Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker's Story 1941-1945

Between Silk and Cyanide is the title of a book by former Special Operations Executive (SOE) cryptographer Leo Marks, describing his work during the Second World War. More fully, its title is Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker's War 1941-1945. It was published in 1998 by HarperCollins.

The title is derived from an incident related in the book, when Marks was asked why agents in occupied Europe should have their cryptographic material printed on silk (which was in very short supply). He summed his reply up by saying that it was "between silk and cyanide", meaning that it was a choice between the agent's surviving by making reliable coded radio transmissions with the help of the printed silk, and having to take a suicide pill. Unlike paper, which would be given away by rustling, silk would not be detected by a casual search if it was concealed in the lining of clothing.

His interest in cryptography dated from reading Poe's The Gold-Bug as a child. His father Benjamin was a partner in the book shop, Marks & Co at 84 Charing Cross Road. As a boy, Leo had begun his code-breaking with that used by his father, in noting the prices in his second-hand books.

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