The best cryptography books

3 authors have picked their favorite books about cryptography and why they recommend each book.

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The Codebreakers

By David Kahn,

Book cover of The Codebreakers: The Story Of Secret Writing

Superb. Kahn’s book, written almost fifty years ago, is rightly considered the classic work on the history of cryptography. It’s enormous, some 1200 pages, but it draws the reader in with its richly detailed portraits of code-makers and code-breakers from ancient times to the modern era. Kahn’s analysis of American cryptographic operations during WWII is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the intelligence failures that preceded Pearl Harbor. The 1996 updated edition is still in print.


Who are we?

Anthony Summers and I are the authors of several books that focus on the world of intelligence, including The Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama bin Laden- which was a Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. As we revealed in our most recent book, A Matter of Honor, U.S. code-breaking efforts in World War II began with a colossal failure – Pearl Harbor. According to the first official report on the disaster, the attack “had been clearly foreshadowed” in the Japanese diplomatic traffic the U.S had decoded. The story of how the Americans turned that initial failure into success came to fascinate me.


We wrote...

A Matter of Honor: Pearl Harbor: Betrayal, Blame and a Family’s Quest For Justice

By Anthony Summers, Robbyn Swan,

Book cover of A Matter of Honor: Pearl Harbor: Betrayal, Blame and a Family’s Quest For Justice

What is our book about?

On the seventy-fifth anniversary, the authors of Pulitzer Prize finalist The Eleventh Day unravel the mysteries of Pearl Harbor to expose the scapegoating of the admiral who was in command the day 2,000 Americans died, report on the continuing struggle to restore his lost honor--and clear President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the charge that he knew the attack was coming.

Crypto

By Steven Levy,

Book cover of Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government--Saving Privacy in the Digital Age

I always knew cryptography was political, but I had no idea how political until I read this book. Seeing the subject I am so fascinated by through the words of a political journalist was truly eye-opening. Steven Levy navigates a deeply fascinating period in modern technological history – the late twentieth-century battles between governments trying to maintain power and control over communications, and technologists who saw the fledgling internet as an opportunity to build a new world. Cryptography, which protects digital communications, sat plum on the frontline between these two communities, hence battles over cryptography turned into so-called 'crypto wars’ (although nobody died). Nobody who read this book was surprised with much that Edward Snowden had to say to the world in 2013 – Snowden was just reportage of the latest chapter in the same ongoing conflict.


Who am I?

I am a cryptography professor, which sadly doesn’t mean I spend my time breaking secret messages (at least not every day). I first studied cryptography simply because it was fun and interesting. It still is – but today it is unbelievably important, underpinning the security of almost everything we do in the digital world. I believe that developing a notion of 'cyber common sense’ is a vital life skill since so much of what we do is digital. A basic understanding of cryptography and its societal impact provides a superb foundation for making sense of digital security, so I’ve selected some of my favourite reads to get you started.


I wrote...

Cryptography: The Key to Digital Security, How It Works, and Why It Matters

By Keith M. Martin,

Book cover of Cryptography: The Key to Digital Security, How It Works, and Why It Matters

What is my book about?

Cryptography plays a critical role in our everyday lives. It underpins the security of our mobile phone calls, credit card payments, web searches, internet messaging, and cryptocurrencies—in short, everything we do online. Broadly defined as a set of tools for establishing security cyberspace, cryptography enables us to protect and share our information. Understanding the basics of cryptography is the key to recognizing the significance of the security technologies we encounter every day, which will then help us respond to them. In clear, concise writing, information security expert Keith Martin answers all these questions and more, revealing the many crucial ways we all depend on cryptographic technology. Essential reading for anyone with a password, Cryptography offers a profound perspective on personal security, online and off.

Cryptography

By Fred Piper, Sean Murphy,

Book cover of Cryptography: A Very Short Introduction

This is a very short (of course!) introduction to cryptography, but it is masterful in its concise conveyance of all that really matters on this topic. I have no hesitation in admitting a close relationship with both authors, but most particularly Fred Piper, who was my doctoral supervisor. Fred has been a mentor throughout my professional life, and this book presents his take on the crucial components of modern cryptography, written for a general audience. I’ve seen this book in airport bookshops and thought `how cool – you can buy a book on cryptography that is written so well you could read it on a plane!’ I have now written two books about cryptography that are less short, and might need longer plane journeys, but Cryptography: A Very Short Introduction remains an inspiration to me.


Who am I?

I am a cryptography professor, which sadly doesn’t mean I spend my time breaking secret messages (at least not every day). I first studied cryptography simply because it was fun and interesting. It still is – but today it is unbelievably important, underpinning the security of almost everything we do in the digital world. I believe that developing a notion of 'cyber common sense’ is a vital life skill since so much of what we do is digital. A basic understanding of cryptography and its societal impact provides a superb foundation for making sense of digital security, so I’ve selected some of my favourite reads to get you started.


I wrote...

Cryptography: The Key to Digital Security, How It Works, and Why It Matters

By Keith M. Martin,

Book cover of Cryptography: The Key to Digital Security, How It Works, and Why It Matters

What is my book about?

Cryptography plays a critical role in our everyday lives. It underpins the security of our mobile phone calls, credit card payments, web searches, internet messaging, and cryptocurrencies—in short, everything we do online. Broadly defined as a set of tools for establishing security cyberspace, cryptography enables us to protect and share our information. Understanding the basics of cryptography is the key to recognizing the significance of the security technologies we encounter every day, which will then help us respond to them. In clear, concise writing, information security expert Keith Martin answers all these questions and more, revealing the many crucial ways we all depend on cryptographic technology. Essential reading for anyone with a password, Cryptography offers a profound perspective on personal security, online and off.

The Code Book

By Simon Singh,

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

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.


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.

Foundations of Cryptography

By Oded Goldreich,

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

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.  


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.

Real-World Cryptography

By David Wong,

Book cover of Real-World Cryptography

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). 


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.

Code Girls

By Liza Mundy,

Book cover of Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II

Mundy’s unputdownable book tells the story of the women behind some of the most significant code-breaking triumphs of the war. The work of women like Elizabeth Friedman – who got her start unpicking the codes of Prohibition-era liquor smugglers – was one of the war’s best-kept secrets.


Who are we?

Anthony Summers and I are the authors of several books that focus on the world of intelligence, including The Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama bin Laden- which was a Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. As we revealed in our most recent book, A Matter of Honor, U.S. code-breaking efforts in World War II began with a colossal failure – Pearl Harbor. According to the first official report on the disaster, the attack “had been clearly foreshadowed” in the Japanese diplomatic traffic the U.S had decoded. The story of how the Americans turned that initial failure into success came to fascinate me.


We wrote...

A Matter of Honor: Pearl Harbor: Betrayal, Blame and a Family’s Quest For Justice

By Anthony Summers, Robbyn Swan,

Book cover of A Matter of Honor: Pearl Harbor: Betrayal, Blame and a Family’s Quest For Justice

What is our book about?

On the seventy-fifth anniversary, the authors of Pulitzer Prize finalist The Eleventh Day unravel the mysteries of Pearl Harbor to expose the scapegoating of the admiral who was in command the day 2,000 Americans died, report on the continuing struggle to restore his lost honor--and clear President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the charge that he knew the attack was coming.

Cryptonomicon

By Neal Stephenson,

Book cover of Cryptonomicon

Neal Stephenson makes his readers think and learn. I love the complexity of the plot. The shifting timelines. The assorted and wildly different locales. And Neal doesn’t let his characters take themselves too seriously. There are many laugh-out-loud moments throughout his thriller.

My absolute favorite endorsement of my novel was a thoughtful comparison to Cryptonomicon. Such very high praise.


Who am I?

My hero and mentor in life was my mother. She was a remarkable human being. Her lifelong coaching was that there were only two worthwhile pursuits in life: Learning and laughter. Comedic thrillers fulfill this maxim remarkably well. They ask you to think, while also reminding us that life is pretty funny when you can take a step away from the fray. (I am an entrepreneur and venture capitalist in Silicon Valley with over 7 million airline miles cumulatively. Yes, of course, my butt is entirely flat and fat.)  


I wrote...

The Knucklehead of Silicon Valley

By G. Craig Vachon,

Book cover of The Knucklehead of Silicon Valley

What is my book about?

Comedic-thriller examines Silicon Valley's unbridled innovation culture.

Ralph Gibsen isn’t your typical spy. In fact, he may not be a spy at all. He's lumpy, blundering, and abysmal at chatting up the fairer sex. Yet, he is attracting a significant amount of attention from the intelligence community. After all, as a 30-year Silicon Valley mainstay, he can phish your passwords, bust firewalls, and has developed software used by millions to circumvent government censorship. And now his world is closing in as he thinks he has stumbled upon a cabal who is pushing to misuse his own technology for world domination.

Digital Fortress

By Dan Brown,

Book cover of Digital Fortress

Ah, Dan Brown. Love him or hate him, he’s a paragon of the modern thriller. Let’s go way back to 1998. It was pre-DaVinci Code, and he released his first novel, Digital Fortress. For the time period, it was a unique idea. A woman cryptologist at the NSA gets embroiled in a high-stakes murder mystery and the only way through is to solve the code. There are a lot of issues with this book, primarily that the author couldn’t be bothered to check his work and misuses bits and bytes throughout the whole novel which makes the code-breaking premise ridiculous. But to be fair, this was 1998 and for a first novel, it’s still a fun ride. So, if you’re a Dan Brown fan or love a fast-paced easy read give it a try. If you have even a basic understanding of how encryption works you may…


Who am I?

I’m just a book-loving girl working in a corporate world who’s sick to death of the inaccurate representations of technology in fiction. FYI, tracing a phone call is instantaneous, no need to keep that pesky murderer on the line these days. Technology is so ingrained in our daily lives and most people have very limited knowledge of what it actually does, so I became fascinated with the idea of using real modern-day tech in murder mysteries. I got so obsessed with the idea I decided to write it. No Sci-Fi of future tech, it may seem farfetched, but all the electronic wizardry used in my novels is real and accurately represented.


I wrote...

There is No Cloud

By Kat Wheeler,

Book cover of There is No Cloud

What is my book about?

Cameron Caldwell is living her best life…. Well sort of. Turns out moving to New York City isn’t exactly like Sex and the City. But she does have her dream job working for the world's largest Smart Home Technology company. Her job is basically herding cats with an expense account. The monotony of being a corporate sales rep is made tolerable by her two supportive work besties Bill and Phil. But when Cameron discovers something strange in one of her customer's technology her life takes a dramatic turn. Partnering with NYC homicide detective Will Justus, Cameron uses her insider knowledge to help solve a series of murders with the same technology used to commit them.

Security Engineering

By Ross Anderson,

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

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.  


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.

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