Geniuses at War: Bletchley Park, Colossus, and the Dawn of the Digital Age

David A. Price. Knopf, $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-525-52154-9
Journalist Price (The Pixar Touch) delivers a solid history of how Allied codebreakers at Bletchley Park developed “the first operational digital computers” to defeat Germany’s vaunted Lorenz SZ cipher machines. Crediting Bletchley Park’s successes to a “strain of meritocracy [that] existed, even if only on the margins, within a powerful system of social class,” Price notes that the British signals intelligence agency initially thought the “right type of recruit[s]” for cryptography were academics who had experience with art history, law, German, and the classics. However, it was mathematician Alan Turing who cracked the Enigma codes, and mathematician Max Newman and telephone engineer Tommy Flowers (a self-taught specialist in “large-scale digital electronics”) who designed and built Colossus, a programmable computer that allowed British codebreakers “to read the Third Reich’s highest-level military communications system, including messages from Hitler himself.” Price briskly relates the technical aspects of the story and includes plenty of gossip and droll anecdotes, noting, for instance, that the Germans refused to believe the British had broken the Enigma codes because they were so bad at encrypting their own messages. Much of this will be familiar to WWII history buffs, but those looking for an entertaining introduction to Bletchley Park and the era’s technological innovations would do well to start here. (June)
Reviewed on : 03/04/2021
Release date: 06/22/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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