November Book Review - The Woman Who Smashed Codes

Nov 14, 2018

If you enjoyed the story told by the book and film Hidden Figures, put this book on your reading list. The Woman Who Smashed Codes tells the very true story of Elizebeth Smith Friedman, who along with her husband William..... were the greatest code-breaking team ever.

I love historical fiction but in this case The Woman Who Smashed Codes  is historical but very, very factual.

Author Jason Fagone, introduces us to Elizebeth Smith, who as a very, young woman was tapped by an eccentric, wealthy tycoon to become part of his laboratory compound near Chicago. He offered housing and sustenance to intellectuals engaged in researching various branches of science, including cryptology.

A native of Indiana, Elizebeth had a college education with a major in English Literature. She'd never formally studied math but had a genius skill of seeing and looking for word patterns. 

It was 1916, the height of WWI and the tycoon had close ties to the U.S. government who soon took note of both Elizebeth and the extraordinary code-breaker....soon to be her husband.....William Friedman.

For 4 decades, Elizebeth and William worked for various agencies as a code-breakers, including the Coast Guard in their efforts to apprehend gangsters and smugglers during prohibition and later for the navy, focusing on the Nazi regime in Europe and South America.

The Friedmans educated teams and lead countless code-breaking missions for the U.S. Government which ensured an Allied victory in WWII. Ironically, J. Edgar Hoover and his FBI took credit for much of the success.

William has long been given credit as being “godfather of the NSA” but it was Elizebeth who co-wrote the papers which made him famous. At times, Elizebeth willingly omitted her name from his papers but history was more than willing to ignore her as well.

During Elizebeth's lifetime.....the myth of biological differences existing in women which made them incapable of complicated scientific or mathematical thought....persisted. She is proof the myth is unfounded. As we learned from the book and movie HIDDEN FIGURES.....women CAN do the work and women HAVE done the work all along.....whether or not they've been given credit for these great achievements.

The Woman Who Smashed Codes  is available at Park City Library in print version. This is Barbara Bretz, friend of the Park City Library.