Monday, 18 February 2002

The code book

Listening to:

Shostakovich, a suite of music arranged from the operetta Moscow-Cheryomushki, op. 105. This is part of an enjoyable CD called Shostakovich: the dance album, featuring Riccardo Chailly and The Philadelphia Orchestra.

Just read:

Simon Singh, The code book.

This is an enjoyable read about codes and ciphers. Singh takes reasonable care to explain most of the technical material, while simultaneously lacing the book with interesting anecdotes about the people and events involved in the creation and cracking of the world’s famous ciphers.

I felt that the explanations of how to crack the Vigenere cipher, the Linear-B story, the description of Enigma, the discussion of Diffie-Hellman key exchange, and the final section of the book, on quantum cryptography were all very good. I was not completely new to any of this material (except the Linear-B story, which was fascinating), but I think someone who was new to the material would still find the book very good: the technical writing is solid and the historical background is interesting and well described.

It makes me curious to see what Singh’s book about Fermat’s Last Theorem is like. There I know that the maths quickly doesn’t admit easy explanation to lay readers, so I suspect I would wax rather less rhapsodic about his technical exposition.

Oh yes, it's another book with a home-page, though I guess this is really the home-page of the accompanying puzzle, The Cipher Challenge.