"The Reader of Gentlemen's Mail", by David Kahn

Steven M. Bellovin smb at cs.columbia.edu
Sun Jan 9 18:55:44 PST 2005

In message < at pop.idiom.com>, Bill Stewart writ
>My wife was channel-surfing and ran across David Kahn talking about his 
>recent book
>"The Reader of Gentlemen's Mail: Herbert O. Yardley and the Birth of 
>American Codebreaking".
>ISBN 0300098464 , Yale University Press, March 2004
>Amazon's page has a couple of good detailed reviews

I have the book.  For the student of the history of cryptography, it's 
worth reading.  For the less dedicated, it's less worthwhile.  It's not 
"The Codebreakers"; it's not "The Code Book"; other than the title 
quote (and I assume most readers of this list know the story behind 
it), there are no major historical insights.

The most important insight, other than Yardley's personality, is what 
he was and wasn't as a cryptanalyst.  The capsule summary is that he 
was *not* a cryptanalytic superstar.  In that, he was in no way a peer 
of or a competitor to Friedman.  His primary ability was as a manager 
and entrepreneur -- he could sell the notion of a Black Chamber (with 
the notorious exception of his failure with Stimson), and he could 
recruit good (but not always great) people.  But he never adapted 
technically.  His forte was codes -- he know how to create them and how 
to crack them.  But the world's cryptanalytic services were also 
learning how to crack them with great regularity; that, as much as 
greater ease of use, was behind the widespread adoption of machine 
cryptography (Enigma, M-209, Typex, Purple, etc.) during the interwar
period.  Yardley never adapted and hence he (and his organizations) 
became technologically obsolete.

One of the reviews on Amazon.com noted skeptically Kahn's claim that 
Friedman was jealous of Yardley's success with women.  I have no idea 
if that's true, though moralistic revulsion may be closer.  But I 
wonder if the root of the personal antagonism may be more that of the 
technocrat for the manager...

		--Prof. Steven M. Bellovin, http://www.cs.columbia.edu/~smb

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