No doubt, encryption has made its way to your water cooler conversations lately, thanks in large part to the Apple v FBI case. But are you feeling a little behind in your talking points? Well, you’re in luck. We’ve put togetheran encryption-themed book list, just for you. No matter what kind of books you enjoy, we’ve got you covered. Put down your phone, pick up one of these books and get up to speed on encryption.
By Simon Singh
Get the historical background on codes, symbols, ciphers and the practices of codemaking and codebreaking from Simon Singh’s The Code Book. Singh weaves historical tales of intrigue, actual ciphers, encrypted messages, puzzles and technical explanations throughout the book that all combine to tell the the history of cryptology. All in all, The Code Book is a well-researched, enjoyable read to learn how encryption techniques have been used throughout history.
Genre: Young Adult
By Cory Doctorow
It’s not about doing something shameful. It’s about doing something private. It’s about your life belonging to you.
Open source advocate and co-editor at Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow writes about surveillance, encryption, privacy, security and freedom in his award-winning dystopian novel entitled Little Brother. With a smart, edgy 17-year-old hacker protagonist (the kind we all imagined ourselves to be), the book is geared toward the young adult audience, but don’t let that stop you from reading it if you’re a full-on adult. Doctorow doesn’t hold back from telling us what could happen if we turn a blind eye to the erosion of our civil and digital rights. He also, naturally, has made Little Brother and its sequel Homeland available for free digital downloading, sharing and remixing from his website. Get on it.
By Mair Russell-Jones
During WWII, some 10,000 people toiled day and night at England’s Bletchley Park, working to decipher the German’s coded communications. Little known fact: more than half of the people deployed there were women, and Mair Russell-Jones was one of them. Recruited from her university studies of music and German, Russell-Jones joined “the Foreign Office,” working in secrecy to crack the Germans’ codes. She put that secret on lock for more than 50 years. Her memoir, My Secret Life in Hut Six, chronicles what it was like to be one of the Bletchley Park codebreakers.
Genre: Beach Book
By Dan Brown
NSA stands for No Such Agency.
Before he penned the bestseller The DaVinci Code, Dan Brown wrote Digital Fortress, a “techno-thriller” novel about the NSA’s Cryptography Division. When a disgruntled employee learns that the agency is able to read any and every email communication, he quits and takes the key with him, threatening to release it to the public. (Shades of Snowden?) Digital Fortress is the kind of book you’ll find gathering dust on the shelf of your cousin’s beach house in between volumes of Barbara Kingsolver and Stephen King, which is to say that it’s not a bad choice for an encryption-themed vacation page-turner, just make sure you’re able to separate fact from fiction.
Genre: Science Fiction
By Neal Stephenson
Every time we talk about encryption in books, someone always says, “Have you read Cryptonomicon?” The story toggles between two time periods, with characters (including some historical figures like Alan Turing) from the World War II era at Bletchley Park who are working to crack the Nazi’s Enigma Code and their fictional descendants in the late 1990s U.S. who are trying to start an offshore encrypted data haven complete with their own digital currency. This book is lauded by crypto-geeks, and it’s a tome, to be sure. At 1,139 pages, it’ll still take you less time to read Cryptonomicon than it will to mine a Bitcoin.
Genre: American History
By Brian Kilmeade and Don Yeager
With false maps, untrue battle plans and plenty of disinformation, the players in the American Revolution were early adopters of FUD. This book shows how it was done by the secretive Culper Ring, a group of civilians who used ciphers, codes and encryption to convey information to General George Washington about the British Army’s activities as it occupied New York City. The Culper Ring’s messages helped Washington thwart the British plans, which ultimately led to his victory and the birth of a nation. NBD. The book is a speedy read, definitely not highbrow material, as most of it is a fictionalized account of what historians believe occurred.
By Bruce Schneier
Written by renowned digital security and crypto expert, Bruce Schneier, Data and Goliath is essential post-Snowden reading for anyone looking to be knowledgeable on today’s digital privacy issues. Schneier digs into the cost of government and corporate surveillance of our online lives. In the quest for so-called protection and convenience, Schneier asks us to consider: Have we given up more than we’ve gained?
After reading any of these books, you might conclude that your personal privacy and digital security shouldn’t be written off as fiction or into the history books. We couldn’t agree more. Learn more about why encryption is key to a strong Web, why it’s worth protecting and what you can do about it.
These seven titles are a start, but this list is far from exhaustive. Let us know what you’d recommend adding.