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Bletchley Park was where one of the war's most famous and crucial achievements was made: the cracking of Germany's Enigma code in which its most important military communications were couched. This country house was home to Britain's most brilliant mathematical brains, like Alan Turing, and the scene of immense advances in technology—indeed, the birth of modern computin Bletchley Park was where one of the war's most famous and crucial achievements was made: the cracking of Germany's Enigma code in which its most important military communications were couched. This country house was home to Britain's most brilliant mathematical brains, like Alan Turing, and the scene of immense advances in technology—indeed, the birth of modern computing. The military codes deciphered there were instrumental in turning both the Battle of the Atlantic and the war in North Africa. But, though plenty has been written about the scientists and the codebreaking, fictional and non-fiction—from Robert Harris and Ian McEwan to Andrew Hodges' biography of Turing—what of the thousands of men and women who lived and worked there during the war? The first history for the general reader of life at Bletchley Park, this is also an amazing compendium of memories from people now in their eighties of skating on the frozen lake in the grounds (a depressed Angus Wilson, the novelist, once threw himself in), of a youthful Roy Jenkins—useless at codebreaking, of the high jinks at nearby accommodation hostels, and of the implacable secrecy that meant girlfriend and boyfriend working in adjacent huts knew nothing about each other's work.


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Bletchley Park was where one of the war's most famous and crucial achievements was made: the cracking of Germany's Enigma code in which its most important military communications were couched. This country house was home to Britain's most brilliant mathematical brains, like Alan Turing, and the scene of immense advances in technology—indeed, the birth of modern computin Bletchley Park was where one of the war's most famous and crucial achievements was made: the cracking of Germany's Enigma code in which its most important military communications were couched. This country house was home to Britain's most brilliant mathematical brains, like Alan Turing, and the scene of immense advances in technology—indeed, the birth of modern computing. The military codes deciphered there were instrumental in turning both the Battle of the Atlantic and the war in North Africa. But, though plenty has been written about the scientists and the codebreaking, fictional and non-fiction—from Robert Harris and Ian McEwan to Andrew Hodges' biography of Turing—what of the thousands of men and women who lived and worked there during the war? The first history for the general reader of life at Bletchley Park, this is also an amazing compendium of memories from people now in their eighties of skating on the frozen lake in the grounds (a depressed Angus Wilson, the novelist, once threw himself in), of a youthful Roy Jenkins—useless at codebreaking, of the high jinks at nearby accommodation hostels, and of the implacable secrecy that meant girlfriend and boyfriend working in adjacent huts knew nothing about each other's work.

30 review for The Secret Life of Bletchley Park: The WWII Codebreaking Centre and the Men and Women Who Worked There

  1. 4 out of 5

    ALLEN

    This is a very worthy book and I'm glad I read it. From 1939 to 1945 an aging manor house 50 miles north of London served as the base for a supersecret code-cracking operation designed to decipher military codes -- not just the Germans' "Enigma," though that was the heart of it, but also Japanese and eventually Russian cipher. The project involved literally thousands of Britons, most of them civilians and many of them women. Even after the war was won and the project dismantled, secrecy was main This is a very worthy book and I'm glad I read it. From 1939 to 1945 an aging manor house 50 miles north of London served as the base for a supersecret code-cracking operation designed to decipher military codes -- not just the Germans' "Enigma," though that was the heart of it, but also Japanese and eventually Russian cipher. The project involved literally thousands of Britons, most of them civilians and many of them women. Even after the war was won and the project dismantled, secrecy was maintained until the 1980's. The book is not overly sophisticated in terms of cryptography; we're given just enough knowledge of the spinning-rotor "bombes" to understand how decryption took place. Instead, author Sinclair McKay focuses on the human aspects of Bletchley. The project threw together university types like Asa Briggs, Ian Fleming and misunderstood genius Alan Turing with more ordinary townspeople also sworn to secrecy. All this mixing takes place at the exact time that the donnish "gentleman amateur" was giving way to a more confident and assertive middle class in the funding and pursuit of research. THE SECRET LIFE OF BLETCHLEY PARK is a British book that employs a few (to us) Briticisms. A "boffin" is an ordinary researcher or "science nerd," and when the author mentions "valves" he means vacuum tubes for the new prototype computers, not mechanical valves.

  2. 4 out of 5

    James Cridland

    First, I need to declare an interest: my grandmother was a codebreaker at Bletchley Park during the war. (Yes, a codebreaker, not a wren or a secretary.) So I didn't read this dispassionately. This is an interesting book because of my family connections, therefore. It takes an interesting subject, and covers it, kind of chronologically, through Bletchley's time as a decrypting station. More or less chronologically, since each chapter is about a particular theme - so sometimes it can be a little c First, I need to declare an interest: my grandmother was a codebreaker at Bletchley Park during the war. (Yes, a codebreaker, not a wren or a secretary.) So I didn't read this dispassionately. This is an interesting book because of my family connections, therefore. It takes an interesting subject, and covers it, kind of chronologically, through Bletchley's time as a decrypting station. More or less chronologically, since each chapter is about a particular theme - so sometimes it can be a little confusing as we move forward and back in terms of history. It's nicely researched - a lot of work has clearly gone into this book, which must have been particularly difficult given the secrecy of the subject matter and the almost complete obliteration of information after the war ended. It's let down by poor sub-editing, to be honest. The author frequently repeats themes and descriptors of people, and I did feel when Hugh Alexander was called "blonde and blue-eyed" twice within twenty pages that really someone ought to have spotted the repetition. Yes, I'm sure he was a dashing fellow: but did it really bear repetition? Sometimes, the lack of narrative doesn't help either: the structure not leaving itself open to a clear story. That said, it's an interesting read, particularly if you, like me, have good personal reasons to read it. If you are unaware of the immense contribution Bletchley Park made to the war, it's a must-read.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    The work at Bletchley Park was some of the most secret in the war. The British needed to break the Enigma codes, used by the Germans to transmit messages. Doing so meant that, by the end of the war, the British intelligence service were often reading messages before they reached Hitler's desk... However, although this book is, obviously, about the top secret work which went on an Bletchley, it is more about the people that worked there. From debs to boffins, tea ladies to Alan Turing, this book The work at Bletchley Park was some of the most secret in the war. The British needed to break the Enigma codes, used by the Germans to transmit messages. Doing so meant that, by the end of the war, the British intelligence service were often reading messages before they reached Hitler's desk... However, although this book is, obviously, about the top secret work which went on an Bletchley, it is more about the people that worked there. From debs to boffins, tea ladies to Alan Turing, this book relates the stories about the people who kept their work secret for so long. Their work was, during the war, virtually invisible and yet it was at the heart of the conflict. The memories in this book are sometimes poignant, often funny, very moving and an important social history of an essential part of the war effort. It is no understatement to suggest that the work at BLetchley Park helped win the war for the Allies and this is a great celebration of that achievement.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jill Hutchinson

    You don't have to be a cryptologist to read this history of Bletchley Park, the nerve center of code breaking during WWII. The author concentrates more on the people who worked there and the life they led rather than the scientific aspects of how the Enigma (and other codes) were broken. How Bletchley Park's activities remained so secret throughout the war is almost beyond belief. Many of the workers, besides being from the academic field, were common folk who were trained in one small aspect of You don't have to be a cryptologist to read this history of Bletchley Park, the nerve center of code breaking during WWII. The author concentrates more on the people who worked there and the life they led rather than the scientific aspects of how the Enigma (and other codes) were broken. How Bletchley Park's activities remained so secret throughout the war is almost beyond belief. Many of the workers, besides being from the academic field, were common folk who were trained in one small aspect of the operation.....they signed an Official Secrets Act pledge and that was the extent of the oversight....no one followed them around or eavesdropped on their conversations. Yet, the secret never leaked, although some workers who, when having a bit too much to drink, blurted out some innocuous information, soon were reassigned. But it was a self policing situation which seemed to work. We do get some insight into breaking the Enigma code through the efforts of the brilliant but tragic Alan Turing and his co-workers. It was the birth of the first "computer" and the machine, appropriately named "Colossus", filled a whole room. One of the great mysteries which still clings to Bletchley Park is that of the bombing of the historic English city of Coventry. It has been rumored for years that Churchill knew from Enigma messages that were received the date and time of the attack. But, in order not to alert the Nazis that Britain was reading their codes, he did nothing. The author gives several reason why this might or might not be true and the reader can decide. I was especially impressed that the author gave the credit due to the Polish scientists who were at a breakthrough on the Nazi code breaking when the Nazis attacked their country. They smuggled their prototype to England and it became the basis for the development and success of the cracking of Enigma. There is much more in this book that fleshes out the work at Bletchley, the people who were assigned there, and the almost impossible pressure under which they worked. I highly recommend this book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Cynthia

    Now it can be told I’m a Bletchley Park addict so prepare for some gushing. McKay’s book had a more social bent than most of the books I’ve read which were more focused on the mechanics of breaking the Enigma Code itself. McKay looks at the invention of the machines such as the bombe and the colossi and the people who invented them and kept them running 24/7 throughout the war. He explores some of the military operations that captured key pieces of information and most fascinating, the history of Now it can be told I’m a Bletchley Park addict so prepare for some gushing. McKay’s book had a more social bent than most of the books I’ve read which were more focused on the mechanics of breaking the Enigma Code itself. McKay looks at the invention of the machines such as the bombe and the colossi and the people who invented them and kept them running 24/7 throughout the war. He explores some of the military operations that captured key pieces of information and most fascinating, the history of the war and how that interacted with the work at Bletchley. The work of code breaking started out small. It was spearheaded by some key players from WWI. These men were the ones who had the vision to expand this work during the Second World War. To do this they not only gathered their former colleagues but they went to some top English schools and discreetly asked the professors who of their students might be good at this work. In short it was an old boys club….but what a club! These were the best and the brightest…and sometimes titled….of their generation. This was also the era of the gifted amateur and so this was another group that was gradually folded in. These amateurs were sometimes working class with brilliant minds and a driving work ethic that was ratcheted up even tighter by the Park’s shared purpose. Then there were the WRENS and other women who ran their feet off delivering messages between huts, typing, and creating a complex filing system so the already decoded messages could be collated easily against newly translated ones. Bletchley was a closed community so it also required waitresses and cleaners. The truly amazing thing is no one betrayed the secret that was Bletchley! Well almost no one but there was some clever damage control in these cases though it happened seldom. Because so many of the Park workers were college aged this was their university. The intensity of their work put their learning on hyper speed. They made time for fun forming singing and drama clubs with some astounding talent….so much so that they took their performances to the nearby towns where they could be enjoyed. I’m glad this information is being de-classified and that it’s now coming to light. Sadly, because of its secretive nature, some of the history of Bletchley has been lost. The participants could not reveal the part they played in the war. That’s why books such as “The Secret Lives of the Codebreakers: The Men and Women Who Cracked the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park” are so essential. This review is based on an e-galley provided by the publishers. If you’d like to read more in depth about breaking the codes I’d recommend: http://www.amazon.com/Between-Silk-Cy...

  6. 5 out of 5

    Will Ansbacher

    It has been some 40 years since Bletchley Park was first “outed”, and since then there was a steady stream of revelations both shocking and intriguing. But now most of what’s interesting and intriguing has already been written up, and this book doesn’t really add a lot. For one thing, it is completely devoid of any real information about exactly how Enigma worked and more importantly, how the “bombes” that decoded it worked. We’re told they were basically “great big proto-computers” (although I It has been some 40 years since Bletchley Park was first “outed”, and since then there was a steady stream of revelations both shocking and intriguing. But now most of what’s interesting and intriguing has already been written up, and this book doesn’t really add a lot. For one thing, it is completely devoid of any real information about exactly how Enigma worked and more importantly, how the “bombes” that decoded it worked. We’re told they were basically “great big proto-computers” (although I didn’t know just how dirtily mechanical were the initial versions, with machine oil continually spraying on the operators.) No, the title tells it all – the Secret Life of BP. This is about the people who worked there, partly through interviews, from diaries, and from earlier published work. While this is interesting, there is too much emphasis on various character traits and friction between various parties, and not nearly as much about the spectacular insights that drove the project forwards. More importantly, it's a bit gossipy and dwells too much on the privations and difficulties of life at BP. But this was wartime and everyone was enduring a pretty shitty existence; this territory has been covered much better and with more intensity and insight in works like Millions like Us. In any case, the residents of BP themselves recognized what a relatively privileged existence they led, despite the pressure they were under.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Val

    The people who worked at Bletchley Park were a mixture of civilians and military personnel. A lot of them were young and a lot of them were women. The atmosphere of the centre was both intense and relaxed; it was also top secret. Sinclair McKay has collected testimonies from several people who worked there as well as using historical records which were only available several years later. This made the book quite light in tone and very enjoyable. There was enough about the various machines and thei The people who worked at Bletchley Park were a mixture of civilians and military personnel. A lot of them were young and a lot of them were women. The atmosphere of the centre was both intense and relaxed; it was also top secret. Sinclair McKay has collected testimonies from several people who worked there as well as using historical records which were only available several years later. This made the book quite light in tone and very enjoyable. There was enough about the various machines and their operation to give us an idea of what they were like, but not much technical detail. It was more along the lines of: 'Colossus used valves, which got hot', 'changing the settings was very fiddly and the Wrens had to concentrate', 'a metal backed mirror placed across two terminals caused a short circuit' and so on. There are other books and source materials which go into technical detail for those who want it, but not so many which give an overall feel of what it was like to work at the centre and keep the secret for thirty years or more.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Boudewijn

    A collection of tales and experiences of the men and women working in Bletchley Park. Sinclair McKay focuses on the social aspect of the people and does not delve into the technical topics regarding the actual code breaking itself.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Veronica

    Undeniably an interesting subject, but I was a bit disappointed with this book. The idea of writing about the people at Bletchley, rather than the technology, was a good one, but the execution seemed a bit waffly and shallow in places. I felt McKay probably simply hadn't been able to gather enough in-depth material, both because of ongoing secrecy and lack of living witnesses willing to talk. What disappointed me most was that McKay clearly doesn't know anything about the maths and science behind Undeniably an interesting subject, but I was a bit disappointed with this book. The idea of writing about the people at Bletchley, rather than the technology, was a good one, but the execution seemed a bit waffly and shallow in places. I felt McKay probably simply hadn't been able to gather enough in-depth material, both because of ongoing secrecy and lack of living witnesses willing to talk. What disappointed me most was that McKay clearly doesn't know anything about the maths and science behind the cracking of Enigma -- not only that, but he's not even interested. Which makes you wonder why he wrote a book about it. He's irritatingly vague. "It was extraordinarily complex stuff, involving sound frequencies and bandwidths," he writes of Turing's Delilah project. This is meaningless. There's nothing inherently complex about sound frequencies and bandwidth. Turing goes on to do even more complex work with "equations and frequencies and kilohertz." These are clearly just buzzwords to McKay -- he doesn't know or care what they mean in relation to Turing's work. I longed for a talented popular science writer like John Naughton, who could explain at least the principles in layperson's terms. McKay only gets really enthusiastic in the chapter about spying and the fifth man, where he can exploit the spy thriller aspect of the story. Maybe The Secret War: The Inside Story of the Code Makers and Code Breakers of World War II would be more my sort of thing.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Richard Subber

    Amazing people did amazing work at Bletchley with a bit of technology and a lot of brainwork. And most of them were women! We often forget the vital contributions to the war effort that were made by so many folks who weren't carrying rifles.

  11. 5 out of 5

    ^

    The stories of many of the men and women who worked at Bletchley Park (BP) (SIS Station X) during and immediately after World War 2, are described within the pages of this book. Once I’d finished pulling a face and managed to control my annoyance over the small-sized typeface with excessive white line-space above and below, my mind enthusiastically locked into learning how Bletchley Park , and some greatly moving memories. On the flip side I thought it unfortunate that somehow the author didn’t q The stories of many of the men and women who worked at Bletchley Park (BP) (SIS Station X) during and immediately after World War 2, are described within the pages of this book. Once I’d finished pulling a face and managed to control my annoyance over the small-sized typeface with excessive white line-space above and below, my mind enthusiastically locked into learning how Bletchley Park , and some greatly moving memories. On the flip side I thought it unfortunate that somehow the author didn’t quite manage to bring the story to life. Too much reported speech; too little descriptive scene building. In other words, too journalistic for my taste. Despite that, I did enjoy reading this book; for the simple interest of gaining an insight into what character of person worked at Bletchley Park; and what life was like for them: work, play, and billet. McKay rightly emphasises the character and personalities of the most gifted mathematicians, cryptographers, and codebreakers.. They are different from the rest of us. On learning that Angus Wilson was prone to childish tantrums to the extent that he threw himself into the lake in front of his friends (p.88) made me feel slightly less guilty about disliking his novels (penned later). Alan Turing is described as demonstrating symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome; Josh Cooper rejoiced in the regular habit of finishing his coffee and then throwing his empty cup into the lake (p144)! What I found, and still find, most extraordinary was the universal culture that maintained secrecy. Across the board, BP workers whether mathematicians, debutantes, or Wrens simply didn’t talk in the outside world about their work. If they had done so, then the Allies significant strategic advantage gained from the cryptanalysis of German signals would have been immediately rendered utterly worthless. How different, one fears, it would be today, given the incessant babble-me-me-me-culture we (sadly) live in. Clearly considerable strength, and therefore power, lies in silence; or at the very least in a careful and thoughtful choice of words, precisely timed and placed. Light bulbs lit up as my mind connected back to other books I have read on the subject of Bletchley Park’ wartime operations. McKay’s explanation as to why the station never passed any identifiable decrypts onto the Free French (p,213) and SIS reluctance to even contemplate sharing information about their bombe machines (translators) with MI5 (p224), for example. But it was more of a candle that lit as I sympathised with Oliver and Sheila Lawn’s sadness in seeing how over the last seventy years the green fields and agricultural land around Bletchley village became transformed into a network of dual carriageways and a multiplicity of roundabouts when Milton Keynes was built ‘next door’. Thus the modern-day visitor to Bletchley Park really would be best advised to arrive by train (the site is only a short walk from the railway station). The visitor should also take care to visit the National Museum of Computing, on the same site. One thing I really do like about McKay’s book is that he doesn’t overlook the contribution made by Tutte, Newman and Flowers to the invention of the world’s first electronic computer (Colossus); a working recreation of which can be watched, with awe, today.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jeanne Adamek

    I really loved it! Although I have heard a bit about Bletchley Park and knew about the Enigma code and how it was cracked, this fine book brought personality in the telling using individual stories of some of those who were there. I especially loved that this history did not end with the end of the war, but that the author included stories of how the people that were there got on the years after the war. For people who like intense history with complex explanations this might not be the book for I really loved it! Although I have heard a bit about Bletchley Park and knew about the Enigma code and how it was cracked, this fine book brought personality in the telling using individual stories of some of those who were there. I especially loved that this history did not end with the end of the war, but that the author included stories of how the people that were there got on the years after the war. For people who like intense history with complex explanations this might not be the book for you. BUT for those who are interested in history, WWII, AND especially the people involved, I found The Secret Life of Bletchley Park to be extremely interesting and a fast moving book definitely worth reading.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ruth

    I have to admit that the activities of Bletchley Park during WW2 and the ordinary and extraordinary people who worked there to crack the Enigma code have always been something of a fascination. I grew up a couple of miles from Bletchley in the late 1970s, so the fascination always had a strangely detached but familiar side, particularly since everyone knew something had happened there during the war, but would only speak in whispers about what it could have been, and this was when the secret was I have to admit that the activities of Bletchley Park during WW2 and the ordinary and extraordinary people who worked there to crack the Enigma code have always been something of a fascination. I grew up a couple of miles from Bletchley in the late 1970s, so the fascination always had a strangely detached but familiar side, particularly since everyone knew something had happened there during the war, but would only speak in whispers about what it could have been, and this was when the secret was out! So, the secrecy described in this book, provided by netgalley, about how questions weren't asked of those who worked there, and how the local population essentially colluded in what was going on, by keeping their mouths shut, was very true to how it actually felt all those decades later. There are other books which explain how the Enigma code was cracked, and about the technological advances made at Bletchley which were the foundation for other technological advances, but this book talks about the lives of the people who worked there, and, most interestingly, explains the boredom of much of the work, and how not every single person located there was a codebreaker, but nonetheless treats their experiences with real respect. If I have any criticisms, they are focused on simply not being able to interview more people. Their insights are quite the most interesting thing about the book, and remind me of speaking to my parents about their wartime experiences, but the passing of time has meant that many of these people have now passed on, and the secrecy and lack of records has meant finding those still with us, who might be willing to share their experiences, is incredibly difficult. It's such a shame. I did also have one other criticism, which is a bit less excusable. The author implies that it's not possible to keep secrets these days, because of Twitter or Facebook, which is quite obviously completely untrue. For example, government employees in the UK still sign the Official Secrets Act, and they still keep their mouths shut, and their families still don't ask them what they do. I know this because a member of my own family was employed in such a way, and I still haven't got a clue what he did. To suggest that people in WW2 miraculously were able to keep secrets, and we are not able to do so now is ridiculous, and really rather patronizing. I even think that those who worked at Bletchley Park would contend that they did what they had to, and I probably think it's the same now, if the country were presented with a similar situation. So, lovely "slice of life" history of a fascinating place, populated with fascinating people. 4 stars.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ruth

    A very enjoyable book which is largely anecdotal rather than weighed down with technical details of the actual codebreaking. I really liked the way that each chapter dealt with a different aspect of Bletchley Park. As the book progresses you get a good idea of the type of people who worked there during the war, the pressures they were under and the importance of the work that they did.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Hermien

    A fascinating side of WWII. I've seen the films and tv series relating to Bletchley Park and have been to the museum which is fantastic. This book captured it all very well and was a joy to read (listen to in my case).

  16. 4 out of 5

    Zach

    As I was reading this, I noticed that the writing doesn't get in the way of the story. "This is nice," I thought, "the author isn't interjecting his invented vision of morning mist rising as the codebreakers start their day." And it's true, the writing moves along without being noticed, neither enhancing nor encumbering the narrative. It's very utilitarian, and it tells the story well. Very British, no? Then I started reading Unbroken, and holy moly it was like seeing (or reading) in color. Sure As I was reading this, I noticed that the writing doesn't get in the way of the story. "This is nice," I thought, "the author isn't interjecting his invented vision of morning mist rising as the codebreakers start their day." And it's true, the writing moves along without being noticed, neither enhancing nor encumbering the narrative. It's very utilitarian, and it tells the story well. Very British, no? Then I started reading Unbroken, and holy moly it was like seeing (or reading) in color. Sure, it's purple prose, and the drama is exaggerated, and I imagine that some timelines were wadded and kneaded to fit the addictive pace, but man is it fun to read. It's grossly unfair to compare The Secret Life with a bestselling page-turner whose story would be compelling if written by a dog - oh shit is he gonna bark or woof?! - but the stark comparison shows, to me, that writing can be more than an information shovel. Sinclair McKay wrote a nice book, but the words don't sing. The tension of the mission - to crack the Nazi's fabled Enigma code without telling a soul outside the institution - crackles through the book. I can't imagine that burden, one in which bitter parents went to their grave thinking their son did not help the war effort because he swore to secrecy, on top of the crushing repetition of nonsense, with no context for your work (because if you knew the code and translation, you knew too much). It was dense, monastic work with the ultimate self-preservation at heart. It's a good book. It doesn't get in its way, it repeats itself somewhat, and it relays a decent amount of information about a crucial topic. But, with more detail, brighter characters, or simply some zip, it could have been a heck of a lot of fun. Oh well.

  17. 4 out of 5

    LillyBooks

    Inspired by the wonderful Bletchley Circle on PBS, I set out to learn more about Bletchley Park and what went on there. The book did not disappoint; in fact, it's everything a good nonfiction book should be. It's well paced, well organized, and concise but not skimpy on details. There are clear descriptions of difficult concepts, like bombes and the Colossus, that are complete but not too complicated as though one needs a PhD in binary code and electrical engineering to understand them. The huma Inspired by the wonderful Bletchley Circle on PBS, I set out to learn more about Bletchley Park and what went on there. The book did not disappoint; in fact, it's everything a good nonfiction book should be. It's well paced, well organized, and concise but not skimpy on details. There are clear descriptions of difficult concepts, like bombes and the Colossus, that are complete but not too complicated as though one needs a PhD in binary code and electrical engineering to understand them. The human element is fully explored, and McKay made the very wise decision to only focus on about 8 people, from the highest to the lowest, so that you can keep them straight and enjoy the fullness of their stories. The actual details of life inside Bletchley Park, the codebreaking and such, are told chronologically; there are also periodic chapters on life outside of the Park (billets, food, recreation, dating, etc) that more general memories from any year of the war. So this book wisely encompasses both the stressful, vital war work and the lighter side of life when off duty.

  18. 4 out of 5

    JackieB

    I thought the material in this book was very badly organised. The chapters skipped around between social aspects of life at the park, details about the codebreaking and the effect of the work at Bletchley Park on the war in general. I found it impossible to follow. I would have arranged the material in sections, so there was a section about the social life first, then a section about the code breaking and finally a section on the contribution of Bletchley Park to second world war 2 generally. As I thought the material in this book was very badly organised. The chapters skipped around between social aspects of life at the park, details about the codebreaking and the effect of the work at Bletchley Park on the war in general. I found it impossible to follow. I would have arranged the material in sections, so there was a section about the social life first, then a section about the code breaking and finally a section on the contribution of Bletchley Park to second world war 2 generally. As it was, it was taking a great deal of effort to work my way through the book and I wasn't getting much out of it, so I stopped reading it about half way through.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Rosemary

    I visited Bletchley Park six years ago and ordered this Kindle book soon after, but it's taken me all this time to get around to reading it. It's well known now that Bletchley Park was the scene of most of the codebreaking that went on in Britain in the Second World War, and that this was crucial to the course of the war in Europe because the British basically learned to intercept all of the codes used for German and Italian communications, although some took longer to break than others. This boo I visited Bletchley Park six years ago and ordered this Kindle book soon after, but it's taken me all this time to get around to reading it. It's well known now that Bletchley Park was the scene of most of the codebreaking that went on in Britain in the Second World War, and that this was crucial to the course of the war in Europe because the British basically learned to intercept all of the codes used for German and Italian communications, although some took longer to break than others. This book is about life at Bletchley Park rather than the actual codebreaking. I really enjoyed the early parts, having been there and also coincidentally having met one of the people interviewed and worked with the nephew of another at different times in the past. But it became repetitive, and I could happily have stopped reading at about the halfway point. I did finish it, though.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sharon Barrow Wilfong

    During WWII England's MI6 recruited men and women from every walk of life to help break the German's code Enigma, in order to find out their battle plans and hopefully save lives, not to mention win the war. Sinclair McKary introduces us to each person and type of person that was chosen to break Germany's enigma code. Naturally people fluent in German as well as math professors. One prominent code breaker was Alan Turing. Others were people to become famous later in life, such as Ian Fleming, crea During WWII England's MI6 recruited men and women from every walk of life to help break the German's code Enigma, in order to find out their battle plans and hopefully save lives, not to mention win the war. Sinclair McKary introduces us to each person and type of person that was chosen to break Germany's enigma code. Naturally people fluent in German as well as math professors. One prominent code breaker was Alan Turing. Others were people to become famous later in life, such as Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, and Roy Jenkins, who wrote a fair biography of Churchill. I can say that because I read it. Apparently he was only a fair code breaker as well, according to those who worked with him. We learn about the women, both aristocratic and middle class, or labor class who joined Bletchely Park to break Germany's code. We learn about living conditions, what they ate, their successes, their failures. Much of it reads like a high suspense novel. Some of it dragged a little, but I think McKay wanted to be thorough. I recommend this book to those interested in WWII and cryptology.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Joan

    “Which way do the hands on a clock go round? * (See below for correct answer) These are the stories of the British code-breakers (and boffins) working in secretly at Bletchley Park during World War Two. Surprisingly, the people that worked there kept mum about it for thirty years. Their work involved the German Enigma encoder, Bombe electro-mechanical decoders and Turing Machines that would lead to modern computers. This book gives credit to the many men and women who developed the technology that “Which way do the hands on a clock go round? * (See below for correct answer) These are the stories of the British code-breakers (and boffins) working in secretly at Bletchley Park during World War Two. Surprisingly, the people that worked there kept mum about it for thirty years. Their work involved the German Enigma encoder, Bombe electro-mechanical decoders and Turing Machines that would lead to modern computers. This book gives credit to the many men and women who developed the technology that lead to-- well Google and Goodreads actually. The teams at Bletchley were primarily civilians not military-intelligence; many were mathematicians, some were university students; quite a few were women. Most were creative thinkers enthralled by complex intellectual puzzles. Their excitement and creativity shines through recollections from diaries, letters, interviews and other primary sources. There are real heroes in this world: Lieutenant Anthony Fasson, Able Seaman Colin Grazier and Tommy Brown are three you probably never heard of but their bravery was astounding. Inspiration can sneak up on you “…something very strange happened; I must have dozed off before the fire…I woke up with a start and the faint trace of a vanishing dream in my head…I was left with a distinct picture…in my mind’s eye, of a German Enigma Operator. This was the trigger that was to set off my discoveries” (John Harivel p79) Tempers can flare as shown by this letter from the director of Bletchley Park to the Commander of the Royal Navy: “I wish to make it quite clear that all matters cryptographic or to be dealt with by (us not the Navy)… If your staff have not enough to do on their legitimate work it would seem that you are overstaffed…I do hope you will exert yourself to stick to your own job which you do so well and not butt in on the jobs of others” (p82) Don’t you wish you could send a memo like that? Work can obscure reality: “The only time I actually realised what we were doing was when I was shown a notebook. It had just been captured and rushed to Bletchley. And I was horrified to see a huge bloodstain on it. The blood around the edges was drying, but the blood in the middle was still wet. And I realized then that somewhere there was a German air-crew bleeding, still bleeding while I was decoding. That did bring the war very close” (Gwen Watkins p91) Life can be surprising. “The food…was laid out in cafeteria fashion which we had never come across until then…It was a whole new world” (Jean Valentine p147) I never thought about life before cafeterias and fast food. There is even love as geeks pair off, quite a few for life. Some of the challenges persist today. For example Dilly Knox wrote memos asking that the women under his command be paid fairly for their expertise and labor. And of course job titles and social status can obscure the contributions of humble people even today. Tommy Flowers was a mere mechanic who revolutionized the design of the machines but got little recognition because of his rank. Unfortunately there is very little information about the science, theory or technology. The tone can be a bit “Keep Calm and Carry On”. Overall, I like this book much more than the movie “Enigma” because the book shows how scientific progress relies on many minds building upon the ideas of others – innovation is never the product of a single person. *Dilly Knox would reply that depends on whether one is the observer or the clock. (p131)

  22. 4 out of 5

    Lil

    I debated whether this deserved three stars or four... early in the book, it was near to earning five, because it was exactly the account of the sociology of Bletchley Park that I'd been seeking. This was such a great relief after struggling through so many mathematical accounts of BP's work. And this book did shed a light on what the actual lives of the people there would have been like - both the big brains like Turing and Knox and the Debs and the girls from Scotland who all got mixed into th I debated whether this deserved three stars or four... early in the book, it was near to earning five, because it was exactly the account of the sociology of Bletchley Park that I'd been seeking. This was such a great relief after struggling through so many mathematical accounts of BP's work. And this book did shed a light on what the actual lives of the people there would have been like - both the big brains like Turing and Knox and the Debs and the girls from Scotland who all got mixed into this place. So where did it falter? There's a clumsy repetition of stories about billeting, about a mirror that explodes beside the Colossus, about the Scottish dancing... a lot of it comes down to the structure of the book, I think. The author tries to tell it chronologically, for the most part, but slips and slides because so much of the social life seemed pretty consistent over the years. So rather than focusing on, say, the social life at BP as its own chapter (or several chapters), it's inserted into multiple chapters in the appropriate time period. Sometimes this was awfully poorly presented, such as when a chapter on BP's Russian spy ended with a paragraph about the social events at the Park. At other times it just got monotonous after multiple iterations of the same story, and at some point I started counting the number of pages left to go. These are the kinds of issues that a good editor would take note of and correct, and it's really too bad that Mr McKay was in such need of one. Still, having said this, I loved the research that was brought into this book, with so many first-hand accounts from the people there. I can honestly say I'm even more in awe of the work that they did and the lives that they had, both during and after the war, and for making those stories accessible, this book is a true gem.

  23. 5 out of 5

    KOMET

    Bletchley Park -- described as an "idiosyncratic" Victorian house set on 55 acres situated halfway between London and Birmingham --- served during the Second World War as Britain's nerve center for the breaking and deciphering of the German Enigma codes. In reading this story, the reader learns about the unique set of men and women -- military, civilian, university educated, debutantes, and some of the most brilliant minds ever brought together for one noble, overarching, salutary objective --- Bletchley Park -- described as an "idiosyncratic" Victorian house set on 55 acres situated halfway between London and Birmingham --- served during the Second World War as Britain's nerve center for the breaking and deciphering of the German Enigma codes. In reading this story, the reader learns about the unique set of men and women -- military, civilian, university educated, debutantes, and some of the most brilliant minds ever brought together for one noble, overarching, salutary objective --- whose work (kept under a veil of absolute secrecy for 30 years) was crucial in ensuring Allied victory. Indeed, General Eisenhower maintained that, thanks to Bletchley Park's supply of intelligence (i.e. "Ultra"), the war was shortened by 2 years. What many of us now take for granted about the general narrative of the Second World War would likely have spelled out an altogether different, sadder outcome for all the world without the work performed at Bletchley Park by people like the mathematician John Herivel, who had a Eureka moment in February 1940 that led to a breakthrough in the understanding of Enigma and its setup which facilitated a more systematic breaking of the German codes; Mavis Batey, whose work as a codebreaker played a vital code in the Royal Navy's resounding victory over the Italian fleet in the 1941 Battle of Cape Matapan; and Alan Turing, whose genius in devising the bombe machine and more advanced codebreaking machines (along with Dr. Thomas Flowers, an engineer by training who came from a modest, working-class background in London's East End) used at Bletchley Park anticipated the development of the modern computer. To date, this is the best book that I've read about Bletchley Park.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

    Interesting perspective on the WWII codebreaking centre at Bletchley Park. Rather than concentrate on technical or mathematical aspects, Sinclair McKay looks at everyday life for the men and women who worked there, from the logistics of finding lodgings for so many people in a small village to the concerts and dances that the workers arranged for their entertainment. The intense pressure, monotony and secrecy of the work is examined through the memories of people who worked there. This was very Interesting perspective on the WWII codebreaking centre at Bletchley Park. Rather than concentrate on technical or mathematical aspects, Sinclair McKay looks at everyday life for the men and women who worked there, from the logistics of finding lodgings for so many people in a small village to the concerts and dances that the workers arranged for their entertainment. The intense pressure, monotony and secrecy of the work is examined through the memories of people who worked there. This was very entertaining and largely very readable, although it was sometimes repetitive as the same episodes were mentioned multiple times. I particularly enjoyed chapters dealing with the food available and the relationships that grew up in these special circumstances. It is not all social history though - the impact of work at Bletchley on certain aspects of the war and the politics of the time are also included. Overall well worth a read if you are interested in WWII history. I read it in preparation for a visit to Bletchley Park, and found it very informative and at times eye opening.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mary Ronan Drew

    Bletchley Park. For most of us these days the name evokes a world of secrets and codes, the Enigma machine and the breaking of the German code, intelligence work and an important contribution to the Allies' winning World War II. But from the end of the war in 1945 until the 1970s almost no one knew what had gone on there, what the 12,000 or so people who worked there did during the war. As they left, the employees were asked to sign the Official Secrets Act and forbidden to tell anyone what had b Bletchley Park. For most of us these days the name evokes a world of secrets and codes, the Enigma machine and the breaking of the German code, intelligence work and an important contribution to the Allies' winning World War II. But from the end of the war in 1945 until the 1970s almost no one knew what had gone on there, what the 12,000 or so people who worked there did during the war. As they left, the employees were asked to sign the Official Secrets Act and forbidden to tell anyone what had been done at Bletchley Park. And they kept their word. Until a book by Frederick Winterbotham told the story to the world. . . . To read more of my review, go to my blog at: http://maryslibrary.typepad.com/my_we...

  26. 5 out of 5

    Simon

    I just wish I'd been told the story by someone else. I quickly became irritated by the writer always seeming to pursue the least interesting thread of the story. Whenever he comes to a fork in the road he takes the wrong turn and does it with great verbosity. I'm sure there are many good histories of our code breakers and their place in history. It seems a pity that I had to waste so much time on this one.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jarvo

    Bletchley Park is a subject which can make most English people go a little dewy eyed. It lives as a legend in which a group of mathematicians, linguists, and assorted eccentrics, were plucked from academe left alone in a country house to break an unbreakable German code called Enigma. When things got tough they invented the computer to help them along. Time off was devoted to 'amateur dramatics' (of near professional standard), and the singing of madrigals, probably in Latin. You can almost smel Bletchley Park is a subject which can make most English people go a little dewy eyed. It lives as a legend in which a group of mathematicians, linguists, and assorted eccentrics, were plucked from academe left alone in a country house to break an unbreakable German code called Enigma. When things got tough they invented the computer to help them along. Time off was devoted to 'amateur dramatics' (of near professional standard), and the singing of madrigals, probably in Latin. You can almost smell the tweed and the tobacco from the pipes. Did they succeed? Of course they did. This book does a very good job of picking apart the truth from the fiction. At the start of the war the picture above was probably a little rose tinted but not a long way from the reality. By the end of the war nearly 10,000 people were employed at Bletchley, and encrypted communications were being decoding on an industrial scale, with the aid of machines that were more or less the first computers. The transition between the two states was a great of evolutionary approaches to management (something agile in a true sense of the word) and of great co-operation, although fallings out and rivalries at the higher levels were not uncommon. The code-breaking itself was helping along by genuine sparks of genius, truly innovative acts of electrical engineering, the capture of Enigma machines in the field, and a whole lot of intellectual sweat (and probably not a few tears). The book draws on a wide range of interviews with Bletchley veterans, and is fairly straightforward narrative history. Its strong on social relations at the park, and the quite remarkable level of secrecy that was preserved. To the end of the war the Germans did not know the extent to which their codes had been broken and the frequency with which their communications were being read. It is perhaps weaker on the broader context of the work it Bletchley, and how intelligence work was shifting towards the electronic interception of communication, embodied by its successor GCHQ. It also probably exaggerates the extent to which class differences were overcome, exemplified by the extent to which the contribution of Tommy Flowers has been almost completely forgotten. Flowers, an East Ender, who was nearly self taught, made crucial contributions to the development of the Colossus, the final piece of kit developed by Bletchley and to all intents and purposes the world's first computer.

  28. 5 out of 5

    MargaretDH

    This is an lovely oral history of Bletchley Park, and the people that worked there. McKay details the way a number of amateurs came together and worked incredibly hard to break fiendishly difficult codes, and then never spoke about it for 30 years. McKay is obviously filled with admiration for the people who worked at Bletchley Park, and I think it's completely warranted. He gives just as much attention to people like Alan Turing whose brilliance led to the beginning of the modern computer as he This is an lovely oral history of Bletchley Park, and the people that worked there. McKay details the way a number of amateurs came together and worked incredibly hard to break fiendishly difficult codes, and then never spoke about it for 30 years. McKay is obviously filled with admiration for the people who worked at Bletchley Park, and I think it's completely warranted. He gives just as much attention to people like Alan Turing whose brilliance led to the beginning of the modern computer as he does to the ordinary folk and the Wrens that did so much of the tedious and exhausting work of breaking codes or running machines. McKay looks at the command structure, the minutiae of the actual work done and the social life of those at Bletchley Park. Some of this comes from letters and official records, but the majority is from interviews. He also explores the post-war careers and legacies of people from Bletchley Park, including those who never got to tell their parents what they did during the war. If you're interested, this is definitely worth picking up.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Novelle Novels

    2 out of 5 stars Ok so I did go into this forgetting it was non fiction which did mean I wasn’t clear about what to expect. This is a full explanation about Bletchley Park which was England’s code breaking centre in World War Two. We hear about the romances that’s happened there, the highs and the lows and some interesting information about the people that really had an important part in the war. In no way do I not deny that the work those people did was incredible as they were amazing. To me i d 2 out of 5 stars Ok so I did go into this forgetting it was non fiction which did mean I wasn’t clear about what to expect. This is a full explanation about Bletchley Park which was England’s code breaking centre in World War Two. We hear about the romances that’s happened there, the highs and the lows and some interesting information about the people that really had an important part in the war. In no way do I not deny that the work those people did was incredible as they were amazing. To me i didn’t take to the way the author wrote but again it was my personal taste.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Dolf Patijn

    This is an interesting read that gives a rare insight into what it was like to work in Bletchley Park. I've read Enigma by Robert Harris (highly regarded by some of the people who actually worked in Bletchley Park), seen some documentaries on Bletchley Park and I've seen the film about Turing. This complements all of it nicely. A bit repetitive in places but well written and a must-read for people with interest in the subject.

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