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Colossus: Bletchley Park's Last Secret

This is the last untold story of Bletchley Park. Using recently declassified information, Paul Gannon has written a gripping account of the invention of the world’s first true computer, Colossus.

Uncover the secrets of Bletchley Park’s code-breaking computers.

In 1940, almost a year after the outbreak of the Second World War, Allied radio operators at an interception station in South London began picking up messages in a strange new code. Using science, maths, innovation and improvisation BletchleyPark codebreakers worked furiously to invent a machine to decipher what turned out to be the secrets of Nazi high command. It was called Colossus.

What these codebreakers didn’t realize was that they had fashioned the world’s first true computer. When the war ended, this incredible invention was dismantled and hidden away for almost 50 years. Paul Gannon has pieced together the tremendous story of what is now recognized as the greatest secret of BletchleyPark.

‘Gannon’s book contains a mass of utterly fascinating and largely unknown material about an immensely important wartime project, and is very welcome indeed.’ – Brian Randell, TES

The Great Wall

Legendarily 2,200 years old and 4,300 miles long, China’s Great Wall seems to be a confident physical statement made by an advanced civilization, anxious to draw a line between itself and the ‘barbarians’ at its borders. But behind the Wall’s intimidating exterior, and the myths that have built up around it, lies a history far more fragmented and far less illustrious than its crowds of modern-day tourists might imagine.

In this epic history exploring the conquests and cataclysms of the Chinese empire over the past 3,000 years, Julia Lovell restores a human dimension to this astonishing structure: examining the emperors who planned new phases of building; the people who constructed, lived and guarded the walls; and the millions who died – of overwork, starvation, cold and combat. The Great Wall is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand China’s past, present and future.

Playing the Enemy

Now filmed as INVICTUS directed by Clint Eastwood, and starring Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela.

SHORTLISTED FOR THE WILLIAM HILL SPORTS BOOK OF THE YEAR 2008

As the day of the final of the 1995 Rugby World Cup dawned, and the Springboks faced New Zealand’s all-conquering All Blacks, more was at stake than a sporting trophy. When Nelson Mandela appeared wearing a Springboks jersey and led the all-white Afrikaner-dominated team in singing South Africa’s new national anthem, he conquered the hearts of white South Africa.

Playing the Enemy tells the extraordinary human story of how that moment became possible. It shows how a sport, once the preserve of South Africa’s Afrikaans-speaking minority, came to unify the new rainbow nation, and tells of how – just occasionally – something as simple as a game really can help people to rise above themselves and see beyond their differences.

Babylon

In Babylon, Paul Kriwaczek tells the story of ancient Mesopotamia from the earliest settlements around 5400 BC, to the eclipse of Babylon by the Persians in the sixth century BC. He chronicles the rise and fall of dynastic power during this period; he examines its numerous material, social and cultural innovations and inventions: The wheel, civil, engineering, building bricks, the centralized state, the division of labour, organised religion, sculpture, education, mathematics, law and monumental building.

At the heart of Kriwaczek’s magisterial account, though, is the glory of Babylon – ‘gateway to the gods’ – which rose to glorious prominence under the Amorite king Hammurabi, who unified Babylonia between 1800 and 1750 BC. While Babylonian power would rise and fall over the ensuing centuries, it retained its importance as a cultural, religious and political centre until its fall to Cyrus the Great of Persia in 539 BC.

A Japanese Mirror

In this scintillating book, Ian Buruma peels away the myths that surround Japanese culture. With piercing analysis of cinema, theatre, television, art and legend, he shows the Japanese both ‘as they imagine themselves to be, and as they would like themselves to be.’

A Japanese Mirror examines samurai and gangsters, transvestites and goddesses to paint an eloquent picture of life in Japan. This is a country long shrouded in enigma and in his compelling book, Buruma reveals a culture rich in with poetry, beauty and wonder.

Masters of the Word

In Masters of the Word, Bernstein chronicles the development of the technology of human communication, or media, starting with the birth of writing thousands of years ago in Mesopotamia. In Sumer, and then Egypt, this revolutionary tool allowed rulers to extend their control far and wide, giving rise to the world’s first empires. When Phoenician traders took their alphabet to Greece, literacy’s first boom led to the birth of drama and democracy. In Rome, it helped spell the downfall of Empire.

As Bernstein illustrates, new communication technologies – from the clay tablet to the radio – have all had a profound effect on human society. But it’s not just the technologies themselves that have changed the world, it’s access to them. Medieval scriptoria and vernacular bibles gave rise to religious dissent, but it was only when the combination of cheaper paper and Gutenberg’s printing press drove down the cost of books by some 97% that the dynamite of Reformation was lit.

The Industrial Revolution brought the telegraph and the steam driven printing press, allowing information to move faster than ever before and to reach an even larger audience. But along with radio and television, these new technologies were more easily exploited by the powerful, as seen in Germany, the Soviet Union, and even Rwanda, where radio incited genocide. With the rise of carbon duplicates (Russian samizdat), photocopying (the Pentagon Papers), and the internet and mobile phones (the Arab Spring), access has again spread and the world is both more connected, and more free, than ever before.

Veni, Vidi, Vici

The Romans left a long-lasting legacy and their influence can still be seen all around us – from our calendar and coins, to our language and laws – but how much do we really know about them? Help is at hand in the form of Veni, Vidi, Vici, which tells the remarkable, and often surprising, story of the Romans and the most enduring empire in history.

Fusing a lively and entertaining narrative with rigorous research, Veni, Vidi, Vici breaks down each major period into a series of concise nuggets that provide a fascinating commentary on every aspect of the Roman world – from plebs to personalities, sauces to sexuality, games to gladiators, poets to punishments, mosaics to medicine and Catullus to Christianity.

Through the twists and turns of his 1250-year itinerary, Jones is a friendly and clear-thinking guide. In this book he has produced a beguiling and entertaining introduction to the Romans, one that vividly brings to life the people who helped create the world we live in today.

Harrier

The British designed and built the Harrier, the most successful vertical take-off-and-landing aircraft ever made. Combining state-of-the-art fighter plane technology with a helicopter’s ability to land vertically the Harrier has played an indispensable role for the RAF and Royal Navy in a number of conflicts, most famously the Falklands War.

Jonathan Glancey’s biography is a vividly enjoyable account of the invention of this remarkable aeroplane and a fitting tribute to the inspiration and determination of the men and women who created it, and the bravery of the men who flew it, often in the most dangerous conditions.

Five Days at Memorial

In the tradition of the best writing on human behaviour and moral choices in the face of disaster, physician and reporter Sheri Fink reconstructs five days at New Orleans’ Memorial Medical Center during Hurricane Katrina and draws the reader into the lives of those who struggled mightily to survive and to maintain life amidst chaos.

After Katrina struck and the floodwaters rose, the power failed, and the heat climbed, exhausted caregivers chose to designate certain patients last for rescue. Months later, several health professionals faced criminal allegations that they deliberately injected numerous patients with drugs to hasten their deaths.

Five Days at Memorial, the culmination of six years of reporting, unspools the mystery of what happened in those days, bringing the reader into a hospital fighting for its life and into a conversation about the most terrifying form of health care rationing.

In a voice at once involving and fair, masterful and intimate, Fink exposes the hidden dilemmas of end-of-life care and reveals just how ill-prepared we are for the impact of large-scale disasters – and how we can do better. A remarkable book, engrossing from start to finish, Five Days at Memorial radically transforms our understanding of human nature in crisis.

Dubai

Today, Dubai is a city of shimmering skyscrapers attracting thousands of tourists every year. Yet just sixty years ago Dubai’s population scraped a living by picking dates, diving for pearls, or sailing in wooden dhows to trade with Iran and India.

Dubai is everything the rest of the Arab world is not. Until recently it was the fastest-growing city in the world, with an economy whose growth outpaced China’s while luring more tourists than all of India. The city has become a metaphor for the lush life, where the wealthy mingle in gilded splendour and luxury cars fill the streets, yet it is also beset by a backwash of bad design, environmental degradation and controversial labour practices. Dubai tells its unique story.