptions had convinced Hitler that the invasion would occur elsewhere. After victory, all the Colossus machines were destroyed, and their designers returned to civilian life, sworn to secrecy. When the story became public in the 1970s, a few modest honors came their way but not the fame they deserved. Price’s account is unlikely to change this, but he tells a terrific story.

An entertaining history of brilliant minds at work against the Nazi behemoth.

Pub Date: June 22, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-525-52154-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.


A master storyteller’s character-driven account of a storied year in the American Revolution.

Against world systems, economic determinist and other external-cause schools of historical thought, McCullough (John Adams, 2001, etc.) has an old-fashioned fondness for the great- (and not-so-great) man tradition, which may not have much explanatory power but almost always yields better-written books. McCullough opens with a courteous nod to the customary villain in the story of American independence, George III, who turns out to be a pleasant and artistically inclined fellow who relied on poor advice; his Westmoreland, for instance, was a British general named Grant who boasted that with 5,000 soldiers he “could march from one end of the American continent to the other.” Other British officers agitated for peace, even as George wondered why Americans would not understand that to be a British subject was to be free by definition. Against these men stood arrayed a rebel army that was, at the least, unimpressive; McCullough observes that New Englanders, for instance, considered washing clothes to be women’s work and so wore filthy clothes until they rotted, with the result that Burgoyne and company had a point in thinking the Continentals a bunch of ragamuffins. The Americans’ military fortunes were none too good for much of 1776, the year of the Declaration; at the slowly unfolding battle for control over New York, George Washington was moved to despair at the sight of sometimes drunk soldiers running from the enemy and of their officers “who, instead of attending to their duty, had stood gazing like bumpkins” at the spectacle. For a man such as Washington, to be a laughingstock was the supreme insult, but the British were driven by other motives than to irritate the general—not least of them reluctance to give up a rich, fertile and beautiful land that, McCullough notes, was providing the world’s highest standard of living in 1776.

Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-2671-2

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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