THE CYPHER BUREAU
CAPTIVATING, COMPELLING, FACINATING
Although I was aware the Enigma had been broken by Poles, I didn’t know any of the characters responsible or their stories. You brought them all to life in a captivating book, where facts, emotions, and the hardships of their struggle were compelling. The epilogue was also fascinating.
Iain Bayne, Runrig
Although readers around the world are familiar with the accomplishments of Alan Turing and the British code-breaking team at Bletchley Park – most recently popularized in the Benedict Cumberbatch movie, The Imitation Game – the substantial contribution of Polish mathematicians to the unraveling of the Nazis’ Enigma code is less well known. In The Cypher Bureau, Eilidh McGinness has written an exciting and forthright novelisation of the life of Polish mathematician Marian Rejewski and his colleagues, in an attempt to fill this historical blank spot.
As children, Rejewski and his two friends and fellow mathematicians, Henry Zygalski and Jerzy Rozycki, lived through the German occupation and depredations of World War I. Now, on the cusp of completing their university studies, war clouds are once again amassing on their country’s western border. Polish authorities, fully cognizant of the Nazis’ existential threat to their nation, are in search of expert minds who can expose the Germans’ secrets and help foil their plans. They find these three young men.
Rejewski, Zygalski, and Rozycki are successfully recruited to work for the Cypher Bureau, although the danger of such work as the Nazi invasion looms. They have successfully solved numerous important decryption problems, yet Rejewski longs for a chance to try cracking Enigma – the coding machine the Germans considered unbreakable. Finally, he gets this super-secret assignment. Thanks to documents obtained by French intelligence and the lucky acquisition of an Enigma machine, he is able to reconstruct its internal wiring. Once that is accomplished, the method for decoding messages on a given day becomes relatively simple.
The insight that allows his breakthrough is not mathematical or technical, it is psychological. Having had German tutors in his youth, Rejewski knows how they think, and he applies their mode of thought to understanding the master codes that change daily. As the author of the book on which The Imitation Game was based wrote, “They had not broken the machine, they had beaten the system.”
Once Germany invades Poland, the code-breaking team must flee, working its way across Europe, stopping briefly here and there to decode messages, deal with Germany’s increasing efforts to make Enigma more complex and, therefore, more secure, and making hair’s-breadth escapes from their pursuers. It is dangerous work, and they cannot be certain whom to trust. In that way, although this aims to be a true account and is never hyperbolic, it reads much like an action thriller.
What is abundantly clear is the author’s sincere respect for the bravery and the intellectual contributions of the Poles and a sense of the three mathematicians and the people around them as individuals. What’s also clear is the commitment of a great many people in Poland and France, especially, to keeping the secret of the cypher team’s accomplishments. Not one person ever revealed this information, and throughout the long years of the War, the Germans never knew they’d been hacked. This in itself is an astonishing feat.
Until rather recently, the Poles’ contribution to the penetration of Enigma’s secrets was rather overshadowed. Today, however, it is better-known, and this book, though a novel, should aid in helping Rejerski, Zygalski, Rozycki, and the Polish cypher team take their proper place in history.
Vicki Weisfield Crime Fiction Lover
Anyone who has read Robert Harris’s Enigma or anything else connected to Bletchley Park in WW2 would recognise the code breaking described here. This is, however, a book about the Polish team who originally decoded Enigma in 1932.
The man whose life we follow from his childhood to his death is Marian Rejewski. He joins a team of talented mathematicians at Poznan University who are inducted into Cryptography and asked to become secret code breakers. The story is very convincingly it shows the travails of this team. The author makes it clear that this is a work of fiction, but the details of events seem very accurate. The men have to leave their families when the Germans invade and move from place to place in Europe and North Africa, always working on code breaking. The intensity of their efforts in the face of enemy attacks and with the constant fear of betrayal is palpable. It seems that the Germans never realised that their code had been broken but their constant updating of the system caused a huge amount of work for the decoders.
I liked the way that the enormous Polish and French contribution to the decoding of Enigma messages was made clear. Indeed, without their work there would have been a far greater loss of life in WW2. You could describe this as a thriller with considerable technical input about decoding or as a biography of a Polish mathematician through WW2. A coda to the book brings the story of the decoders up to date. For anyone interested in this topic and in the hardships of WW2 this book is fascinating.
PROMOTING CRIME FICTION BLOG SPOT -JENNIFER S PALMER
Rated 5out of 5 Janice Rayns – April 15, 2018
A great read. The author has seamlessly joined fact and fiction together to produce a moving and thought provoking account of the work of Marian Rejewski and his colleagues at the Polish Cypher Bureau. This was a part of history I knew nothing about but as I turned the pages I learnt about his extraordinary skills as a code breaker and the increasingly dangerous turns his life took so that he could continue his work when Poland was invaded. The book also manages to give an insight into how events in Poland before, during and after the war impacted on the lives of ordinary people.
Rated 5out of 5 Hilary Forbes – May 24, 2018
I could not put this book down. I totally recommend it. Not only does it give a a different perspective of the first Enigma Code breakers, but also a stark and deeply moving account of how war invades and changes lives forever, bringing fear, torment, a stripping of all freedoms except the inner worlds we each can choose to inhabit – one such is to hang on to even the tiniest sliver of hope. This book caused me to reflect more deeply again on what my own father must have endured out in Burma during WW2. A different setting from this book but his descriptions of how people treated people so similar to those I’ve read in this book, albeit a fictional account, truth resonates throughout every page. So many unknown heros, let us never forget.
Rated 5out of 5 Grahamd – May 24, 2018
After a lifetime of being a voracious book reader, following a couple of heart attacks I lost all motivation to read! I still *bought* books, but somehow never got round to reading them! The Cypher Bureau has changed that – the first book I have read cover to cover in many years. It is a well written, fast moving tale tracing the cracking of the Enigma machines developed by the Germans in the 1930’s and deemed to be unbreakable. It was used by the Nazis throughout World War Two. For Brits, the story is that the Enigma Code was cracked at Bletchley Park, with Alan Turing leading the fight. Until recently there has been little or no mention of the roles played by both the French and the Polish cryptographers. Cracking the code – and more importantly, keeping the fact that it was broken saved very many lives since the Enigma machines were used to code important commands to U-Boats and others. Having fore knowledge was vital to the war effort. This is the root of the story – the sacrifices of a small team (and their families) which without doubt changed the putcome of the war. Extraordinarily, the secret that the code had been cracked was maintained until long after the war ended and even now the Polish and French contributons have had little recognition. That may sound a bit dry – but this book captures both the drama and the suffering involved – and the treachery of the Allies when World War Two finally reached its end and the sacrifice of Poland to appease the USSR. Thank you Eilidh Mcginness for an excellent read – and for re-vitalising my reading appetite!!!
Rated 5out of 5 Alexander Wordsmith – May 24, 2018
I was gripped from the first page! Actually I was really taken by the textured cover. The author mixes fact with fiction in the telling of this episode of history, and although I knew a bit about Alan Turing I was unaware of the influence of the Poles in cracking the Enigma code. The early years of the ‘hero’ Marian Rejewski are covered, but briefly so that the reader can quickly progress to the heart of the story, whilst still giving the context of impending war. Expertly told, and one of those books that makes you want to read ‘just one more chapter’ before putting it down. Highly recommended.
Rated 5out of 5 Ann Fraser – May 24, 2018
Absolutely fascinating aspect of the whole Enigma story. I do not think we, in the West, appreciate the oppression Polish people had to live with until relatively modern times. This book captures the atmosphere and fear of the time. I do hope the characters in this book and their contribution will be given more recognition as the facts become more widely known. Altogether an enjoyable and interesting read.
Rated 5out of 5 B. F. Orme – May 24, 2018
In the beginning I felt as though I was reading a text book/non-fiction but as soon as I got into it I enjoyed it more and more and more. It is well written, it tells a very good story and fiction aside, it is very interesting and informative from an historical perspective. It was refreshing and meaningful and it also was a much needed reminder in some quarters as to the role played and the sacrifices made by Poland and France as well as Great Britain and the USA in bringing about peace in respect of WW2. I shall look forward to reading the next book by Eilidh McGinnes.
Rated 5out of 5 David M Edes – May 24, 2018
A really interesting insight into the work done by Polish code breakers on the enigma machine
Rated 5out of 5 Skidude – May 24, 2018
I really enjoyed this book. The authors style is very easy to read, the story was chronological and flowed really well, it was easy to remember the characters and follow the plot. There was no over sensationalism, it was very matter of fact. It was a very engaging book, I kept wanting to carry on reading to find out what happened next. It was very interesting to learn more about a piece if history which I was only partially aware of. I really liked the last section updating on what became of everyone.
Rated 5out of 5 Helen Sawyer – May 24, 2018
A great work of fiction based around revelatory facts. I’d always understood that Alan Turing and Bletchley took all the credit for cracking Enigma, but the Poles clearly were doing it 8 years before. I loved the characters and sequencing and the story really rolled along with great tension. The Epilogue added to the validation of the facts of the story. Entertaining and taught me something.
Rated 5out of 5 Mrs C M Archer – May 24, 2018
Thoroughly enjoyed this book. Interesting and engaging. I never knew about the Polish and French involvement before. It evoked the human side of the war years and the many unsung quiet heroes there were. Really felt for their poor families who really hadn’t a clue what had happened to them. Showed both the best and the worst of human enterprise.