The award-winning New York Times bestseller about the American women who secretly served as codebreakers during World War II--a "prodigiously researched and engrossing" (New York Times) book that "shines a light on a hidden chapter of American history" (Denver Post). Recruited by the U.S. Army and Navy from small towns and elite colleges, more than ten thousand women served as codebreakers during World War II. While their brothers and boyfriends took up arms, these women moved to Washington and learned the meticulous work of code-breaking. Their efforts shortened the war, saved countless lives, and gave them access to careers previously denied to them. A strict vow of secrecy nearly erased their efforts from history; now, through dazzling research and interviews with surviving code girls, bestselling author Liza Mundy brings to life this riveting and vital story of American courage, service, and scientific accomplishment.
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There were dark days immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbour and the invasion of the Philippines but gradually the code breakers got to work and cracked the Japanese codes. The Battle of the Coral Sea, where American aircraft carriers appeared out of nowhere to face a Japanese fleet was entirely to the credit of the code breakers. While the battle was in fact a draw, this did sideline the Japanese plans to invade Australia.
The author gives the reader a bird’s eye view of what life in Washington DC was like during WW II with its lack of accommodations, scant supplies and clothing and tightly rationed food. Due to wartime overcrowding it wasn’t unusual to find 4 to 6 women sharing a one bedroom apartment. Along with this interesting historical information the author zeros in on the individual stories of a number of the woman, giving the story a very personal touch.
Due to the secrecy of their work, these women took vows never to disclose the details of their wartime work and so have largely been overlooked by history. Thoroughly researched this well written account acknowledges their contributions and gives these women the recognition that they deserve.
This was an amazing book that lays out the history of all the wonderful women
My thanks to netgalley and Hachette Books for this advanced readers copy.
Although I found the
Mundy rightfully spends time on WW I code breakers and on the Friedmans, a married couple that excelled at deciphering messages for the United States in the 1920s, 1930s, and even into the Second World War. But most of her attention is on the women recruited in the early 1940s to work in the vast organizations that broke codes. As Mundy shows, these women contributed to the sinking of the Japanese merchant fleet, numerous convoys, and even participated in the Battle of the Atlantic along with their British colleagues.
Full of reminiscences by the surviving women, the book recreates a moment in history when America needed everyone to help win the war. Intriguingly, Mundy notes the existence of a separate African-American unit of code breakers who worked on commercial messages, allowing the government to track trading throughout the globe. As Mundy notes, however, the records for this unit are not as full and complete as for the main code breaking units.
Kudos to Liza Mundy, Author of “Code Girls The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War 11” for the Historical research and vivid
The women who were chosen for the Army were hired as civilians, and had to sign documents regarding national security, and had to promise their silence. The women working for the Navy also had to sign documents, and promise silence, and were more in a civilian capacity and certainly didn’t get the privileges that the men did. There was competition between the two services of government.
The women taking these positions, allowed more men at the front, and sent to fight. Unfortunately many men died, but the women hoped by breaking codes, they could save their lives. Men made much more money than the females did,when they had held these positions. There were some men that still were Code-breakers.
Code-breaking was tedious, and took hours and weeks of intricate work, finding patterns. The women were sworn to silence and couldn’t even discuss their frustrations or break-throughs with friends or family. At times, it was extremely tense, and several people had a nervous collapse. I would recommend this interesting book for those who enjoy reading about World War Two.
Yet the men, who "ought" to have done that work, were needed for combat operations. Enter the women.
Mundy, based on extensive research including interviews with many of the surviving "code girls," gives us a revealing, compelling picture of the women, their experiences, the history of American cryptography, and the vital role it played in WWII.
Drawing women in to war work, as well as industrial work, to fill the places of men needed for combat, was a major social upheaval in America, and after the war ended, there was an equally major effort to roll it back and send women back home to make room, and inviting homes, for returning men. Yet "freeing the men to fight" had also meant, in many cases, that the women's own brothers or husbands or sweethearts were killed, even as the coders' and others' work had been aimed at keeping the fighting men safe and bringing them home faster.
At the same time, cryptography during the war was a major opportunity for women interested in math to do real and meaningful work in it, rather than being regarded as having wasted their time on a subject not really considered fit for women.
The conflicting pressures, as well as both the restrictions of highly classified war work combined with the freedom of earning their own money in settings far removed from their families and the neighbors they grew up among, created an exciting, confusing, challenging life for women cryptographers, even as the small number of men in their ranks experienced, too often, being regarded as failures and perhaps cowards, despite often being men who were too old for military service, or classified as 4F, medically unable to meet the physical demands of combat. Like the women, they were doing the work they could do, valuable work, that enabled the combat soldiers to fight more effectively.
It's a fascinating look at a long-hidden but vital aspect of the war, one the women and men involved couldn't talk about until decades later.
I bought this audiobook.
In the beginning, the Navy recruited women from the Seven Sisters group of colleges for women. It was one of the requirements that the women be pleasant to look at or good looking, so no one would be stuck with plain women working with the men of the Navy, and eventually, the Army. The Army was somewhat less interested in background and looks, and first searched for their women in the mid-west.
One of the most interesting profiles for me, is that of Agnes Driscoll. She spent her days, and in fact years, studying and unlocking Japanese Navel fleet codes. Agnes was considered to be a genius by some, as her work, confined behind a desk, eventually made her fluent not only in the Japanese ship names and extremely proficient in understanding their cryptographic habits and in fact, in cracking their superencipherment. This was a method that involved both codes and ciphers.
There is a lot to this book, enough so that I feel that I need to open it and read it through again, to actually absorb all that it has to offer.
My one small criticism of the book is a somewhat inherently negative bias toward men and the social norms of the day, i. e. men going to work and women staying home to raise the kids and run the household. Although this was but a minor undercurrent, it was clearly there when Ms. Mundy kept reiterating that more and more of the code breaking was being done by women, which, given the pressing nature of the global conflict, made sense. Hard to crack code when running flight ops, or crawling up some beach. Still, a small point made smaller still by the work these ladies did in shortening the war by years. And, it seems, there were instrumental as seminal members of the then fledgling NSA. A story long overdue in the telling and well told at that. Four and a half stars from this old curmudgeon.
It was apparent that artistic hobbies were considered a good sign of code breaking.
Women interested in serving, freely took an loyalty and secrecy oath. Even though, at that time, they were not clear on the exact purpose as to why they were being recruited. Women felt it important throughout the war to do their job well, while still doing everything in their power to keep up the morale of the men.
This is cleverly written. It shows life was moment to moment. This story pointed out the humor, romance and betrayal during wartime, and the way loss was honored. The study of coding and mention of false and non carrying addition and looping was entirely intriguing. As was the deciphering and deception program's with real traffic and fake traffic.
These 'Code Girls' had great loyalty, discipline and focus. Many women took these secrets to their graves. And we see the turmoil and struggle of this life altering decision that helped lead to the wars end, and our nation's gain.
I felt this book was a excellent read and do highly recommend it.
put it down till you finish.
I received this digital ARC in exchange for an unbiased review from NetGalley.
A remarkable true account of the many women who were instrumental in the WWII era. Their stories, not unlike many
The author thoroughly researched the women who were vital in the history of code breaking during WWII. She brings these women to life and provides a voice to those who are still alive. These well-educated women were vetted specifically for this complex task. Although they were unable to disclose the importance of their work, it is clear that the work provided tremendous pride and satisfaction.
The story was a little slow and dry at times but understandable given the attention to detail and accuracy. There are many memorable characters who played major roles in protecting our country with their unique ability to decipher complex codes from different countries.
It fascinates me how important women were to the national security of our country.
I'm already nearly finished with Code Girls by Liza Mundy and agree with Lime Spouse down the
Nearly the entire American WW II cryptology work was performed by women; they cracked German Enigma codes after the Germans added a fourth wheel to it, and they cracked Japanese codes that controlled merchant shipping supplying the far-flung Japanese armies. These women codebreakers were the egg from which the NSA was hatched, yet they never received the benefits nor recognition from the government that was their due.
Mundy crafts a book for code nerds, general WW II buffs, and for readers interested in women's studies. She merges the stories and anecdotes of many individual women with the societal constraints, prejudices, and employment taboos these women overcame. She exposes the misogyny, rivalry, and enmity between the nation's two major military branches. And she manages to convey how deeply patriotic, diligent, and unacknowledged the codebreakers were during wartime and thereafter.
Based on hundreds of interviews with many of the surviving women and their families, the story comes out thru many vignettes, artfully woven to make a complete story from the Army and Navy decisions to expand the "code breaking" from just a few people and to recruit young women of good character with math and linguistic skills. The book gives only the sketchiest of details of the decrypting process, instead covers what the girls could talk about in letters and diaries, their daily lives living in the Washington DC area during the war.
This book was an incredible story, told lovingly by Liza Mundy. I loved the way Ms. Mundy wrote about each of the code girls, including their back story, and the toll working a secret operation took on their lives. I also loved learning about the way the girls were recruited, how
This book could have been very dry, but Ms. Mundy anecdotes about each of these women brought the story to life. I was familiar with Alan Turing and his work, but I was not familiar with the work done by these women during and after WWII.
I also really enjoyed learning some local history. Living in Baltimore, I am familiar with Goucher College, but not its participation in the war effort. I also wasn't aware of its earlier location. I also enjoyed hearing about Arlington Hall, and the other locations around the DC metro area.
I especially was thrilled to read about these smart women. Women who have brains and used them to their best capacity. However, I was saddened to read about the sexism and the inequity of pay, as well as the stigma of pregnancy. I was inspired to read how the ambition of these women to do more with their lives, use their education, and to better themselves and their family was woven in their character.
These women are heroes. I thank Liza Mundy for bringing their stories to life.
And like many young women who suddenly found themselves in the military, but not of it, they worked mostly in oblivion. Obviously, in the
There are interesting stories here about the business of code-breaking, but Mundy keeps the focus on the young women, following many of them through the war and their postwar experiences as well. Many shared educational backgrounds and had trained to become teachers, or had worked briefly in that field. Others were plucked out of college classrooms because they had shown strength in the fields the military had realized were crucial to code-breaking. They endured physical hardships, gender-based discrimination in advancement (and later in accessing GI Bill benefits), and coped with military bureaucracies that seldom acknowledged the value of the work they had done, even when it became possible to recognize their male co-workers after the war.
There is some repetition of material here, as Mundy doubles back to look at some events from different perspectives, and her attempt to recognize as many of the code-breakers as possible means that most of them get short shrift when revealing details of their personal lives.
Still, it's a worthwhile trip through a little-known aspect of women's contributions to a nation at war.
These remarkable women proved they could do some of the most important work for the military during the war. Work requiring intelligence, toughness and
I found the way codes were broken and the personal stories of the women before, during, and after the war equally interesting. Certainly history that needed to be told.
I read the YA version of the book and I think it's best suited to older teens and adults.