This is the first popular book about the history of modern cryptology. It tells many readable stories of the last 25 years of cryptography -- from Whit Diffie's personal adventure to search for knowledge about encryption, the story behind the invention of RSA at MIT, the battle over export control and missed business opportunities, the clipper chip saga, to the advent of cryptography for everyone with PGP and Netscape.
Its journalistic style will it make an easy read for your friend that was always wondering what you did, and the stories always focus on the characters and persons behind the developments. (But your friend will not know more about cryptology afterwards.)
Unfortunately, the author weaves these stories together in a plot about the fight of the "crypto rebels" to "free" cryptography from the government and N.S.A. monopoly. There are a bit too many details about U.S. politics, and the book misses a global perspective althogether. The only exception is its valuable insight into the parallel invention of public-key cryptography at the British GCHQ.
Levy's book comes timely for this plot, about one year after the general U.S. export restrictions have been relieved. But despite its focus on North-American national politics, he barely mentions the recent AES development process. This is a pity because it would have added another interesting twist to this story and shown the U.S. government from a different perspective, after it has recognized the importance of open scientific review.
-- Christian Cachin
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