Mysterious Messages - A History of Codes and Ciphers by Gary Blackwood
|Mysterious Messages - A History of Codes and Ciphers by Gary Blackwood|
|Category: Children's Non-Fiction|
|Reviewer: Keith Dudhnath|
|Summary: An outstanding introduction to and history of codes and ciphers. Any and all bright tweens and early teens will devour its every word and have great fun cracking and setting codes themselves. Highly recommended. Gary Blackwood was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 144||Date: November 2009|
There's something utterly cool about codes and ciphers. It's not just the spies with their secret world, it's the mystery of an ostensibly random set of letters or pictures. It's being able to unravel them and see what they're hiding. It's a combination of geeky riddle solving (and geeks are cool, so there) and uncovering the unknown meanings. Gary Blackwood treats us to a history of codes and ciphers, looking at their creation, the stories behind them, and how to crack them.
I was completely enthralled by Mysterious Messages from beginning to end. All the different types of codes are here, from simple substitution ciphers and scytale ciphers, through Morse code, the Engima machine from World War II, right up to modern security methods, and briefly touching on the future if/when quantum computers become a reality. It's superbly written, expertly weaving together both the history of cryptography and its methods - it tantalises and teaches in equal measure. It's fascinating to see and understand exactly how it developed as it did, and to see how code-breaking went on to strike a chord with the public when used by the likes of Edgar Allan Poe and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Mysterious Messages is pitched at late tween/early teen readers, but such is its quality that adults looking for a simple introduction to codes will find it ideal. I knew some of the codes and stories already, but devoured the whole book with wide-eyed wonder and enjoyment. It's clear and engaging, but packed with detail. The slightly more complicated aspects are clearly delineated in sidebars throughout - there's nothing in these that will trouble willing confident readers, but it's nice to know they've got the option to not get bogged down if need be. In fact, the sidebars contribute to making it an utterly gorgeous book, and one that would make a wonderful present for any bright child. The codes, pictures of the protagonists and historical documents all give the impression of a secret dossier. The content is always the star, but it's one of those books that you fall in love with the second you set eyes on it.
Of course, the best thing when learning about codes is to actually dive in and crack a few. There plenty of examples that illustrate the points the text is making, and allow the reader to solve them for themselves and understand it all better. Rather wonderfully, Gary Blackwood has also hidden a number of ciphers throughout the book - the joy at spotting and solving is just superb. It's a perfect book. I couldn't recommend it any more highly. Buy it!
My thanks to the publishers for sending it to Bookbag.
Ripping Things to Do by Jane Brocket features a number of spy and secret agent activities to try. Spyology by Dugald Steer is great fun too. Although not riddled with codes, any budding young spies looking for thrilling fiction will love Tim Pigott-Smith's Baker Street Mysteries, starting with The Dragon Tattoo.
Gary Blackwood was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Mysterious Messages - A History of Codes and Ciphers by Gary Blackwood at Amazon.com.
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