A marvelous history, full of color, drama, conflict, and tragedy. Besides being a terrific read, it illustrates one often...

BATTLE OF WITS

THE COMPLETE STORY OF CODEBREAKING IN WORLD WAR II

Secret codes are as old as writing, but the science of codebreaking remained a minor field until the invention of the telegraph and radio made rapid communication easy, essential—and public.

This story has been told before, but science journalist Budiansky (Nature’s Keepers, 1995) tells it best. He has read the archives, interviewed participants, and seen newly declassified files. He begins in England. Capitalizing on their reputation (in Germany) for stupidity, the British assembled the world’s best codebreakers during WWI, routinely reading Germany’s diplomatic and naval traffic. In moments of leisure, they perused American communications, which were laughably crude (Woodrow Wilson coded and decoded his own messages). By the late 1930s, however, the US had reached parity with the British, and we could read Japanese diplomatic traffic—which was useful, but not useful enough to anticipate the attack on Pearl Harbor. Burned once, the Germans developed the famous Enigma machine, which created a cipher so complex that British and French experts were stumped. They were flabbergasted when the Polish secret service showed them one. It was not stolen; a Polish mathematician had recreated it from its pattern of transmissions, the first of many brilliant codebreaking coups that enabled the Allies to read large portions of enemy communications. Barely six months after Pearl Harbor, outnumbered US forces won a smashing victory at the Battle of Midway only because they knew every detail of the Japanese plan. The German naval command wondered why Allied convoys often sailed around waiting submarine wolf packs but remained confident its transmissions were secure. The codebreakers themselves were a collection of dogged obsessives, eccentrics, and mathematical geniuses who might work years to solve a single problem. The geniuses who worked on the Manhattan Project had easier problems because everyone knew an atom bomb would work. No one knew if a code was breakable until it was broken.

A marvelous history, full of color, drama, conflict, and tragedy. Besides being a terrific read, it illustrates one often overlooked reason why the Allieds won the war: they were smarter.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2000

ISBN: 0-684-85932-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2000

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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