World War II had so many complex behind-the-scenes happenings that I am constantly surprised by the pure breadth of the war effort and the means employed to bring an end to it. Unbreakable: The Spies Who Broke the Nazi’s Secret Code by Rebecca E. F. Barone (Henry Holt, 2022) tells the story of the spies, mathematicians, scientists, and naval officers who contributed to breaking “The Enigma” cipher, which proved to be essential to reducing German U-boats in the Pacific.
This young adult nonfiction (also certainly appropriate for adults interested in the subject matter) follows various personalities through the tricks. The Engima was a machine that the German naval leaders and other military personnel used to create coded messages and decode messages. But, despite the best efforts from Polish, French, and British spies, it took many years to determine how codes were created and understood using the mechanical device. Spies in these nations needed confiscated code books to initially understand the messages, and when
Unbreakable roams from the lives of the spies on the continent to the secret British government facilities. There, the world’s top engineers and mathematicians were building the first computers. These computers became essential to the code-breaking efforts as they were run night and day, working to calculate possible solutions for the enigma messages.
So many different nations, specialists, and departments came together in this effort. Sometimes I got confused with the names of so many people. There is a brief guide to the people at the front matter of the book, so that helped. Young adults and adults with a strong interest in math, science, engineering, or WWII history will definitely be fascinated by this tale of intrigue and adventure. Younger children may struggle to keep up with the many people, details, and locations. Based on writing style and reading level, I’d say Unbreakable is for ages 14 and up, although nothing inappropriate (other than war topics, deaths, and difficulties) appears in the book, so interested and able young children shouldn’t hesitate to give a go as well.
I received a digital review copy of this book.