The Emperor's Codes: The Breaking of Japan's Secret Ciphers by Michael Smith, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
The Emperor's Codes: The Breaking of Japan's Secret Ciphers

The Emperor's Codes: The Breaking of Japan's Secret Ciphers

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by Michael Smith

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In this gripping, previously untold story from World War II, Michael Smith examines how a group of eccentric codebreakers cracked Japan's secret codes and turned the tide of the war in the Pacific. Drawing upon recently declassified British files, privileged access to Australian secret official histories, and interviews with many of the men involved, The Emperor's


In this gripping, previously untold story from World War II, Michael Smith examines how a group of eccentric codebreakers cracked Japan's secret codes and turned the tide of the war in the Pacific. Drawing upon recently declassified British files, privileged access to Australian secret official histories, and interviews with many of the men involved, The Emperor's Codes takes the reader step-by-step through the codebreaking process, explaining exactly how the codebreakers went about their daunting task-made even more difficult by the vast linguistic differences between Japanese and English. It details the grueling work and almost unfathomable dedication demonstrated by these relatively unsung heroes, without whose extraordinary exploits the outcome of World War II might have been very different.

Editorial Reviews
There have been many books written on the efforts by American and British codebreakers to unlock the mysteries of the Nazi's Enigma Code, but little has been written about the struggle to break the various Japanese codes, which were inherently more difficult to crack due to the complex Japanese language. British journalist Michael Smith tells the full story -- and debunks some of the myths -- surrounding this vitally important wartime effort. Among the misconceptions Smith is out to correct: that the American codebreakers were the primary ones to break the main Japanese naval codes. In fact, Smith claims, it was the British group that prevailed, even in the face of the U.S.'s unwillingness to share vital intelligence with their closest allies.
Library Journal
During World War II, British and American cryptographers labored in tight security at Bletchley Park and elsewhere, poring over thousands of intercepted Japanese and German military messages. This fascinating story has been told and retold over the past 15 years as more new information emerges. Smith, a British journalist and author of Station X: Decoding Nazi Secrets, has now expanded on the subject with this well-written account of how the Americans with a great deal of help from British codebreakers cracked the Japanese codes. Smith portrays the sometimes bitter competition between American naval and British military personnel and insists that the British deserve a greater share of the credit than the Americans have been willing to grant. All in all, it makes a great story and one of importance, since many historians believe that through their codebreaking efforts the Allies were able to shorten the war by as much as two years. Libraries should add Smith's book to other recent works, including Stephen Budiansky's Battle of Wits (LJ 9/15/00) and Leo Marks's Between Silk and Cyanide (LJ 4/15/99). Recommended for most collections. Ed Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
The US was surprised by Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor largely because of an inability to decode "superenciphered" messages about the coming attack. Codebreaking<-->most famously, of the Nazis' Enigma code<-->also played a key role in bringing World War II to an end. Smith tells the little-known story of how American and British codebreakers cracked the Japanese code and contributed to the Allies' victory in the Pacific. A journalist who worked for nine years in British Army intelligence, Smith uses recently declassified British files, access to secret Australian histories, and interviews with many of the codebreakers to spin out the ripping tale of how they did it. With b&w photos of the players and an insert mapping each step of the decoding process. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
Kirkus Reviews
An account of American and British operations that broke Japanese codes during WWII. Japan and Germany did not lose the war because of the Allied advantage in numbers and material-all the big turning-point battles occurred early on, when the Allies were outnumbered. It was stupidity that defeated the Axis, and nothing illustrates this better than the story of codebreaking. In 1943, when fighters shot down a transport carrying Admiral Yamamoto, it was publicized as a lucky accident-but, in fact, details of his flight had been broadcast by the Japanese and intercepted. Inferior American forces could not have won the key naval battle of Midway without knowledge of enemy positions given by Japanese transmissions: American submarines devastated Japanese shipping because we knew their routes and positions. Even Pearl Harbor came as a shock not through poor codebreaking, but because US intelligence concentrated on reading the Japanese diplomatic (rather than military) code. We knew their diplomats negotiating in Washington were not serious and that Japan was about to launch a war, but the details were elsewhere. British journalist Smith (Station X, not reviewed) includes a fascinating step-by-step explanation of codebreaking, but most readers will probably not be able to follow beyond the first steps. Because of their difficult language and sense of intellectual superiority, the Japanese assumed their codes were unbreakable-but they were merely difficult. The codebreakers themselves were a collection of academics, geniuses, and eccentrics assisted by a vast army of clerks (including many women). There were also plenty of small-minded bureaucrats and arrogant (mostly American) officialsunwilling to share information, so progress was often unnecessarily slow. A fine contribution to the genre: The author has done his homework well, interviewing survivors and poring over old records to tell the story of one of the greatest capers of the century.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
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5.58(w) x 8.38(h) x 0.83(d)

Meet the Author

Award-winning celebrity chef and author Michael Smith has been creating distinctive, delicious meals for over twenty years. An honors graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York, he has worked in a variety of fine culinary venues: a Michelin 3-star restaurant in London, South America, the Caribbean, and some of Manhattan's best kitchens. Smith is the star of several Food Network TV shows including Chef at Home, Chef at Large, and Chef Abroad

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The Emperor's Codes: The Breaking of Japan's Secret Ciphers 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was first attracted to this book not only because I was interested in the challenge of cross-language codebreaking, but also because I was interested in the idea of codebreaking in general in WW2. I had never heard very much about these &lsquo;unsung heroes&rsquo; of the Pacific War and I was interested in learning more; I also hoped to see a little more insight into the Japanese position during WW2. I was not disappointed in my desire for knowledge about the war and codebreaking in general. The Emperor&rsquo;s Codes was exhaustive in following the progress of the war and viewing those events through the lens of the efforts of the codebreaking done by British codemakers, primarily those attached to the Government Code &amp; Cipher School (GC&amp;CS). From intercepting diplomatic cables during the Washington Conference in 1921, to the translation of the cables that hinted at the formation of the Tripartite Pact before any public announcement was made, to the decoding of the Emperor&rsquo;s statement which led Harry Truman to make the decision to drop the atomic bomb. As a world war, WW2 is an important part of any history student&rsquo;s study, and this book provides a new and interesting way to view it. This book was interesting, but for various reasons I wouldn&rsquo;t recommend to anyone but the most serious student of cryptography, and certainly not to another student. First of all, it&rsquo;s overly detailed. It lists every tiny facet of information, irrelevant or not, and listed off dozens of places, people, and protocols that required serious concentration and a notepad for one to keep track of all of them. This led to rambling and confusion and occasionally I had to skip over the more dense paragraphs listing some general&rsquo;s obscure maneuvers in a little-known area. Second, the book relied almost entirely on quotes, recitations of records, and textbook &ndash;like paraphrasing of military maneuvers. The book had very little of Smith&rsquo;s original writing or ideas; virtually every page had one to three quotes, with large paragraph block quotes every two pages or so. While I liked that it was very grounded in historical facts and accounts, it made the overall writing style dull and monotonous. Third, it was disappointing in content matter; the references and descriptions of the actual codebreaking devices were barely mentioned and mentions of them restricted to one or two sentences every chapter. The book focused more on the war, the various camps, and military maneuvers, rather than the codes, codebreaking, and codebreakers. Given the title, I would have preferred more emphasis on codebreaking. Additionally, as a former employee of the British Intelligence Corps, Smith utilizes every opportunity to prove the superiority and accomplishments of the British cryptographers over their American counterparts, sometimes with limited success. Overall, while succeeding as a history expounding on the British involvement in cryptography and the impact of its Bletchley Park cryptanalysts on WW2, it failed as an interesting book for any other than the seriously devoted student of cryptography. I would give it a 2/5 stars and recommend that any person attempting to read it be ready with a notepad, ibuprofen, and a lot of time on their hands.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The author minimises the contributions along with critisim of the US role in code- breaking. The facts do not square with his views. You would never know, from this book, about the monumental assistance from the US in breaking German and Japanese codes. This is a good read an examines the personal experiences of UK codebreakers which is very interesting. Smith might want to look at the book: "A World at Arms" by Weinberg and the book "Enigma" for more objectivity. William Wantuck, Houston, TX
Guest More than 1 year ago
The history of cracking the German codes during World War II has emerged slowly over the last ten years, and is now fairly fully described. By comparison, relatively little has been revealed about the comparable efforts aimed at Japanese codes. Recent declassification of British documents, privileged access to secret Australian histories of these events, and extensive new interviews with participants by Mr. Michael Smith (who spent 9 years in codebreaking for British Intelligence) provide the basis for the most complete and interesting account yet of the efforts aimed at Japan. The book is a success as a riveting history of individuals, for explaining the techniques involved, changing your view of how the war was won, and for raising fascinating new questions about military activities (did the atomic bomb really have to be dropped, or did Truman drop the ball?). Right after World War II, the American cryptographers broke the story of how they had cracked the Japanese diplomatic code (the so-called Purple code). What was not known, until recently, is that almost all of success with the other Japanese codes involved British and/or Australian codebreakers. Even more surprising is that the U.S. Navy kept intercepts and code books from the British codebreakers despite agreements to share. Undoubtedly, many lost their lives and the war was prolonged because of these U.S. errors. But there were also errors in using the coded output. Some commanders just wouldn't take it seriously, and placed their ships in harm's way. Consider the irony of the British decoding an impending attack on their codebreaking home in Ceylon which the British Navy largely ignored after the attack was delayed for a few days. The Japanese codebreaking was much more difficult than that for the German codes because the allies had few Japanese readers to draw on. Before the war's end, the British invented a six month cram course that effectively taught code-breaking Japanese. Also, because the British lost so many bases in Asia, the codebreakers were pushed further and further away from Japanese bases and shipping. That meant an inability to get enough radio messages to be able to effectively decode. At the key turning points in the war, the British were trying to listen to Japan from a lousy station in Kenya. Go figure! Here's where the U.S. Navy could have made a big difference, because they always had lots of intercepts from naval shipping in the Pacific. 'The record of the US Navy in cooperation, not just with the British but with their own Army, was not merely lamentable, it was shameful.' Interestingly, the Japanese codes were able to be broken mostly because the Japanese assumed that no one could. So when it appeared that the codes might have been compromised, they kept using the same ones. That gave the allies an edge. The Japanese also had some habits that helped. They began many messages with similar flowery language such as 'I have the honour to inform your excellency . . . .' Find enough of those messages, and you could begin to decode. It was fascinating to see how one source of intelligence helped other parts of the war. The Japanese ambassador in Berlin was a great source of information about Nazi Germany, through the broken Purple code. He toured Normandy just before D-Day, and his rambling account tipped the allies off to the need to throw Hitler's attention towards Pas de Calais. The book also recounts how a broken message allowed the allies to shoot down Admiral Yamamoto. You also get a very fine explanation of how the coded messages were used to help win the Battle of Midway and the speed the liberation of the Philippines. Long sections of the story are presented as quoted material from partipants, which provides a change in voice and of perspective. Many of the codebreakers in the various Asian locations were women. What was it like to find a giant snake in the toilet that you so desperately wanted to use? Many of thos