I sped through this book. It is easy to read, yet chock full of information about the use of cryptography by the British in World War II as told by a man who was in the midst of it. I cannot recommend it enough.
The basic concepts are explained in a way that make sense, ensuring that the technicalities do not take over. While I have read several crypto books, none have had the narrative style employed by Mr. Marks which makes his work so easy to read.
Between Silk and Cyanide is not an introduction to cryptography as its focus is the people forming history; but if you aren’t sure if you want to dive into learning about cryptography it might provide you with the first glimmer of understanding of the concepts.
Special Operations Executive (SOE) was created in July 1940 with a mandate from Winston Churchill to “set Europe ablaze.” Its main function was to infiltrate agents into enemy-occupied territory to perform acts of sabotage and form the resistance movements into secret armies. There have been many books and films about the breaking of codes — but this is the first one about making them from a man who actually did.
Leo Marks joined SOE in 1942 at the age of twenty-two. A cryptographer of genius, he had revolutionized code-making by the time he was twenty-three. In replacing the outdated and dangerous poem codes with an ingenious system of one-time codes printed on silk that could easily be destroyed, Marks was instrumental in both stymieing German counter-intelligence and saving hundreds of agent’s lives. He discloses how and why he broke General de Gaulle’s secret code; details the adventures of saboteurs who parachuted into Norway to destroy a heavy water plant; did surveillance on Hitler’s long-range missile base at Pennemunde; and organized the secret armies of occupied Europe building up to D-Day.