Stephen Budiansky


Budiansky, Stephen. Battle of Wits: The Complete Story of Codebreaking in World War II. New York: Free Press, 2000. London: Viking, 2000.

For Alvarez, Intelligencer 12.1, this is "the best survey to date of the role of communications intelligence in the defeat of the Axis in World War II. It is a great story with enough colorful characters and dramatic moments to fill a dozen thrillers.... Battle of Wits, however, moves beyond good anecdotes and great victories to make important contributions to our understanding of the role of wartime communications intelligence....

"Perhaps the author's greatest contribution is to add a powerful voice to the small but growing chorus challenging the 'Ultra Myth'.... The breathless discussion of Ultra and Magic ... often obscures the fact that communications intelligence was only one of several sources that informed (or misinformed) decision-makers during the war.... Engagingly written and carefully researched, Battle of Wits will become the standard survey of Anglo-American codebreaking in World War II."

Although not ready to grant the completeness claimed in the title, Baker, Proceedings 127.2 (Feb. 2001), finds that this is an "exceptionally well-written and easily accessible ... introduction to an extraordinarily complex and broad topic." The book has "several very useful appendices," and the bibliography "shows extensive research in primary sources."

Johnson, Intelligencer 11.2, finds that while this work is hardly "complete," it is "new, fresh, [and] up to date on all the latest scholarship.... Despite ... omissions on the operational front, Budiansky's book represents a successful attempt at one-stop shopping." To Kruh, Cryptologia 25.1, this is "the best account to date on WWII codebreaking.... Budiansky also offers an incisive analysis of the differences in the Army, Navy, and Bletchley Park codebreaking organizations."

Noting that while "[t]his work is comprehensive and thorough," Winn, Parameters 31 (Winter 2001-2002), adds that "[o]nly time will tell if [Budiansky's] story is 'complete' in the absolute sense of the word." The author "provides an excellent summary of the key role" the breaking of the Japanese Fleet Code in March 1942 "played in the Battle of Midway in June 1942."

Bath, NIPQ 17.2, praises the author for producing "a history that is both interesting and technically sound.." Although "there is little that is new or startling in this account,... all that has gone before ... has been carefully researched and distilled into one comprehensive account." Hanyok, I&NS 16.3, gives Budiansky's technical descriptions high marks for clarity. However, completeness is lacking in that the author "spends little time on the Axis cryptanalytic efforts.... Sometimes, too, Budiansky's criterion for inclusion of material is curious."

For Gonnerman, JIH 1.2, "the book is well written and the author has an engaging style.... However, Budiansky is a mathematician and he devotes entire chapters to explaining the mathematics behind codebreaking and the engineering behind the machines. A predisposition to math would serve the reader well in order to fully appreciate these sections."

[UK/WWII/Ultra; WWII/Magic/Gen & Coop]

Budiansky, Stephen. "Bletchley Park and the Birth of the Very Special Relationship." In Action This Day: Bletchley Park from the Breaking of the Enigma Code to the Birth of the Modern Computer, eds. Ralph Erskine and Michael Smith, 211-236, 488-492. London and New York: Bantam, 2001.


Budiansky, Stephen. "Codebreaking with IBM Machines in World War II." Cryptologia 25, no. 4 (Oct. 2001): 241-255.

From abstract: "Standard IBM punchcard machines, supplemented by a number of ingenious add-on units developed by U.S. Army and Navy cryptanalysts, played a crucial role in the breaking of Japanese naval and military codes and German and Soviet diplomatic codes during World War II."


Budiansky, Stephen. "The Code War: The Code-Breaking Machines of World War II Took Data-Processing Technology to Its Very Limits in the Era before Computers." American Heritage of Invention and Technology 16, no. 1 (Summer 2000): 36-43.


Budiansky, Stephen. "Colossus, Codebreaking, and the Digital Age." In Colossus: The Secrets of Bletchley Park's Codebreaking Computers, ed. B. Jack Copeland, 52-63. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.


Budiansky, Stephen. "The Difficult Beginnings of US-British Codebreaking Cooperation." Intelligence and National Security 15, no. 2 (Summer 2000): 49-73. "The Difficult Beginnings of US-British Codebreaking Cooperation." In American-British-Canadian Intelligence Relations 1939-2000, eds.David Stafford and Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones. London: Frank Cass, 2000.

From abstract: "Recently declassified files in Britain and the United States reveal the often bitter mutual suspicions that roiled the codebreaking bureaux of the two nations as they began to cooperate during World War II.... In the evolving British-American relationship, differences between the US Army and Navy were skillfully exploited on both sides of the Atlantic."

[UK/WWII/Ultra; WWII/Magic/Cooperation]

Budiansky, Stephen. "German vs. Allied Codebreakers in the Battle of the Atlantic." International Journal of Naval History 1, no. 1 (2002).


Budiansky, Stephen. Her Majesty's Spymaster: Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the Birth of Modern Espionage. New York: Viking, 2005.

Jardine, Washington Post, 14 Aug. 2005, rips this work: "All doublet and hose and swashbuckling machismo, written in a breathless, archaic style reminiscent of historians of 50 years ago, Budiansky's book panders unashamedly to our fondness for nostalgia." The reviewer, an "academic who specializes in the Tudor period," finds it "hard to take Her Majesty's Spymaster seriously as history, but it is written in a racy, popular style that may capture the imagination of the general reader." Clark comment: Guess I will have to read this one.

For Bath, NIPQ 22.1 (Jan. 2006), this "is sound intelligence history, well and interestingly told." Similarly, Kruh, Cryptologia 30.2 (Apr. 2006), comments that "[w]ith the taut narrative of a spy novel,... Budiansky brings thrillingly to life ... Walsingham's intricate spy network."

Peake, Studies 50.1 (Mar. 2006), calls Her Majesty’s Spymaster a "splendid little book." As the author describes the events of the times, "it becomes clear that Walsingham developed many of the techniques of intelligence still in use, despite having no prior training in the craft. His skill was based on knowledge of the threat, common sense, and the ability to deal with people discreetly.... Budiansky makes his fascinating life good reading."

To Arpin, NWCR 59.3 (Summer 2006), the author has captured "how Walsingham’s skill in gathering and analyzing information complemented (if not always easily) Elizabeth's talent for political and diplomatic intrigue.... If this book has a fault, it is the lack of discussion on Walsingham's impact on later incarnations of the British secret service." Schwab, IJI&C19.3 (Fall 2006), sees this as "an ambitious and complex work that ... is well-conceived." Nevertheless, "[a]n index would have been beneficial" to this "fine historical study."


Budiansky, Stephen. "Losing the Code War." Atlantic Monthly, Feb. 2002, 33 ff.

"[T]here is no one to blame for what is probably by far the greatest setback in recent years to American capabilities for keeping tabs on terrorists: the fact that it is now virtually impossible to break the encrypted communication systems that PCs and the Internet have made available to everyone -- including, apparently, al Qaeda.... Signals intelligence is not completely dead, of course: bad guys make mistakes; they sometimes still use the phone or radio when they need to communicate in a hurry; and a surprising amount of useful intelligence can be gleaned from analyzing communication patterns even if the content of the communications is unreadable."

[Cryptography/Gen; NSA/00s/02]

Budiansky, Stephen. "Too Late for Pearl Harbor." U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 125, no. 12 (Dec. 1999): 47-51.

"The monthly reports filed by OP-20-G confirm that at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, not a single JN-25 message from the previous 12 months had been read."


Budiansky, Stephen. "A Tribute to Cecil Phillips -- and Arlington Hall's 'Meritocracy.'" Cryptologia 23, no. 2 (Apr. 1999): 97-107.

From abstract: "Cryptanalyst Cecil Phillips, who made the crucial break into the 'VENONA' problem near the end of the Second World War, exemplified the diverse talents that rose through Arlington Hall's unusual meritocracy."


Budiansky, Stephen. "What's the Use of Cyyptologic History?" Intelligence and National Security 25, no. 6 (Dec. 2010): 767-777. Intelligencer 18. n0. 3 (Summer-Fall): 27-33.

The author argues that the secrecy surrounding intelligence in general and Sigint in particular distorts not just the writing of history but its very understanding. "Getting the history right is not just an exercise in satisfying academic curiosity. The understanding of history has profound and real consequences."


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