Life, Fiber, Books and All

{November 24, 2008}   “Between Silk and Cyanide” A book reveiw

“Between Silk and Cyanide”

Leo Marks

I have been reading the book for a while now. Its hefty and long and about 620+ pages. The middle has several glossy sheets with black and white photo’s, of both him and a few others, and codes. The pages are semi-thick. Not thin enought to see through, and not coloring paper thick. The print is easy to read, and the type DOES NOT SMUDGE!!!!!!!!!!! (Yes, that makes me immensly happy. I read text books alot lately and they smudge terrible, to the point of becoming illegible).

It is written in the first person, as himself (aka, Leo Marks). He writes about his experiences during the second World War as head of communications in SOE (Special Operations Executive). He started the book with how he got into cryptology, and an admittance that he has only told one person why he REALLY wanted to work with codes.

He trained somewhere (sorry, can’t remember where now, and I don’t feel like getting the book) and was considered decidedly NOT promising. To the point that he was never introduced to the brilliant code maker incharge of operations at the OTHER British service during the war (I blieve it was MI-5).

After he interveiwed with SOE he is put in a room to decode a code. After 20 minutes the man who interveiwed him looks in, and is surprised he isn’t close to done. He looks in 1or 2 more times and then gives up. After Leo finishes decoding it (many hours) he brings it to the mans office. The man remarks that one of his girls could have done it in 20 minutes. As Leo is leaving the man asks where the key is. Leo tells him that he never gave him a key. Suddenly he is hired and the code (which until that time was an active code, used in the field) is tossed aside. If one young man can break it then certainly the enemy could as well. Marks finds himself not only hired, but put incharge of SOE code department (or something liek that)

It gets more entangled and more interesting. And I defintily find that my reading of Kim Philby’s autobiography “My Silent War” has added to my understanding and appreciation of this book. I wish I knew more of the English history of that time period as I defintily think that would also add to the book.

Leo Marks focuses alot on his struggle to come up with better codes for agents (who used Peom codes when he started in SOE), and better ways for the codes to be used. So, instead of carrying a poem around inside your head and transposing and configuring the code for every single message the agents would have “silks” with codes written on them. The codes would be used one time, then cut off and burned. Thus it would “greatly” decrease the amount of coding mistakes, and pretty much do away with the need for security checks. Which apparently most agents forgot about or miffed in some way. The new “silks” would also “do away” with the indiciferables. Messeges that have been miffed or “hatted” or messed up in some way so that it can not be decifered.

So far he has also focused on the Dutch and the Dutch agents. He beleives that at least one of those agents has been captured by the Germans, and works very hard to prove this. However, only after he has sent an indeciferable, which only a trained cryptologist could break, does he realize that he should be doing two things. Proving to his superiors that the Dutch agents have been compromised (which he was already trying to do), but not alerting the Germans that he knows the agent has been compromised, thus extending his life expectancy.

And well, I’m not even half way through.

Its a very good book, and for anyone interested in codes I highly recomend it. It goes into some detail, even explaining how to break one type of code. It isn’t really an espianoge book, which was what I had bought it hoping it was. But its very good. Kim Philby’s “My Silent War” was more an espianage book. It detailed what he did and how and the troubles he faced. And was very dull,  and long. At the same time being a very tiny book.

“Between Silk and Cyanide” is a much shorter read, a much longer book. Its more interesting, more and elss technical. Kim Philby goes into names and addresses and all sorts of bits, while Leo Marks goes into how and why. Kim was very philisophical and almost “above” his readers while Leo is right there beside you. Very human and a bit humorous.

I really look forward to seeing how the books progresses. And defintily beleive that he won’t keep his word to just deal with codes and forget all about the Dutch and the meaning of hte messages he decodes. If he does keep his word I suspect the book will become duller.

On another note, Tanksgiving Day in the USA is coming up. My parents are having some of their freinds over. So we will have a full house. I suspect I will grab my mac and cheese (standard holiday fare for me) and hibernate by the computer. I really hate seeing them eat all that meat, it looks and smells bad to me. But hey, thats vegetarian for you.

On an entirly different note I have another new weird bit. I have taken to finger spelling in ASL (american sign language) words. Any words I think of, hear, see, read, anything. Now I am trying very hard not to spell out these sentences. Its very odd, and alot liek resaying sentences inside my head, again and again and again.

At first it was kind of cool, just practicing finger spelling, something I’m pretty bad at (hey! To fingerspell you need to know how to SPELL the word). but now its more then annoying. And its soooo hard to stop myself.

Link to “Between Silk and Cyanide”

And “My silent War”

Sleep well all, and wish me luck. More and more and more mathmatics tomarrow! (save me! I am drowning!!!!!!)




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