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.
Famous quotes containing the words story and/or silk:
“Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing the things historians usually record, while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry and even whittle statues. The story of civilization is the story of what happened on the banks. Historians are pessimists because they ignore the banks for the river.”
—Will Durant (18851981)
“Why silk is soft and the stone wounds
The child shall question all his days,
Why night-time rain and the breasts blood
Both quench his thirst hell have a black reply.”
—Dylan Thomas (19141953)