Category: Non-Fiction

Sinclair McKay – The Secret Life of Bletchley Park [REVIEW]

Title: The Secret Life of Bletchley Park

Author: Sinclair McKay

Type: Non-Fiction

Page Count/Review Word Count: 346

Rating: 4/5

I picked this book up when I saw it going cheap in a charity shop, and I’m very glad that I did. I’ve always been fascinated by the history of Bletchley Park, and I’m fortunate enough to have been able to visit it with my mum.

This book does pretty much everything that it sets out to do. It’s kind of like a cross between a tell all and a detailed account of what life was like at Bletchley during the Second World War. There’s some super fascinating stuff here, and what’s particularly cool is that McKay quotes many of the key people in their own words.

He also quotes Andrew Hodges a lot, the guy who wrote the official biography of Alan Turing, which I happen to have already read. That’s clearly one of McKay’s primary sources, but then you can’t tell the story of Bletchley Park without also telling the story of Alan Turing.

And even despite that, it never felt tedious to read, and I was kind of surprised by that. I’ve had this on my TBR shelves for a while now, but I kept on finding reasons to put it off. I didn’t want it to be my main book because I was worried that I’d get bored, and that didn’t happen.

Instead, we have a highly readable account of what life was like at Bletchley Park that takes us through the war years with remarkable clarity. When it comes to cryptography and the technology that was used, it’s not always easy to follow what’s happening because of how technical it can get. McKay makes it easy to follow along, and that’s a credit to his writing.

Then we have the photography that’s also included and which helps us to envisage the people and the places that are written about here. It’s not exactly necessary, but it is a nice little touch. Good stuff!

Learn more about The Secret Life of Bletchley Park.


Bill Bryson – One Summer: America, 1927 [REVIEW]

Title: One Summer: America, 1927

Author: Bill Bryson

Type: Fiction

Page Count/Review Word Count: 561

Rating: 4/5

This book is another non-fiction masterpiece from Bryson, and I loved it just as much as I’ve loved his others, even though the subject matter was maybe a little out of my usual reading zone. It basically follows the events of the summer of 1927 in which all kinds of historic stuff went down.

For example, it was the summer in which Charles Lindbergh made his iconic flight from New York to Paris, and a few chapters are dedicated to that and looking into some of the different crazy things that went on during the race to be the first to complete the journey.

That stuff was fascinating, especially because of the characters involved, who were all pretty nuts. Then we moved on to Babe Ruth and his baseball career, which is less interesting to me just because I’m not a baseball fan, or even a sports fan in general.

That sets up a pattern that continued throughout, with chapters alternating between fascinating me and being just something for me to get through. But I don’t have a problem with that because it’s Bill Bryson and he’s a cracking author, and one of the many where I’d read anything that they come out with.

And this specific summer in American history is a good one just for a snapshot of American history. We’re talking about the height of prohibition, when much of life was ruled by the gangsters and the bootleggers, like Al Capone. There’s this dark undercurrent to everything that’s going on, but there’s also a lot of invention and innovation taking place.

Bryson points out that it was the turning point for America, the point at which the United States took the forefront of everything from popular culture to science and technology. It’s hard to appreciate today that there was ever a time when they were so far behind, but there you go.

In fact, one of the more interesting aspects to reading this book is the fact that we’re about 100 years after the time period that’s covered here, at least at the point at which I read it. It was cool to look back at a simpler time through the eyes of Bryson, a skilled researcher who’s clearly passionate about his subject matter.

All in all then, it’s definitely a book that I’d recommend, because it has that sort of general appeal that means that you’ll probably find something that you like. I know that I did, and that kind of surprised me, even though I knew going into it that it was a Bryson book and he hasn’t let me down yet.

This all combined to make this book a surprise hit for me, an intriguing (not so) little read that fascinated, entertained and occasionally even appalled me, depending upon what he was writing about. For example, there was some interesting stuff on how the US government deliberately poisoned commercial alcohol because they knew that people would end up drinking it, and that was illegal.

Times have changed a lot over the last hundred years or so, but at the same time, they haven’t changed as much as we might expect. It turns out that human nature is generally consistent, who knew?

Learn more about One Summer: America, 1927.