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

GENIUSES AT WAR

BLETCHLEY PARK, COLOSSUS, AND THE DAWN OF THE DIGITAL AGE

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 17, 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...

NIGHT

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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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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