Prisoners, Lovers, and Spies: The Story of Invisible Ink from Herodotus to al-Qaeda

Prisoners, Lovers, and Spies: The Story of Invisible Ink from Herodotus to al-Qaeda

by Kristie Macrakis

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The first history of invisible ink revealed through thrilling stories about scoundrels and heroes and their ingenious methods for concealing messages.  See more details below


The first history of invisible ink revealed through thrilling stories about scoundrels and heroes and their ingenious methods for concealing messages.

Editorial Reviews

H Keith Melton
"For every person who experimented with secret inks in our youth, at last we have a splendidly written history of how these inks were developed and the role they played in history. As a bonus, in the Appendix is a useful guide to secret inks and 'kitchen chemistry experiments,' where the reader will find the secret formulas and instructions needed to make your messages disappear... and appear again! I enthusiastically recommend this book!"—H. Keith Melton, coauthor (with Robert Wallace) of Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA's Spytechs, from Communism to al-Qaeda
Allen Hornblum
Prisoners, Lovers, and Spies is a thorough and interesting historical look at the origin and evolution of 'secret' or 'invisible' writing. The book is written in a very reader friendly, accessible style, making it suitable for a broad audience. The brief historical vignettes of individuals such as Kurt Frederick Ludwig and Madame Maria de Victorica and their use of invisible ink are light, breezy, and easily digested."—Allen Hornblum, author of Acres of Skin and The Invisible Harry Gold
David Kahn
“Kristie Macrakis here reveals long-hidden secrets of invisible ink, microdots, and other ways spies, lovers, generals, businessmen, and ordinary folk have concealed messages they didn't want others to read.  No one else has ever done this so well and so fully.  A tour de force!”—David Kahn, author of The Codebreakers
Christopher Andrew
“Kristie Macrakis's fascinating, pathbreaking book shows how secret writing was developed by both lovers and spies (an exotic combination in the history of covert communication). Though nowadays widely regarded as child's play, in the world wars and Cold War of the twentieth century, secret writing remained, as Macrakis vividly demonstrates, a deeply serious business."—Christopher Andrew, Cambridge University
The Washington Times - Joseph C. Goulden
"An utterly fascinating account . . . the author knows her territory. Read this book."—Joseph C. Goulden, The Washington Times
The Independent - Barry Forshaw
‘Kristie Macrakis’s Prisoners, Lovers & Spies is subtitled The Story of Invisible Ink from Herodotus to al-Qaeda, and this curious accoutrement of the spy’s trade provides an immensely diverting overview of secret and hidden writing, from lovers making clandestine assignations to Mata Hari providing information for her paymasters ad to details of terrorist operations hidden in pornography.’—Barry Forshaw, The Independent
Daily Mail - Roger Lewis
‘Kristie Macrakis’s gripping study of secret writing in its hidden or invisible form is chiefly a history of espionage techniques, or what John le Carre used to call tradecraft.’—Roger Lewis, Daily Mail
The Times - Oliver Moody
‘Kristie Macrakis, an American historian of secrecy, has chosen a subject full of colour and humour.’—Oliver Moody, The Times
The Spectator - Nigel Jones
'A beguilingly informative and sweeping survey of hidden communication.'—Nigel Jones, The Spectator

Kirkus Reviews
From parlor trick to weapon of war, invisibleink and other means of hidden writing emerge as one of mankind's moreintriguing inventions in this lively history.Georgia Tech history professor Macrakis (Seducedby Secrets, 2008) surveys2,000 years of secret messages penned with an improbable variety of substancesand methods: lemon juice, various bodily fluids and other liquids that dry invisiblyon the page but turn brown when exposed to heat. Gall-nut extract, forinstance, a traditional ink used by George Washington's agents, turns blackwhen brushed with iron sulfate, and cobalt solutions painted on fire screens blossominto brilliant green foliage when warmed. Some modern inks require fourdifferent chemical treatments to develop; an invisible ink invented by LinusPauling shows up only when treated with a specific antibody. Aside fromchemical compounds, microdots can cram pages of documents into a tiny spot thesize of the period at the end of this sentence, and digital encoding techniquesallow messages to be inserted into Internet porn. Macrakis offers lucidexplanations of the chemistry and optics underlying the seemingly magicalproperties of invisible inks, and she even appends recipes that guide readersin making some of the simpler varieties. The heart of her book, though, is thecat-and-mouse game between spies who conceal their reports in plain sight andcounterintelligence officials trying to intercept and detect them, a saga shefollows from the subterfuges of Mary Queen of Scots to dueling Cold Warintelligence agencies. Her chronicle luxuriates in colorful characters—Jesuitsplotting to escape from the Tower of London, James Bond-ianplayboy-spies and Mata Hari-like femmes fatales—and intricate cloak-and-daggerfeaturing inks secreted in fake molars and infused into garments. It's also astory of government surveillance at a level that would make Edward Snowdencringe: During the world wars, Britain and theU.S. opened millions of letters and testedthem for invisible messages. Macrakis unearths a wealth of information,including secret documents she mined from East Germany'sStasi archives, weaving it together with engaging prose that illuminates a seldom-seenaspect of espionage.An engrossing study of unseen writing and thepicaresque misadventures of those who employ it.

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Product Details

Yale University Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

Kristie Macrakis, the author or editor of five books, is professor of history, technology, and society at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Her other books include Surviving the Swastika and Seduced by Secrets. She lives in Atlanta, GA.

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