By Robert Harris


Enigma: Something hard to understand or explain. And in WWII, Enigma-encrypted code was certainly something hard to understand. Enigma, by Robert Harris, is about a man named Tom Jericho, a cryptographer living in the U.K. He was one of the people trying to crack Enigma, the German encrypted communications system. He had already figured out how to decipher Enigma once by figuring out the code for sending messages, but when the Nazis change their codes routinely, he and the other cryptographers are caught in an intelligence blackout. On top of this, his former girlfriend, Claire Romilly, has gone missing and might be a German spy. Tom is going to have to make plans, encounter traitors, and commit crimes to crack Enigma and find Claire.


Even when all seems lost, there is a way. In Enigma, Tom Jericho encounters many points where he has no idea of where to go. But persistence helps, and with the help of others, he puts together pieces of the story and figures out how to break Enigma. Tom gave up sometimes, but he figured out what he needed to do and got back on track of finding Claire and breaking Enigma. For these reasons, I believe that the theme of Enigma is even when all seems lost, there is a way.


The first Enigma machine was created by Arthur Scherbius, who made it for the use of companies that wanted secure communications. After modifications, German forces started using it to send encrypted messages. It was made of a keyboard of 26 letters with no punctuation, a scrambler unit, 26 bulbs that were A-Z as well, where the "ciphertext" came out, and a plugboard, again of 26 letters with no punctuation. The scrambler unit consisted of three wheels chosen out of five, labeled I-V, with A-Z on around the outside. The plugboard connected letters to other letters so that when one was typed, another was printed. The wheels gave added scrambling. To see what encrypted messages said, one needed an Enigma machine set up the same way as the one who sent it. Since there were 158,962,555,217,826,360,000 different ways to encrypt the same message, Hitler thought Enigma was unbreakable. Enigma was first broken by the Poles in 1933-1938 with an Enigma replica they created, and the British helped finally break it with the help of early versions of computers called bombes.


Without the Enigma machine, the book probably would have never been written. In the book, the author portrayed the Enigma machine very well, describing it as nearly unbreakable and the German's secure communication. There were five different kinds of Enigma in the story, the most important being Shark, the U-boat's communications, which were even harder to break due to a fourth wheel. To beat Enigma, the British used bombes (early versions of computers) against Enigma, which was accurately portrayed in the story. In the book, on pages 53-55, it describes the use of Enigmas in the German forces, how the machine works, and how the British attempted breaking it, all extremely accurate.

Research Link #1

Stripp, Alan. "How the Enigma Works." PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 6 Jan. 2014.

Research Link #2

Lycett, Andrew. "Enigma." BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 5 Jan. 2014.

Research Link #3

"The Enigma Machine: How Alan Turing Helped Break the Unbreakable Nazi Code." Open Culture. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Jan. 2014.

Dictionary Definition Link

"enigma." Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 7 Jan. 2014.