Cover image for The reader of gentlemen's mail : Herbert O. Yardley and the birth of American codebreaking
The reader of gentlemen's mail : Herbert O. Yardley and the birth of American codebreaking
Kahn, David, 1930-
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Publication Information:
New Haven : Yale University Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
xxi, 318 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
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UB271.U52 Y374 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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One of the most colourful and controversial figures in American intelligence, Herbert O. Yardley (1889-1958) gave America its best form of information, but his fame rests more on his indiscretions than on his achievements. In this highly readable biography, a premier historian of military intelligence tells Yardley's story and evaluates his impact on the American intelligence community. Yardley established the nation's first codebreaking agency in 1917, and his solutions helped the United States win a major diplomatic victory at the 1921 disarmament conference. But when his unit was closed in 1929 because gentlemen do not read each other's mail, Yardley wrote a best-selling memoir that introduced - and disclosed - codemaking and codebreaking to the public. David Kahn describes the vicissitudes of Yardley's career, including his work in China and Canada, offers a capsule history of American intelligence up to World War I, and gives a short course in classical codes and ciphers. He debunks the accusations that the publication of Yardley's book caused Japan to change its codes and ciphers and that Yardley traitorously sold his solutions to Japan. And he asserts that Yardley's disclo

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Instantly recognizable to buffs of intelligence history, Herbert Yardley became infamous in 1931 for telling a tale out of school. His The American Black Chamber romped through the exploits of the State Department's Cipher Bureau, which Henry Stimson abruptly closed in 1929, fastidiously intoning, Gentlemen do not read each other's mail. Despite his notoriety-- Yardley's book ignited a furor in the halls of power, and he was blacklisted from further work in American intelligence--Yardley has not been the subject of a biography until now.ahn tells Yardley's story with a cool eye for his reputation as a codebreaker (Kahn is the author of both general and technical works on cryptology). More important from the reading standpoint,ahn has a decidedly interesting, angular personality to work with. Yardley was boastful and prone to exaggerating his accomplishments, a habit he accentuated in his projects to parlay his original expose into moneymaking entertainment schemes, including potboilers, Hollywood scripts, and radio dramas. Balanced and meticulous in its assessments, this biography will appeal to intelligence aficionados. --Gilbert Taylor Copyright 2004 Booklist

Library Journal Review

Arguably the nation's premier historian of military intelligence, Kahn (The Codebreakers) has written the first study of the most famous figure of early American signals intelligence efforts. In 1917, Herbert O. Yardley established a cryptologic unit for the U.S. War Department and broke an important Japanese code before the Washington Naval Conference in 1921, only to be let go in 1929 owing to Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson's moral objections to reading other people's mail. The government's blind na?vet? and pennypinching were common for the time but astoundingly dangerous nonetheless. Unfortunately, the charismatic Yardley let greed cloud his judgment. Needing money during the Depression, he wrote an explosive best seller, The American Black Chamber, which brought him severe condemnation for exposing his secret work. With Yardley out of the way, dedicated professionals such as William Friedman (who may have been jealous of Yardley's way with women) were able to lay the foundation for codebreaking success during World War II. Kahn concludes that Yardley's real contribution was that his book humanized cryptology and made people aware of its power. This revealing and well-researched book is suitable for all libraries. (Index not seen.)-Daniel K. Blewett, Coll. of DuPage Lib., Glen Ellyn, IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
A Short Course in Codes and Ciphersp. xiii
How Yardley Wrote His Best-Sellerp. xvii
1. All-American Boyp. 1
2. His Life's Workp. 8
3. A History of American Intelligence before Yardleyp. 14
4. A Rivalp. 22
5. Staffers, Shorthand, and Secret Inkp. 28
6. The Executivep. 36
7. Morning in New Yorkp. 50
8. Yardley's Triumphp. 63
9. The Fruits of His Victoryp. 72
10. The Busy Suburbanitep. 81
11. End of a Dreamp. 94
12. The Best-Sellerp. 104
13. The Critics, the Effectsp. 121
14. Grub Streetp. 137
15. A Law Aimed at Yardleyp. 158
16. Hollywoodp. 173
17. Chinap. 187
18. Canadap. 199
19. A Restaurant of His Ownp. 216
20. Playing Pokerp. 226
21. The Measure of a Manp. 237
Notesp. 243
Bibliographyp. 291
Illustration Creditsp. 305
Indexp. 309