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Between silk and Cyanide

Between silk and Cyanide

Illus. with photos,Leo Marks
PDF book size:
1935 kb
ePub book size:
1774 kb
Fb2 book size:
1995 kb
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4.5 of 5
Free Press; 1st edition (1998)
Shipped from UK, please allow 10 to 21 business days for arrival. Very Good, A very good, near fine copy in black cloth boards, gilt title on spine with a very good dust jacket. DJ has slight curl to upper edge but otherwise fine. Leo Marks. 613 p., 8 pages of plates, ill., ports.
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7 Reviews
  • An amazing true story of British code breakers during WWII, the agents in the field, and the people in between - those who trained and debriefed them; specifically one of those last, the author Leo Marks. Silk refers to the material used for recording key information that agents carried, and cyanide to the suicide pills that all agents carried with them. The story is by turns very funny, terrifying and tragic. Long before reading this book, I had known a Japanese man whose job during the last part of WWII was radio operator for the kamikaze pilots. His was the last voice the pilots heard before they died, and he heard the last words of many, many brave young men. Yet he was full of life, he loved life and though he had known great sadness, he did not wallow in it or let it defeat him. Nor did he sweep it under the rug and forget about it. Leo Marks exhibits much the same attitude and character in this autobiographical book. Trivia bonus - the author was the son of a bookstore owner who had his own interesting story, a story that was told in the book (and movie) "84 Charing Cross Road".

  • I have a very low tolerance for bad books and a very high standard for good ones. I will put one down if I am bored or fed up or annoyed. I am also an editor, and so I notice every single bad thing in this book.

    I got this book out of the library on a Friday, read it until midnight, picked it up on Saturday and didn't put it down until I was done, and ordered my own copy on Sunday. It was that good.

    Style: Marks has a unique and, frankly, hilarious style. His sentences are full of word plays and other jokes -- including both groan-worthy puns, a deeply clever internal monologue, and a frank and humorous assessment of not only himself but also the people he met throughout his travels. I've read in other code/cipher related books that cryptographers and cryptanalysts are prone to this sort of word play; here is evidence of the truth of that!

    Information: I had previously read two books about cryptanalysis, one which touched on WWII, so I had some background going in. However, Marks's emphasis is very unlike what I'd read about before. I was, however, never confused. He didn't spoon feed the reader, and sometimes I had to keep reading for a page or two to see where he was going, but he did provide the necessary foundation to the uninitiated. Not only did I learn an immense amount about both code-and-cipher making and breaking, I also got a real feel for the environment of the time. Not only do I *know*, I also now *understand*.

    Readability: as mentioned above, I'm immensely picky. That being said, I can plow through thick, dense tomes when need be. There wasn't the need. This read as easily, if not quite as quickly, as fiction. I was completely absorbed through it, frequently excited, sometimes tense, often amused, and invariably pleased with the smoothness (and well-editedness) of the prose.

    Characters: remarkably well drawn. Marks doesn't use this book to try to make himself look good. He admits his faults, openly acknowledges when he acted inappropriately, and shows us conversations in dialogue -- even when they are unflattering to him. He shows the good and bad of himself and of those around him. Better still, he manages to present the people he disliked not as evil because they disagreed with him, but simply as people who had different ideals and didn't happen to get along with him. This was vastly refreshing.

    Length and content: I've seen it mentioned in other reviews that some of the content, such as the historical content, could have been cut. Well, maybe if you know a whole lot about the topic. I didn't. I really needed all of that information -- and moreover, I found it extremely interesting. Remarkably in a book for this length (I think it took me about 8 hours to read, I think. I'm a pretty but not ultra fast reader, but non-fiction always takes me about twice as long as fiction), I never found myself bored, nor did I find my attention wandering. Apparently, I was spoken to several times and never noticed. I'm a fan of cutting when necessary, but I think this book would have suffered greatly from it. I'm not saying I think it should be longer, but I do think it was the right length.

    Well, the five stars says it all, doesn't it? I would, without hesitation, recommend this book not only as an excellent introduction or supplement to anyone interested in codes . . . but also just anyone who wants a really excellent read.

  • This book is both an excellent war memoir of a brilliant young man occupying a vital intelligence position during wartime and also a very enjoyable read. I have read many war memoirs from World War II, and the only one superior to this is George McDonald Fraser's magnificent and epic Quartered Safe Out Here...and, frankly, that's an absolutely impossible standard to match. BS&C is funny and is full of stories of real-life heroes who voluntarily risked their lives behind German lines - and sometimes lost them - as they helped to free Europe. Final note: if you can read BS&C without your eyes watering up with tears at several places, you're not human.

  • WW2 and the British are at war, alone. CHURCHILL orders the newly formed SOE "to set Europe ablaze." Agents are sent to every occupied country. WT (Wireless Transmitters) go along to transmit the Agent's encoded messages. Twenty year old Leo Marks joins the SOE to look after the agent's message traffic and immediately discovers the agents are using a code any cryptologist could break in an afternoon, without modern computers. The Free French government in exile is also using a simple code. Unable to convince the SOE leadership that they are compromising agent's lives, the SOE continues using the unsecure code until D-Day when they finally switch to a new coding system developed by Leo Marks. His book reads like a daily journal with the success and failures of the British Secret Service.
    A Darn Good Book. Authentic history. And Leo Marks' father owns and operates the book store at 84 Charring Road, London. Sound Familiar. Number 84 is a famous address and the subject of other movies and books and is where young Leo first broke his first Cryptic Code
    at the age of 8.

    Historic, not fiction.

    Enjoy. I did.

  • Although a personal account of Leo Marks time in SOE, it can also be viewed as an expose' of the all too often serious bungling and outright self deception rampant in SOE's upper management. In consequence many very brave men and women needlessly met their end at the hands of the Nazis. There was a concerted effort, immedialty after the war, to cover up the worst of the public school boy idiocy that cost so many SOE operatives their lives, this book helps restore the balance. It reminds us of the incredible bravery of those SOE operatives, so many of whom paid the ultimate price, often in the most unspeakable and inhumane conditions.
    I thought it well written and highly informative. Although Marks humor has recieved some criticism from other reviewers I found it most often quite witty, and I must admit to a certain admiration of those who can under enormous stress, relieve the the tension with a little gallows humor.
    Very highly recommended.