I have to change my password again. Every few months my laptop reminds me and shuts down until I comply. Is the little piece of artificial intelligence more forward-looking than I am or just more paranoid? And again I search my brain for a combination of characters that is too complicated for hackers and at the same time simple enough for my memory.
This is not a modern challenge. People have been encrypting messages and documents for thousands of years; and others have been trying to decipher carefully protected content for just as long. Stephen Pincock and Mark Frary trace this history from Egyptian hieroglyphs to quantum cryptography in their astonishing and extremely exciting volume "Encrypted".
The book by the two of them is astonishing because it invites interested laypeople not only to get to know the development of increasingly sophisticated methods, but also to understand and try them out for themselves. The reviewer enjoyed delving into transposition ciphers and homophonic encryption (the latter, according to Wikipedia, is a cryptographic improvement on simple monoalphabetic substitution procedures) and finally understood what Schrödinger's cat is all about and how one can be in two places at the same time. With examples from art, music, history and the military from the Kama Sutra to the Rosslyn Chapel and sacred codes, Edgar Allen Poe's riddle texts and Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations to the Navajo code and the end-to-end encryption of Web 2.0, the Authors an area that we all deal with every day and about which we know very little. They introduce creative, persistent and sharp minds who have shaped our communication behavior and made history behind the scenes. The structure of the book, which repeatedly illustrates and supplements the ongoing description with representations of the codes, exciting examples and portraits, makes it very varied to read. This is supported by a very beautiful layout with rich illustrations - a special art of Haupt Verlag, which makes its non-fiction books a delightful reading experience.
Of course, the methods become more complicated over the centuries and the chapters, and I'm willing to admit that I couldn't recalculate the last examples and would have liked a few more pages to explain them. However, this did not detract from the overall reading pleasure. With the short excursion across centuries and continents, individual knowledge and events were linked in my head to provide a look behind the scenes of an important part of our communication. And while I'm trying to construct my new password in a sophisticated and practical enough way without tricking myself, I'll definitely get the novel "Little Brother" by Cory Doctorow, featured in the preview of the book, as winter reading.
As such, the volume by Stephen Pincock and Mark Frary is highly recommended to anyone who is curious. “Encrypted” is an entertaining and educational read that offers material for conversation, reading aloud and further thinking. Just the thing for our chaotic times when it comes to communication.
This article contains so-called affiliate links. Further information are available here.