Looking for a new obsession? Wanna give your kids a push in an obsessive direction? Wanna get some of those neurons firing?
Codes, Ciphers and Secret Writing by Martin Gardner
This little wonder might be a good place to start with the science (art?) of secret writing. Learn to cipher (an algorithm for performing encryption or decryption) and decipher codes. transposition and polyalphabetical ciphers, codes, codes and more codes – typewriter codes, telephone codes, codes using playing cards, knots, and swizzle sticks
Invisible writing and sending messages through outer space. This little puppy is going to keep you engaged for hours if not days, for the uninitiated as well as the obsessive.
The second piece would be Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson.
This might seem like a fat little fucker, but take our word for it – it packs a mean punch. It has a combination of WWII, code breaking, mathematics, history of computers and technology, all in an accessible fiction format. You have a motley crew spread across three time periods that are weirdly intertwined. Words that come to mind are brilliant, hilarious and informative. The book has a lot of pages, once you get past the first 100 pages or so you are going to be hooked and sad once you are done with it (the way great books are supposed to leave you), a bit satiated albeit with a new appetite for more. The flipping across time inbetween stories in different parts of the world is just seamless, you begin to love the main characters the good guys and the bad ones.
The third and final piece would be Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges.
If you have the slightest interest in history of Mathematics, computer science or how the second world war was really one you might want to plunge into this wonder. Turing was the inventor of the Turing machine, which had a whole bunch of paper tape and a read head that went forwards or backwards altering what was on the tape. The beauty of this mechanical wonder was its coverage of the basic aspects of computing, which actually fathered a lot work that went into early computers.
The main theme of Turings work during the second world war was with a group of mathematicians whose objective was to break the “unbreakable” German codes that were used to communicate during the second world war. On reading this book one can begin to get an idea of the critical role Turing had during the war that lead to the allied victory, not the bull headed leadership of Churchill or the support of the Allied forces. The knowledge of German intentions without revealing the actual knowledge of same, led the allied forces with limited means to concentrate these means towards an eventual victory.
Be a little inspired with the extent of the importance of cryptology by one of the greatest mathematicians of his time.
Wanna know more?