The Man Who Broke Napoleon's Code

The Man Who Broke Napoleon's Code

Book - 2002
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Colorful period detail, a fast-paced narrative in the tradition of Longitude, the thrill of clashing armies, challenging puzzles, and the personal struggle of a long-forgotten hero make The Man Who Broke Napoleon's Codes a gripping--and brain-teasing--reading adventure. photo insert. 7 maps.
Publisher: New York : HarperCollins Publishers, 2002, c2001.
ISBN: 9780060188917
006018891X
Branch Call Number: 940.2742 Urb 3701 1
Characteristics: xix, 348 pages : illustrations, maps.

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Dec 13, 2010

Perhaps those of us who have watched more than our fair share of 007 or spy thrillers in the past may be a little surprised to learn that espionage has long been a staple of peace and war in the relations among nations. As important as the spying out of information itself has always been the problem of how to get this information back to those who paid to have it collected. And this too has always posed its own problems.
Mark Urban's book "The Man Who Broke Napoleon's Code" deals precisely with this problem. Napoleon's war on Europe occurred before the age of electricity and electronics; before microfiches and the internet; before sattelite communications and a host of other modern gagets that make communications swift if not secure.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century information was commonly sent by couriers who had either memorized the information they were to pass on or in written form. We might also mention carrier pigeons, flags, semaphore, bottles --- but these had their specific disadvantages and never played any significant role in the transmission of information.
Couriers one horseback or on foot were limited in how far and how fastg they could go and, more importantly, they could be intercepted. A message could be found upon a thorough search, a memorized message could be extracted through the use of torture, if need be. To avaoid the possibility that the message might fall into the wrong hands, these letters could not be sent en clair: varous types of codes were devised by all the belligerants to protect the interception of their mail. This, of course, gave rise to the business of decoding thde enemy's coded messages.
Mark Urban's book is about the work done my a member of Wellington's staff, George Scovell, to do just that. Working for Wellington during he Iberian was Scovell makes Wellington's victories possible by providing him with timely information about the en emy's troop movements, status of his troops and the squabbling among the leaders of Napoleon's troops in Spain.
In doing this the book places Scovell's work in the contecy of the larger war going on in Spain during a time when Napoleon would like to roll up hostilities here in order to focus on his next arena of conflicts, Poland.
Those of us who are avid followers of the adventures of Bernard Cornwell's fictitious character Richard Sharpe will find Salamanca, Father Patrick Curtis, Badajoz, Ciudad Rodrigo familiar names --- they all figure as part of the set on which Scovell honed his skills.
A fascinating book with a unique view of one aspect of warfare as practiced by Napoleon and his English counterparts and the efforts of keeping information safe from the enemy.

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