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Spanning the battle of Corunna in 1809 to the 1815 victory at Waterloo, this is the dramatic true-life tale of an unsung hero in Wellington's army.
Common-born George Scovell -- an engraver's apprentice -- joins the British Army during the Napoleonic Wars and becomes a commissioned officer. As Bonaparte's juggernaut marches across Europe, Scovell soon proves himself a linguistic genius and begins to crack the basic codes used in French dispatches, giving General Wellington advance knowledge of French plans. But as the enemy changes from simple ciphers to baffling "next to impossible" encoded messages, Scovell finds himself racing against time to break the legendary "Great Paris Cipher" and save the British Army.
The thrill of clashing armies, challenging puzzles, and the personal struggle of a long-forgotten hero make The Man Who Broke Napoleon's Codes a gripping -- and brain-teasing -- adventure.
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"I am making haste to pass on the contents to 25. 13. 8. 9. 38. . . . who has ordered me to open communications with you." So reads a French dispatch captured by the British in the Peninsular Campaign against Napoleon's armies, causing the Duke of Wellington to comment, "The devil is in the French for numbers"--and occasioning Mark Urban's intriguing study of code making and code breaking.
The early 19th-century British army was hidebound by tradition, writes Urban; elegant and well-placed gentlemen gained command, while more deserving but lower-born men languished in the ranks. Against that army, in Spain and Portugal, stood Napoleon's forces, "the mightiest armament since the legions of ancient Rome." Thanks to one common-born officer, George Scovell, a linguistic genius and adept solver of puzzles, Wellington's forces avoided disaster by learning of the superior enemy's plans--though, after the war, Wellington dismissed Scovell's contributions and took credit for himself and his favorite staff officers. A fine chapter in the history of intelligence and cryptography, Urban's book provides a fascinating aside to the well-documented Napoleonic Wars. --Gregory McNameeAbout the Author:
As a journalist and former army officer, Mark Urban has the perspective of an eyewitness to the most crucial political events and military campaigns of our time. He lives in London and is a prominent BBC Newsnight correspondent.
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