David Kahn's SEIZING THE ENIGMA: THE RACE TO BREAK THE U-BOAT CODES, 1933-1945
Book review by Dennis D. McDonald
If your knowledge of ENIGMA is constrained to Bletchley Park and what you’ve seen in the movies, SEIZING THE ENIGMA is a real treat. You learn not only the details of the Enigma device itself but also about the history of cryptography surrounding it, how cryptography transitioned from a linguistic to a mathematical enterprise, and how initial steps were taken into automating and accelerating the data modeling, simulations, and number crunching needed to break codes in time for the information they hid to be of use to Allied war planners.
What struck me most were the laborious and painful efforts of mathematically oriented Polish cryptographers in building re-imagined Enigma devices, along with the Poles’ mechanical automation of working through the myriad permutations and combinations needed to decrypt coded German messages.
It’s impossible to read of these efforts without realizing how easily such calculations could have been automated and accelerated by today’s ubiquitous and often portable computing devices. The flip side, of course, is the realization that encryptors with the same tools would have been able to accelerate their own efforts, perhaps resulting in just one more stalemate.
Review copyright (c) 2018 by Dennis D. McDonald