The best books for cryptography apprentices

Jean-Philippe Aumasson Author Of Serious Cryptography: A Practical Introduction to Modern Encryption
By Jean-Philippe Aumasson

Who am I?

I started learning cryptography in the early 2000s with books borrowed from my university’s library, and with information I could find online. Since then I’ve practiced cryptography for 15 years in a variety of contexts: as an academic researcher, while working on my PhD; as a cryptography engineer for software and hardware pay-TV systems; as a consultant for private and public sector clients; as a vulnerability researcher in my spare time; as a code auditor for cryptography projects; as a start-up founder in the domain of IoT security; and as CSO (chief security officer) of a fintech start-up. I live in Lausanne, Switzerland, and besides crypto I enjoy literature, rock climbing, and playing classical guitar.

I wrote...

Serious Cryptography: A Practical Introduction to Modern Encryption

By Jean-Philippe Aumasson,

Book cover of Serious Cryptography: A Practical Introduction to Modern Encryption

What is my book about?

This practical guide to modern encryption breaks down the fundamental mathematical concepts at the heart of cryptography without shying away from meaty discussions of how they work. You’ll learn about authenticated encryption, secure randomness, hash functions, block ciphers, and public-key techniques such as RSA and elliptic curve cryptography.

The books I picked & why

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Foundations of Cryptography: Volume 1, Basic Tools

By Oded Goldreich,

Book cover of Foundations of Cryptography: Volume 1, Basic Tools

Why this book?

If you want to compose or play music, you need to know some basic music theory: notes, scales, chords, and so on. Likewise, solid cryptography knowledge requires understanding its foundations: concepts such as one-way function, pseudorandom generators, computational hardness, secure encryption, and zero-knowledge proofs. Goldreich’s books are the best starting point for those who want to delve into cryptography theory.  

The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography

By Simon Singh,

Book cover of The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography

Why this book?

This is the first book I read about cryptography, and one that got me excited to study this field more seriously. If you’re not mathematically inclined, or if you are and want to learn the history of cryptography, you’ll love The Code Book. Well documented, clearly written, the book retraces the evolution of cryptography from ancient ciphers to public-key cryptography through historical events where cryptography played a major role, including the famous case of the Enigma encryption machine during WW2. Singh doesn’t shy away from explaining ciphers’ internal mechanisms, in a way that is accessible to lay readers and does not make experts cringe.

Security Engineering: A Guide to Building Dependable Distributed Systems

By Ross Anderson,

Book cover of Security Engineering: A Guide to Building Dependable Distributed Systems

Why this book?

One of the books that I open at least once a year, and which I always recommend to students and mentees. Security Engineering isn’t a book (only) about cryptography, yet one about a topic that a cryptographer should know well: security engineering, or the design, implementation, and testing of systems that must be reliable in hostile and adversarial environments. Cryptography is indeed often just a small, yet critical, component of larger security systems. A good cryptographer must therefore not limit themselves to their field, but understand the risks, practical constraints, and functional needs of the environment where cryptography is integrated. Anderson’s book is the undisputed reference in that space.  

Quantum Computing Since Democritus

By Scott Aaronson,

Book cover of Quantum Computing Since Democritus

Why this book?

I’ve been fascinated by complexity theory and quantum computing since I started studying cryptography. Not only because of the intellectual depth and rich history of these disciplines, but because of how they relate to cryptography: complexity theory brings the foundational security assurance, while quantum computing destroys part of that security. Aaronson is one of the world-leading researchers working at the intersection of these two fields, whose research and blog I’ve been following for many years. I was thus delighted to find his witty, funny writings turned into a comprehensive book, touching on topics as diverse as logic, computability, quantum mechanics, and cosmology, which are all valuable to cryptographers.

Real-World Cryptography

By David Wong,

Book cover of Real-World Cryptography

Why this book?

Although David is a friend, I only recommend his book because it’s great, both in terms of content and presentation. Real-World Cryptography is today’s reference book about cryptographic tools and applications: Modern schemes such as the SHA-3 hash function and the Noise protocol framework, end-to-end encryption protocols, cryptocurrencies’ cryptography mechanisms, as well as emerging techniques like fully-homomorphic encryption and multi-party computation; Wong’s book delivers a practice-oriented, accessible introduction, enriched by many visual illustrations (including original comics strips!), and exercises (with their solutions). 

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in cryptography, computer security, and quantum computing?

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Digital Fortress, Cryptonomicon, and Cryptography: A Very Short Introduction if you like this list.