Reading – The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America’s Enemies by Jason Fagone – 11 in a series

I’ll be highlighting books that I am reading (or re-reading) on all sorts of topics this year — Douglas

Reading – The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America’s Enemies by by Jason Fagone – 11 in a series

Reading -  The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America's Enemies by by Jason Fagone - 11 in a series

An amazing true story that had me racing through the book at a feverish pace. This book details the beginnings of cryptanalysis — the science/art/craft of making and breaking codes — in America and the amazing woman behind it all. As the author often reminds us throughout the book, Elizebeth Smith Friedman is virtually unknown despite all her groundbreaking work in cryptanalysis. She, and her soon to be husband, William were the creators and foremost experts on breaking codes and ended up training most of the cryptographers who came after them. They started their codebreaking journeys in World War I, breaking codes used in the newfangled wireless radio systems. Between the wars, Elizebeth broke the codes of rumrunners illegally importing alcohol during Prohibition. Finally. at the outset of Word War II, Elizebeth set up a dedicated codebreaking group as part of the US Coast Guard while William managed a similar group under the auspices of the US Army. Together they helped keep America and Americans safe during the war including breaking up German spy radio stations in South America and preventing at least one attack on the Queen Mary, then serving as a troop transport. Eventually their efforts led directly to the creation of the Nation Security Agency (NSA) and the auditorium at NSA headquarters — once only named for William — now bears both their names equally.

Anyone with an interest in the history of codes, code breaking or cryptanalysis will find The Woman Who Smashed Codes a fascinating read. Combine this rather forgotten history with how it affected the overall history of the times gives you an even deeper understanding of both.

Highly Recommended

** My version of this book was available from the Los Angeles Public Library in print and ebook versions.


Joining the ranks of Hidden Figures and In the Garden of Beasts, the incredible true story of the greatest codebreaking duo that ever lived, an American woman and her husband who invented the modern science of cryptology together and used it to confront the evils of their time, solving puzzles that unmasked Nazi spies and helped win World War II.

In 1916, at the height of World War I, brilliant Shakespeare expert Elizebeth Smith went to work for an eccentric tycoon on his estate outside Chicago. The tycoon had close ties to the U.S. government, and he soon asked Elizebeth to apply her language skills to an exciting new venture: code-breaking. There she met the man who would become her husband, groundbreaking cryptologist William Friedman. Though she and Friedman are in many ways the “Adam and Eve” of the NSA, Elizebeth’s story, incredibly, has never been told.

In The Woman Who Smashed Codes, Jason Fagone chronicles the life of this extraordinary woman, who played an integral role in our nation’s history for forty years. After World War I, Smith used her talents to catch gangsters and smugglers during Prohibition, then accepted a covert mission to discover and expose Nazi spy rings that were spreading like wildfire across South America, advancing ever closer to the United States. As World War II raged, Elizebeth fought a highly classified battle of wits against Hitler’s Reich, cracking multiple versions of the Enigma machine used by German spies. Meanwhile, inside an Army vault in Washington, William worked furiously to break Purple, the Japanese version of Enigma—and eventually succeeded, at a terrible cost to his personal life.

Fagone unveils America’s code-breaking history through the prism of Smith’s life, bringing into focus the unforgettable events and colorful personalities that would help shape modern intelligence. Blending the lively pace and compelling detail that are the hallmarks of Erik Larson’s bestsellers with the atmosphere and intensity of The Imitation Game, The Woman Who Smashed Codes is page-turning popular history at its finest.

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Check it out! † Available from the LA Public Library

Previously in (Re)Reading:

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