Book Review: The Code Book by Simon Singh

Anyone who has read modern fiction in the past twenty years is probably familiar with Dan Brown’s work. He has crafted many masterpieces of fiction, some with motion picture adaptations, such as his beloved Robert Langdon series.

It was because of his books that I became interested in expanding my own knowledge. When I picked up Brown’s Digital Fortress, I became invested in learning about cryptography. I never dabbled with it in the past and figured I’d leave it to mathematicians to work out algorithms for securing data. Reading about cryptography in Digital Fortress made me interested in the history and evolution of it. This led me to discovering a brilliant book by Simon Singh called The Code Book.

The Code Book is fascinating and captivating, even for those without much mathematics or technology knowledge. It gives readers an understanding of the importance of privacy and security in today’s world, as well as the battle between those securing our data and those attempting to break those secured channels.

The book features case studies depicting the ways cryptography has been used in the past to solve issues distraught lovers and world leaders have. It begins by presenting a murder case involving Mary Queen of Scots, which Sing uses to detail the major role of cryptography in the investigation. I had taken an AP European class in high school and learned about Mary Queen of Scots but I never learned about cryptography’s role in  the case until I read the book.

Singh builds a solid foundation for understanding the history of cryptography, starting with Julius Caesar’s Caesarian shift and its never ending strive to become more complex. Not only does Singh cover the history of encryption, but he also does a thorough job of covering the history of decryption. This book truly gives the best of both sides and easily gets readers into the mindset of an encryptor and a decryptor.

In one section of the book, Singh retells the way distraught lovers used encryption in local newspapers to communicate with each other. In the early 20th century, many young men and women used this to secretly plan marriages and meet ups. Not only does this book talk about how powerful historical figures leveraged encryption, but it also explores how the average person has used it.

One of the most interesting aspects of this book is the explanation of frequency analysis. Frequency analysis is a technique in which a cryptographer takes note of how often letters appear in an encrypted message and applies that to what letters are most frequently used in the target language. For instance, in a page of encrypted text, if the letter “t” appears the most, there is a good possibility that “t” represents the letter “e,” which is the most used alphabet in the English language. As a side note, Singh mentions that there has only been one published book in English that never uses the letter “e.” To find out what it is, you’re just going to have to pick up a copy of the book.

For any kids and teenagers reading this article, there is also another version of The Code Book that is published. It’s shorter and a bit simpler. I’m not endorsing it, but picking up the alternative version of the book could help you pass notes and coordinate various other mischievous activities we all once did as teenagers.

If the mention about frequency analysis and the letter “e” made you pay attention to how many times that letter was used in this article, give us a shout out to your friends.

Price: $13.71 (Amazon)


Categories: Reviews, Science, Security

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