Book Review: The Secret Lives of Codebreakers by Sinclair McKay #ReadWithMe 2020 #18

Bletchley Park looked like any other sprawling country estate. In reality, however, it was the top-secret headquarters of Britain’s Government Code and Cypher School-and the site where Germany’s legendary Enigma code was finally cracked.

There, the nation’s most brilliant mathematical minds-including Alan Turing, whose discoveries at Bletchley would fuel the birth of modern computing-toiled alongside debutantes, factory workers, and students on projects of international importance.

Until now, little has been revealed about ordinary life at this extraordinary facility. Drawing on remarkable first-hand interviews, The Secret Lives of Codebreakers reveals the entertainments, pastimes, and furtive romances that helped ease the incredible pressures faced by these covert operatives as they worked to turn the tide of World War II.

What I Thought:

As we approach the 75th anniversary of VE Day, it’s timely (although a coincidence) that I’ve read a book which explores the contribution and enduring legacy of the people who saw out the war at Bletchley Park.

The Secret Lives of Codebreakers is an incredibly personal book, featuring as it does interviews with the people who actually worked there. You get a vivid impression of what it was like to be working on crucial codes and ciphers, maintaining and air of secrecy, but also of being young people living through a war.

There is the potential for this sort of book to be very dry but, although it touches on some of the technological features of Bletchley’s work, and the advances in computing that came out of it, it focuses more fully on the human stories, which I really enjoyed.

It seems unfathomable these days that you could be eighteen or nineteen years old, and be serving your country, living far away from your home but not able to tell anyone about it. This is what struck me most about the reminiscences – the fact that many of the veterans of Bletchley Park were never able to even tell their parents or spouses of what they had done in the war.

Thankfully, more and more of what went on at Bletchley, and the life-saving work they did there, is coming out and is represented by the Bletchley Park Trust – you can even visit Bletchley Park now, as it’s a popular museum, and see recreations of the conditions there and some of the technologies used during the war.

This book is an excellent contribution to the many books written about Bletchley, and if you want to approach the more personal aspects of this incredible story, it’s highly recommended.

Please note: I received this book via Netgalley for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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5 Responses to Book Review: The Secret Lives of Codebreakers by Sinclair McKay #ReadWithMe 2020 #18

  1. This sounds like a really interesting read, I think my Dad would find this really interesting – will be a great birthday present!


  2. This sounds really interesting. I will have to look out for it. I’ve read a lot of fiction about aspects of World War II, but nothing factual. Human stories always give an interesting angle.

  3. Chantelle Hazelden says:

    Love the sound of this, I don’t read a great deal of non fiction, but this definitely appeals to me #readwithme

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