Nov. 1st, 2010

purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (books)
The Code Book by Simon Singh is a tour through the history of codemaking and codebreaking, with the odd digression into Tudor politics and the translation of ancient languages. As such it pretty much does what it says on the tin. I've always been interested in cryptography and was happily entertained by it. I could follow all the descriptions of cryptographic techniques but I'm not sure how easy that would have been for someone without any relevant background. In several places I skipped over bits of explanations I was familiar with, e.g. what is a prime number, so clearly the book was making an attempt to be clear to readers with less of a maths background. It certainly contained plenty of examples which are often key to following mathematical stuff.

I'm not sure how interesting it would have been if I hadn't had a pre-existing interest in cryptography. I was fascinated by the thought, for instance, that frequency analysis isn't at all an obvious technique and, in fact, simple alphabetical substitution ciphers were sufficient for hundreds of years. I've been using basic frequency analysis to crack code problems since I was in my early teens, if not earlier and had always unthinkingly considered it totally obvious. I was also particularly interested in the use of, essentially, code-breaking techniques to decipher both Egyptian Hieroglyphics and Linear B and in the history of modern cryptographic protocols for key exchange and public-private key encryption. Of course the history of modern cryptography is very closely tied up with the history of the computer which again probably increased my interest in the topic. The book was very readable but I did occasionally feel it perhaps lacked the spark that would grab a casual reader who had never really thought about cryptography before. However if you are at all interested in the subject then this comes highly recommended.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (books)
The Code Book by Simon Singh is a tour through the history of codemaking and codebreaking, with the odd digression into Tudor politics and the translation of ancient languages. As such it pretty much does what it says on the tin. I've always been interested in cryptography and was happily entertained by it. I could follow all the descriptions of cryptographic techniques but I'm not sure how easy that would have been for someone without any relevant background. In several places I skipped over bits of explanations I was familiar with, e.g. what is a prime number, so clearly the book was making an attempt to be clear to readers with less of a maths background. It certainly contained plenty of examples which are often key to following mathematical stuff.

I'm not sure how interesting it would have been if I hadn't had a pre-existing interest in cryptography. I was fascinated by the thought, for instance, that frequency analysis isn't at all an obvious technique and, in fact, simple alphabetical substitution ciphers were sufficient for hundreds of years. I've been using basic frequency analysis to crack code problems since I was in my early teens, if not earlier and had always unthinkingly considered it totally obvious. I was also particularly interested in the use of, essentially, code-breaking techniques to decipher both Egyptian Hieroglyphics and Linear B and in the history of modern cryptographic protocols for key exchange and public-private key encryption. Of course the history of modern cryptography is very closely tied up with the history of the computer which again probably increased my interest in the topic. The book was very readable but I did occasionally feel it perhaps lacked the spark that would grab a casual reader who had never really thought about cryptography before. However if you are at all interested in the subject then this comes highly recommended.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/24035.html.

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