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Recruited by the US Army and Navy from small towns and elite colleges, more than 10,000 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 codebreaking. 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, best-selling author Liza Mundy brings to life this riveting and vital story of American courage, service, and scientific accomplishment.
PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.
I first heard about women code breakers in a historical fiction book by D. M. Sorlie. The heroine in the Sue Lee Series was recruited and trained to be a cryptographer by the Army. When I saw this book, I thought it might fill in my gap of knowledge on the subject.
During World War One many women were recruited as Code breakers but as soon as the war was over they were sent home and told the secrecy oath was still effective. They were forgotten over time by the historians. During World War Two more than 10,000 women worked on breaking and creating complex codes for the military and diplomatic forces.
Mundy stated that during her research she discovered that many of the code breakers were female school teachers. The requirements for a code breaker were the ability to detect patterns, and have a deep understanding of the inner workings of languages and mathematics. The Navy recruited from the elite Seven Sisters Colleges and the Army recruited from teacher colleges of the South and Midwest. There were also a large portion of women code breakers that were civilian workers. The author states a small group of African-American women worked in the cryptology section and specialized in money movements and banking. The demand for educated women was at its highest during the war.
The working conditions were difficult. The could not talk about their jobs; they lived in cramped quarters and had to put up with complex bureaucracy and sexual harassment. There accomplishments were most often dismissed by the men. The men stated that all the women were good for was to do the tedious work.
After seventy years the information about the women code breakers was declassified. The book is well written and the research was meticulous. The author searched the government documents and archives. She interviewed the women code breakers, many of them were in their 90s.
The book is fourteen hours long. Erin Bennett does a great job narrating the book. Bennett is a voice-over artist and award-winning audiobook narrator.
10 of 11 people found this review helpful
Side note that prompted me to write this review: How can anyone give this straight across 1's on a the same-day release for a book this long?
Erin Bennett as the narrator is amazingly good, an excellent reader with no quirks at all. The of this story just flows. I would gladly listen to any story she narrates. (I'm about 10 hours into this story and, while I'd keep listening to it as I have all day long, I'm going to savor the final chapters by waiting until tomorrow to finish it up.)
Follows the lives of a handful of young adult Code Girls, female crypto-analysts living in the DC/VA area (Arlington Farms boarding house for women) just before and during WWII. Story explains how they grew up, how they ended up working in the highest top secret vaults in DC. In story fashion, follows their recruitment, hiring, training, and what their daily lives are like. Friendships develop, 10's of 1000s of women in these government work roles 'invade' DC as government employees. Although many women filled many government office jobs in more traditional roles or as Congressional staffers and aides, this story is about the top secret Code Girls and their dedication to the War effort working as crypto-analysts.
Couldn't give this a straight across 5's because a little bit of disconnected story line trying to keep track of where the some of the crypto girls are working, who they are working for; some disconnect in tying together how all the cogs of different government and military agencies handled sometimes the same kind of work. But the main theme of the day to day life of the very important work these women did shines through and makes this a great story about a small, but important segment these women played regarding the ultimate outcome of US WWII History. A bit of disconnection in trying to piece in the older history of the women in computing and cryptography work roles prior to this era. Those who aren't into complex analysis and code-breaking might not find this part of the story fitting very well with the day to day perils of regular life of these girls when they are away from work. A bit of disconnection in the story explaining cryptography and how difficult it is -- I enjoyed it, but I'm kind of geeky like that. Adding some regular dates and chapter titles that distinguish the reference between the different girls' stories and the side-history and historical context that brought these women to their jobs would have made this story a cleaner, more straight-forward story. An included pdf extra attachment with the photos of the girls and captions helps piece together this somewhat disjointed story of the story of several of the girls, but primarily the telling of the stories of the friendship of Dot and Ruth (nicknamed 'Crow').
A great listen for anyone interested in women working in crypto-analysis; what it must have been like being very smart, college-educated, but still a bit naive jumping into the DC/VA big-city, top-secret world of being a US government code breaker (of Japanese, German, and every other country codes that the US wanted these girls to decode messages from).
A political, feminist story??? As political as the USA was from the mid-1930s-WWII era. Political with regard to the fact that ALL of these girls were government employees holding top secret clearances and had a strong desire to work for the government to help the war effort -- if you are offended by women who wanted to work this kind of job rather than settle down and stay at home to be mothers and raise kids and not work, this story will not be for you. If you would like a vision of what the DC area must have been like circa WWII era, with women at work, and women asserting their capabilities outside of a of traditional women work roles (teacher, secretary, nurse, babysitter, housemaid) this is an inspiring story told from the perspective of living in that time, in that location, from the perspective of the girls who lived this life. Enjoy!
17 of 20 people found this review helpful
This book contains a fascinating episode in history. The author was extremely lucky to have been able to talk to some of these ladies. In Britain there was a code of secrecy about the women and men working in code breaking. My Mother joined the Army due to her interest in crossword puzzles and single status to work in intelligence, but she kept her work secret as was required at that time. Sadly through death and dementia we have lost the stories of many of the women employed in code breaking from multiple countries. This book is a great step forward in telling the story of the women who undertook code breaking in the USA.
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3 of 3 people found this review helpful
It is an incredible insiders look at WWll from those that broke gender barriers and without knowing it tipped the scales in a war that change it all.
As a person that lived in DC because of my husbands service to its government it allowed me to be transported and to reminisce about the streets and sights that I walked many decades later. To know the important role that these women played and the doors that they opened for the many people that work in those capacities today and how they change the world by taking a chance.
The narrator made the women and their lives come alive!
If you or you have daughters that are history buffs I would recomendable this as a book or as an unabridged audio book!!
It leaves you with a sense of pride and with a sense that everyone’s work makes a difference.
Thank you Mrs. Mundy for bringing this piece of history to the fore front.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
I enjoyed this book. I loved learning the hidden history of the code breakers as well as their daily lives.
In school the focus is on the war/battles. This gave a better picture of what happened to the people left behind. Something that is as important to understand as the battles when looking back at history.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Admiral Isoruku Yamamota, Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese fleet, was shot down by an American pilot flying a Lockheed P-38 Lightning over the island of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, on April 18, 1943. Admiral Chester Nimitz gave the Top Secret order to assassinate Yamamoto because of intelligence gathered by the women breaking codes at Arlington Hall, Virginia. Their brilliance, carefully nurtured and cultivated skill, dedication and deliberately hidden work was probably more important in ending World War II than Fat Man and Little Boy, the atomic bombs detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Liza Mundy’s “Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II” (2017) is a fascinating look into the recent history of cryptanalysis; the new, unexpected importance of women’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education in the first half of the 20th century; and daily life in wartime America. It joins illustrious books on pioneering women scientists and mathematicians, like Margot Lee Shetterly’s “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race" (2016) and Nathalia Holt's "Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us from Missiles to the Moon" (2016).
The women of “Code Girls” invite comparison to cryptanalyst Alan Turing, a British mathematician whose life and contributions were too exhaustively described by Andrew Hodge in “Alan Turing: The Enigma” (2012). Turing worked in Great Britain’s Bletchley Park, and “Code Girls” describes American women. The work was complementary, and the Brits turned over intercepts from Enigma to the Americans for decoding. Any real competition was actually between US Army and US Navy cryptanalysts, to see who could break codes the fastest. Mundy’s take seems to be that the competition was counterproductive- but the Army and Navy have been in more or less serious competition for two centuries.
The women “Code Breakers” were unexpected, and so were their lives in wartime America. It’s good to finally know about their contribution and sacrifices. As a woman Army veteran, and I especially enjoyed listening to a history I’d wondered about for so long.
The title of this review is from a quote in the book about what it takes to be a great cryptanalyst.
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7 of 10 people found this review helpful
Another block of history just fell into place which helps paints my picture of WWii.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
An important subject, which needs more exposure.
I wish the author had concentrated on a few main subjects and woven the other women's stories into a more cohesive framework.
There are literally dozens of women mentioned by name. I found it confusing to try to remember who was who and who did what. Had I been reading instead of listening, I am sure I would be flipping back and forth between chapters often.
The author pretty much wrote in chronological order, which was probably a mistake. Just because a book is nonfiction doesn't mean it has to be told day-by-day. The remarkable lives of these women would have been better remembered if their stories had been presented in chapters for each main subject, and a chapter devoted to the lesser subjects, or if the book had a format divided by time periods and main topics, such as, "Early Days at Arlington," "Navy versus Army Service," and so on.
The book would have been much better if the author had used an editor early on.
Even so, there is a wealth of information, and the stories of these women's lives are remarkable. Too bad the round robin letters are mentioned only as an afterthought. Putting this information in a forward or first chapter would have made the reader eager to read on and discover the lives of each letter writer. It is one of the most intriguing parts of the story.
As to the narrator, I appreciated her clear voice. However, I found her intonation somewhat irritating and better suited to a cozy mystery or other light-hearted fare. She was a bit too cheery.
Altogether, worth a listen. Then read or listen to other books about women pioneers.
5 of 7 people found this review helpful
A great testament to the role that women played during the war… Great perspective into the importance of their role, and the hardships that came along with it. Well done and a good read!
I would highly recommend this book, especially to anyone with an interest in WWII. This is a war story from a different angle.