Un­solved! The His­tory and Mys­tery of the World’s Great­est Ciphers from An­cient Egypt to On­line Se­cret So­ci­eties

Craig Bauer

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Nonfiction -

Prince­ton Univer­sity Press Hard­cover $35 (600pp) 978-0-691-16767-1 This code-crack­ing ex­plo­ration will in­trigue all those who ap­pre­ci­ate the thrill of the chase.

Craig Bauer proves an able and en­ter­tain­ing guide to the world of real-life ciphers, codes, and en­cryp­tion in his fas­ci­nat­ing book Un­solved! The His­tory and Mys­tery of the World’s Great­est Ciphers from An­cient Egypt to On­line Se­cret So­ci­eties.

Bauer brings im­pres­sive cre­den­tials to the sub­ject: he serves as the as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of math­e­mat­ics at York Col­lege of Penn­syl­va­nia, is ed­i­tor in chief of the journal Cryp­tolo­gia, and has been a scholar-in-res­i­dence at the NSA’S Cen­ter for Cryp­to­logic His­tory.

With Un­solved!, Bauer fo­cuses mainly on those ciphers and codes that have not yet been bro­ken. This might have meant a very high-level jump­ing-on point for read­ers, but Bauer caters to new­com­ers while keep­ing things in­ter­est­ing for ex­pe­ri­enced code break­ers as well. He pro­vides ex­am­ples of (rel­a­tively) sim­ple code break­ing that even novices can un­der­stand. Though the codes and ex­pla­na­tions get pro­gres­sively more com­plex, Bauer takes it slow, and writes in a down-to-earth, ap­peal­ing style. By the time higher math comes into play late in the book, even arith­mo­phobes may be able to fol­low along.

Un­solved! ad­dresses many cases that have per­me­ated the pub­lic con­scious­ness, such as that of The Voyn­ich Man­u­script, as well as more ob­scure ones, like un­der­ground code-break­ing scav­enger hunts con­ducted in just the past few years. Dis­cus­sion of the lat­ter show­cases the in­ven­tive ways that mod­ern tech­nol­ogy has im­pacted en­cod­ing and de­cod­ing mes­sages.

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