by Michael Paterson
Barnsley, Eng.: Greenhill / Philadelphia: Casemate, 20187. Pp. 288+.
Illus., chron., biblio., index. $19.95 paper. ISBN: 1784383139
The Code Breakers’ War in Their Own Words
While the story of the successful Allied efforts to break Axis codes during World War II has been told well a number of times, British historian Paterson’s approach offers the reader a novel look at the subject, by in drawing heavily on interviews, memoirs, diaries, and similar first-hand accounts by the men and women who helped bring about that success.
Although he tends to mostly cover British efforts, Paterson’s account ranges across the work of several countries. He often cuts back and forth from the stuffy huts at Bletchley Park to daring deeds at sea and on land, to show us how the tedious work of the code breakers affected and was affected by the harsh realities of combat. We get accounts from young women barely out of secondary school who are helping tease out the secrets of the Axis armed forces, Navaho code talkers working under fire on Pacific beaches, and more.
Paterson allows hardly a page to go by without some useful or amusing first-hand comment observation, whether about how people were recruited for the work, the technical intricacies of codes and ciphers, the living and working conditions at Bletchley, the complex process of breaking into the enemy’s most well crafted codes, or the ways in which the information was used.
While not a definitive history of Allied code breaking – a story that likely never will be fully told – Voices of the Code Breakers will prove a worthwhile read for those interested in intelligence gathering and code breaking, and is likely to be an entertaining read the layman curious about this aspect of the intelligence war.
Note: Voices of the Code Breakers is also available in several e-editions