Recommended reading: “The Code-Breakers: the comprehensive history of secret communication from ancient times to the internet”

Image of Prof. Chuck Costarella with a cover image of his recommended book, "The Code Breakers"
Image courtesy of Chuck Costarella

The late 60s and early 70s were a very turbulent time in American politics and culture. I was 12 years old in 1970 and my impressions of that time are indelible: the war in Vietnam, Armstrong walking on the moon, Watergate, and various riots in American cities. These affairs were all extremely tangible and you would watch them on TV. What was not as tangible was the ongoing dread and slow “burn” of the Cold War. You would see news items once in a while, a nuclear test here, a treaty meeting there, posturing, threats, an occasional missile test off the California coast, the contrails clearly visible in the evening sky from where I lived hundreds of miles away. I grew up in the California desert, in the shadow of Edwards Air Force Base, where the war planes and other weapons of that war, were it ever necessary to fight it, were made and developed and flown overhead constantly.

I was probably a geek, although we didn’t use that word back then. I liked math, electronics, and hand held calculators, and I loved spy stuff, and when I came across David Kahn’s “The Codebreakers” sometime in the early 1970s during one of those long hot summers, I remember reading through it in just a few days, including at least one all-nighter. I kept checking it out of the public library every few months for the next couple of years, but never owned my own copy. It was fascinating to me how something so modern as technology had its roots and development laid out in a long traceable historical timeline that stretched back likely to the beginnings of civilization, where that fundamental human desire for security rested on the science of secrecy. And it still does.

Today my work is to teach students about how computer networks work, about how to issue instructions to various machines, and how to keep those machines and the information they hold and transmit back and forth to each other, secure. I couldn’t think of a better book to request from the UW Library for my recommended title.

Charles Costarella, MSCSS
School of Engineering & Technology
Promoted to Senior Lecturer, Spring 2019

Find The Code Breakers in the Library

Meaningful reads is a recommended book series commemorating the promotion and tenure of faculty at the University of Washington Tacoma. Beginning with the 2017-2018 academic year, newly promoted or tenured faculty are invited to share a book with thoughts on why the book was meaningful to their career or life.

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