Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine who Outwitted America's Enemies by Jason Fagone

genre: biography, history

Elizebeth knew words.  She knew numbers, too.  Elizebeth Friedman had a mind that could arrange and rearrange until a scrambled mess of symbols became a message that someone else wanted to keep secret.  This woman's capabilities and efforts during World War I, during Prohibition and, most especially during World War II, literally changed the course of history.  At the forefront of the entire science of cryptology and codebreaking, Elizebeth's story is part spy-novel and part love story - as her husband, William, was similarly gifted in the field.  And while he was lauded as a pioneer and a genius, her massive (and certainly comparable) contributions went mostly unnoticed for years.  They are unnoticed no longer.

This is a fascinating story.  I cannot fathom the depth of intelligence that allowed her to do what she did, even just reading about it sometimes felt overwhelming.  It's technical and precise and yet a total guessing game sometimes - and Elizebeth was an incredible educated guesser.  I mourned for how women were treated during this period, how undervalued and unappreciated, and even though she occasionally had her moments to shine, it was almost with surprise - WOW!  A woman can USE HER BRAIN!  AND she did that while raising children and helping to emotionally support a troubled husband.  I am so grateful for women like Elizebeth Friedman who led the way for future generations of women to get a place at the table - and not only that:  I am grateful for what she did during the war, for what she gave up to ensure that our troops had the best information possible so they could stop the Nazis.  I learned a LOT of history in this book that I'd never known before - it's a history-heavy story and while it was a slower read for me than usual, I am very glad I finished.

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