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Old 10-15-2020, 12:28 AM   #1
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The Secret Life of Bletchley Park by Sinclair McKay

It's time to discuss our book for October, 2020 -- The Secret Life of Bletchley Park by Sinclair McKay



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Bletchley Park was where one of the war's most famous and crucial achievements was made: the cracking of Germany's Enigma code in which its most important military communications were couched. This country house was home to Britain's most brilliant mathematical brains, like Alan Turing, and the scene of immense advances in technology—indeed, the birth of modern computing. The military codes deciphered there were instrumental in turning both the Battle of the Atlantic and the war in North Africa. But, though plenty has been written about the scientists and the codebreaking, fictional and non-fiction—from Robert Harris and Ian McEwan to Andrew Hodges' biography of Turing—what of the thousands of men and women who lived and worked there during the war? The first history for the general reader of life at Bletchley Park, this is also an amazing compendium of memories from people now in their eighties of skating on the frozen lake in the grounds (a depressed Angus Wilson, the novelist, once threw himself in), of a youthful Roy Jenkins—useless at codebreaking, of the high jinks at nearby accommodation hostels, and of the implacable secrecy that meant girlfriend and boyfriend working in adjacent huts knew nothing about each other's work.
So, what did everyone think?

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Old 10-15-2020, 12:30 AM   #2
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FYI, I'm still waiting for this book from either of my libraries, so I might be a bit late to the party. I'll be avoiding this thread for a week or so (book should be available by the weekend, if I've read the Overdrive tea leaves accurately.)
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Old 10-15-2020, 07:31 AM   #3
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For those inclined - Melvin Bragg's excellent programme for the BBC In Our Time featured Alan Turing this week. You can listen to or download the episode HERE.
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Old 10-15-2020, 12:15 PM   #4
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For those inclined - Melvin Bragg's excellent programme for the BBC In Our Time featured Alan Turing this week. You can listen to or download the episode HERE.
Thanks for that information!

I really enjoyed this book.
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Old 10-15-2020, 01:51 PM   #5
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Did anyone else have the set of The Imitation Game visualized while they read this book? I think that made it a more interesting book for me. Excellent movie about Alan Turing if you have not seen it.
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Old 10-15-2020, 02:30 PM   #6
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Did anyone else have the set of The Imitation Game visualized while they read this book? I think that made it a more interesting book for me. Excellent movie about Alan Turing if you have not seen it.
I too was thinking of the movie. I've have seen it. I may give it another go as it's available for me to watch.
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Old 10-15-2020, 03:40 PM   #7
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Here are some links to supplemental information fur further reading about codebreaking and WWII, including articles about some of the people mentioned in the book.
https://www.gchq.gov.uk/section/advi...tart=0&rows=20
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Old 10-16-2020, 03:09 PM   #8
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For those inclined - Melvin Bragg's excellent programme for the BBC In Our Time featured Alan Turing this week. You can listen to or download the episode HERE.
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Did anyone else have the set of The Imitation Game visualized while they read this book? I think that made it a more interesting book for me. Excellent movie about Alan Turing if you have not seen it.
Like FantasyFan, I’m really enjoying this book too! I’ve been reading it for two weeks, but still haven’t finished. I seem to pause every few paragraphs to look up the people and events it’s describing. I don’t want to rush because it’s turned into such a rich resource re: Britain, WWII ships & battles, mathematics, computers, Japan, Germany etc.

astrangerher thanks for the great link! I’m really looking forward to listening to the Turning episode, and exploring the others. What a goldmine.

Bookworm_Girl thank you very much for the movie reference! I can’t wait to see it, and plan to rent it this weekend.
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Old 10-16-2020, 05:05 PM   #9
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Like FantasyFan, I’m really enjoying this book too! I’ve been reading it for two weeks, but still haven’t finished. I seem to pause every few paragraphs to look up the people and events it’s describing. I don’t want to rush because it’s turned into such a rich resource re: Britain, WWII ships & battles, mathematics, computers, Japan, Germany etc.

astrangerher thanks for the great link! I’m really looking forward to listening to the Turning episode, and exploring the others. What a goldmine.

Bookworm_Girl thank you very much for the movie reference! I can’t wait to see it, and plan to rent it this weekend.
It covered a much broader geographical area and timeline than I was expecting. I also went slow. I checked it out of the library twice. I also flipped to the photos at the back about halfway through. Some of my favorite bits were the quoted letters and interviews with the people.
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Old 10-16-2020, 05:19 PM   #10
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The book mentions a fiction thriller Enigma by Robert Harris which sounded interesting. I just discovered that it was made into a movie in 2001 and starred Kate Winslet, Saffron Burrows and Dougray Scott.
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Old 10-18-2020, 11:19 AM   #11
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As I was reading I noticed a reference to an expert Chess player, Hugh Alexander. I wondered if that was C. H. O’D Alexander who was an International Master player and twice British Chess champion. And it was indeed he. Alexander was born in Cork, Ireland in 1909. He wrote under the name given above (The O’D stood for O’Donel) and he did generally go by Hugh Alexander (His full name was Conal Hugh O’Donel Alexander).

He isn’t given all that much time in the book other than that the ladies considered him a “blonde bombshell” but he was a very significant figure in Bletchley and a close associate of Alan Turing. After the war he became head of the British Cryptanalysis Section until he retired. He died in 1974.

As a chess player Alexander was very impressive. He won games against several Chess Grandmasters including one against Botvinnik in 1946. Two years later Botvinnik won the world championship after Alekhine’s death (Botvinnik almost certainly would have beaten Alekhine.) Alexander was never able to become a Grandmaster as his Government job prevented him from travelling to important tournaments—especially those in Russia. But then Chess was basically an avocation.

I do have one of the last books he wrote before his death. A Book of Chess Published by Hutchinson & Co, London (1973) is exactly that. It covers the nature of Chess and it’s history and development in the first two chapters and in the final three, “Chess for blood”, “Chess for fun”, and “The Iconography of Chess”.

I wonder if Hugh Alexander ran some sort of Chess club at Bletchley.

Last edited by fantasyfan; 10-18-2020 at 04:35 PM.
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Old 10-18-2020, 03:19 PM   #12
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OK, I'm still carefully avoiding spoilers, but at least I now have a copy on my Kindle, and it's moved right to the top of my TBR. Back soon -- I'm actually quite looking forward to this book.
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Old 10-19-2020, 10:36 AM   #13
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As I was reading I noticed a reference to an expert Chess player, Hugh Alexander. I wondered if that was C. H. O’D Alexander who was an International Master player and twice British Chess champion. And it was indeed he. Alexander was born in Cork, Ireland in 1909. He wrote under the name given above (The O’D stood for O’Donel) and he did generally go by Hugh Alexander (His full name was Conal Hugh O’Donel Alexander).”. .......

I wonder if Hugh Alexander ran some sort of Chess club at Bletchley.
fantasyfan I was curious about your question, so did a little searching, and found an article about chess at Bletchley. Apparently, they had a very impressive club, that won achampionship.

From http://billwall.phpwebhosting.com/ar...debreakers.htm

”On December 2, 1944, there was a 12-board chess match between the Oxford University Chess Club and the Bletchley Chess Club. The Bletchley team won, scoring 8-4. For Bletchley, board 1 was Alexander, board 2 was Golombek, board 3 was Aitken, board 4 was Good, board 5 was Perkins, board 6 was Sgt Jacobs, board 7 was Sgt Gilbert, board 8 was Arthur Chamberlain, board 9 was Peter Hilton, board 10 was W.R. Cox, board 11 was D. Rees, and board 12 was Lt. Art Levenson.”

It’s an interesting article. I knew the British actively recruited chess players, but didn’t realize they had the crème de la crème.

Last edited by Victoria; 10-19-2020 at 10:46 AM.
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Old 10-19-2020, 02:27 PM   #14
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fantasyfan I was curious about your question, so did a little searching, and found an article about chess at Bletchley. Apparently, they had a very impressive club, that won achampionship.

From http://billwall.phpwebhosting.com/ar...debreakers.htm

”On December 2, 1944, there was a 12-board chess match between the Oxford University Chess Club and the Bletchley Chess Club. The Bletchley team won, scoring 8-4. For Bletchley, board 1 was Alexander, board 2 was Golombek, board 3 was Aitken, board 4 was Good, board 5 was Perkins, board 6 was Sgt Jacobs, board 7 was Sgt Gilbert, board 8 was Arthur Chamberlain, board 9 was Peter Hilton, board 10 was W.R. Cox, board 11 was D. Rees, and board 12 was Lt. Art Levenson.”

It’s an interesting article. I knew the British actively recruited chess players, but didn’t realize they had the crème de la crème.
Thank you for that article. Clearly it answers my question—in Spades! I recognised Golombek in the list. I have his annotations of the famous Spassky—Fischer match in Iceland. He also wrote a good book on opening play among others. I didn’t realise he was involved In Bletchley. From the article it would appear that the team was incredibly high-powered.

Last edited by fantasyfan; 10-19-2020 at 02:29 PM.
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Old 10-21-2020, 09:26 AM   #15
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The audiobook is read by Gordon Griffin who does an excellent job throughout.
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