Book: The Lost World of Bletchley Park: An Illustrated History of the Wartime Codebreaking Centre by Sinclair McKay
Publication date: 2013
Source: Purchased by mail order from Bletchley Park
Summary: Bletchley Park, an unremarkable country estate in mid-England, was the workplace of women and men in World War II performing the crucial task of breaking codes:
The work that was done here had a huge almost unquantifiable impact on the course of the conflict. Whether listening in on the lethal U-boat wolf-packs; analysing the supply lines of Rommel’s panzer divisions in the North African desert; helping to hunt down and sink the Bismarck; feeding the Germans disinformation and then monitoring the responses that resulted in V-weapons being given incorrect co-ordinates and falling short of their central London targets; even intercepting and decoding invaluable messages from the inner sanctum of German High Command in the run up to and aftermath of the Normandy landings, the codebreakers seized an invaluable advantage: a means of penetrating deep into the heart of German strategy and tactical thinking. All this without the Germans suspecting that their ‘unbreakable’ code systems had been laid bare. pp. 8, 9
Thoughts: I would have bought this book during our visit to Bletchley Park but we were worried about the weight of our suitcases returning home. Instead, I took photos of the books we wanted and ordered them after our return.
I read The Secret Lives of Codebreakers by the same author, Sinclair McKay, earlier this year. That was more about the recruiting, the living situations, and the home-grown entertainments. The Lost World of Bletchley Park is more about the working conditions and space as illustrated by extant documents and photographs. There is some overlap, especially with a chapter in Lost World about Off-Duty Hours and the Pressure Valves, but the stories are completely different and, in this book, accompanied by theatre programmes and cast photos.
Neither of these books has been quite the book I wanted. My first degree was in computer science, but I’m very rusty. I’m looking for a book that is about the actual code-breaking activities that went on at Bletchley Park, but written for the popular audience. Both of these books are good, but written for an audience that is assumed to be entirely uninterested in the technical aspects.
Fortunately the displays at Bletchley Park answered my needs for the moment — it’s a wonderful place to visit! As I mentioned in yesterday’s review of Cryptonomicon, I’m also very excited about The Imitation Game, the biopic about Alan Turing, focused on his efforts at code-breaking during World War II. It’s being released, widely, today.
Appeal: The Lost World of Bletchley Park is great book about one of the more romantic and intellectual aspects of World War II, featuring the contributions of many women as well as mathematically-oriented men. The photos and other illustrations definitely add to the charm.
Who is as excited about The Imitation Game as I am? We may actually go see it today since the family holiday celebration got pushed off until tomorrow.