The Woman Who Smashed Codes
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 IIIn 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 toldIn 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, Elizabeth 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.

The Woman Who Smashed Codes Details

TitleThe Woman Who Smashed Codes
Author
ReleaseSep 26th, 2017
Publisher Dey Street Books
ISBN-139780062430489
Rating
GenreNonfiction, History, Biography, War, World War II, Historical

The Woman Who Smashed Codes Review

  • Charlene
    January 1, 1970
    Possibly one of the best books I have ever read. Even better than Hidden Figures. Thank you Jason Fagone for bringing Elizebeth Friedman into my life. When I first picked up this title, I thought maybe Fagone found a woman who was impressive, but not necessarily one of the most amazing women to ever live, to make the subject of his new book. It seemed possible that perhaps he was overselling her accomplishments and underselling the recognition she received in the history books, all in an effort Possibly one of the best books I have ever read. Even better than Hidden Figures. Thank you Jason Fagone for bringing Elizebeth Friedman into my life. When I first picked up this title, I thought maybe Fagone found a woman who was impressive, but not necessarily one of the most amazing women to ever live, to make the subject of his new book. It seemed possible that perhaps he was overselling her accomplishments and underselling the recognition she received in the history books, all in an effort to sensationalize his book and boost sales. Indeed the claims he made in his heartfelt introduction about Elizebeth Friedman were fleshed out and brought to life in each stunning chapter of her unbelievable existence. Why should you love this book? Because it was hard enough for women to even force their way into universities that would allow them to get a degree. Even when, against the odds, they received that degree, it was difficult to get a job. If they passed even that hurdle, once children came along, they usually had to leave their jobs to be good mothers. Fathers were "good fathers" if they provided. A woman was a bad mother if she went to work and provided. She had to stay home in order to be considered a good mother. Even if women got the degree, got the job, and survived in that job despite having had children, their accomplishments of a lifelong career could still be discounted. Elizebeth Friedman's life long career involved *creating* the models we use today (and that the FBI used and stole credit for!) and using those cyphers to help win WWI and WWII. Despite her contributions and her lifelong career, she was still be written out of the larger history and men were given credit for her work. I think we are all aware of how unfair the pay has been for women throughout history. Hell it's still unfair. Yet, I had no idea how unfair it really was. This book makes the pay disparity crystal clear. It was rough being a woman. Just think back to Marie Curie. Why was she able to make a name for herself in science when so few women had that chance? Why did women like Mileva Maric, who were smart, get relegated to wiping poop off baby butts instead of engaging with the wider world? The women like Curie and Elizebeth Friedman had what Virginia Wolf called "A Room of Their Own." The men in their lives valued them enough to free them from being only a mother or housekeeper. The men in their lives supported their efforts to use their brilliant minds and engage with hard problems the world needed solved. Other men, like Maric's husband Albert Einstein (who I love despite my criticism) focused on their own careers and had zero problem making the raising of babies (that they helped create) the mother's problem. They did nothing to ensure equality or give support to the women they claimed to love. Someone had to raise the kids and by God, it sure wasn't going to be them. Elizebeth's mind was nothing short of genius and her husband William knew it. While I generally dislike romance novels because they seem unrealistic and are usually aimed at women who need an escape because their lives are unfulfilled, this is my kind of romance novel! It reads nothing like an actual romance novel (Outlander, Fabio type books), but I am in love with the relationship of William and Elizebeth Friedman. They are my new all time favorite couple. Fagone draws on diaries, letters, and other documents from WWI and WWII to uncover the role Elizebeth Friedman played in the development of cryptography as a science, in catching pirates (so good), in teaching cryptography to special intelligence agencies like the FBI and CIA, and in breaking the codes that helped win WWI and WWII. He used those documents to present a biography of her whole life, both professional and personal to paint a picture unlike any I have yet read. You will get to know Elizebeth's quirky nature that resulted in her being very annoyed when people didn't use the right words. She hated politers, people who used pleasing words to soften what they really meant. A friend was not indisposed at a party. They were drunk off their ass and you should just say so. A loved one did not just pass away. They died. Accept it and own it. When you have a husband who gives you his heart and soul and it translates into some pretty good sex, you should accurately call him your "lover husband." What a character! I am not sure what was more interesting to me, her incredible brain and the work she did that ended up being a significant contribution to society, as well as our American society's very survival, or the fact that she did it while caring for her husband William, who was brilliant in his own right (and oh so loving- can I go back in time and hook up with William, please!!??), but who had some significant mental health challenges, namely major debilitating depression. I have to relate some of their more loving and sweet moments as a couple taking on the world together:While in the presence of another colleague, William was captivated by her, he could not help but rip off a scrap of paper and secretly scribbled a note to her. When their colleague was not looking, he passed her the note which read, " I am studying your features, you are perfectly beautiful. " She quickly tucked the note away in her pocket and later stuck it between the pages of her diary on the page she used to write about how she felt about this wonderful gesture. He told her almost daily how brilliant and beautiful she was and called her, "Dearest Woman in the Universe." Before they had children, he told her he knew he didn't make very much money working for the army as a code breaker, but he would work very hard to make sure he could hire someone to help look after the kids and take care of the house so she could be free to use her brilliant brain and write books or do something intellectually minded that would be deeply satisfying (this is a Room of One's Own). The descriptions of his earnest wish for her to have this type of life was so beautiful, it actually made me cry. Just wonderful. He told her that home is not a place where the wife cleans and the man comes home from work to be served. Rather, home is a place where two hearts beat in unison. And she should be spending her time with her intellectual pursuits so that there are two hearts can be in unison. At this point in their lives, the electron was just beginning to be understood and, in a letter, he asked her if she knew what an electron was and how incomprehensibly small it was. He told her that as incomprehensibly small is that electron is his love for her is in comprehensibly large. He worried most days that he wasn't enough for her. He was filled with as much insecurity as he was love. He told Elizebeth that *every* accomplishment he made was only because she was with him because he truly believed that without her, he could not function as a whole human being. Reading about him and his mental health issues, this seems to have been very true. This gives new meaning to the phrase, "You complete me."Elizebeth's work life was far more challenging that her romantic life.Though she and William had equal intelligence (many argue hers was superior and I tend to agree), and even though they had both been equally involved in creating cyphers to break codes, and were both equally good at breaking codes (she surpassed him in this ability by all accounts), it was only William who was asked to move to France to help his country decipher messages in WWI. Up to that point, Elizebeth had done just as much decoding for the war effort and was one of a hand full of people *in the world* who had the skills to break the codes that could keep our United States from being attacked. And yet, she *still* was not allowed to serve her country. She wrote to the Army to challenge their decision and informed them that she had the expertise and would very much like to serve her country. They replied that since she was a woman, it was simply out of the question. She was infuriated. Reading that, I could not help but be infuriated too. William's name would be the one who ended up on all the papers and in all the history books. He was the one who received the praise back then. Through it all, he worked hard to get people to understand that she was equally brilliant and made sure to tell her that all the time.Having no luck convincing the Army that she was more than fit to serve her country as a codebreaker, she was hired by the Coast Guard to bust pirates who were smuggling goods. What a job! What an experience! I believe this moves her from the status of being a significant figure in history to being a legend! Little did she or anyone else realize that her taking the job to catch pirates would lead to her biggest successes in her entire career. Because she was in the Coast Guard, and because she was their top codebreaker (in truth one of the top codebreakers in the entire world), and because they had the best technology at the time, Elizebeth became possibly the most valuable codebreaker in WWII and certainly contributed as much as Alan Turing to win the war and save American and British lives. She did all of this as Hoover claimed credit, credit for the lives saved, credit for the creation of *her* codebreaking models, and credit for the ability to break codes (which was only possible if they used her models).One of the best characters in the book is Fabian. If he were not a real person in history, you would think he was too far-fetched a character to make up. I am now compelled to see if there is a biography of his crazy life. I highly recommend this book and would even classify it as essential reading. If you don't read it, you are really missing out on one of the best biographies of any person who has ever lived. A++
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  • Jean
    January 1, 1970
    I recently read “Code Girls” by Liza Mundy. This book “The Woman Who Smashed Codes” makes a nice addition or compliment to the storyline. Elizabeth Smith Friedman is the subject of this book. Mundy also mentioned Elizabeth’s husband, William F. Friedman, and deemed them to be an important team of cryptologists. William F. Friedman was famous in World War Two for breaking Purple, the Japanese cipher machine.Elizabeth Smith was a college educated teacher who was recruited by George Fabyan to work I recently read “Code Girls” by Liza Mundy. This book “The Woman Who Smashed Codes” makes a nice addition or compliment to the storyline. Elizabeth Smith Friedman is the subject of this book. Mundy also mentioned Elizabeth’s husband, William F. Friedman, and deemed them to be an important team of cryptologists. William F. Friedman was famous in World War Two for breaking Purple, the Japanese cipher machine.Elizabeth Smith was a college educated teacher who was recruited by George Fabyan to work in his Riverbank Laboratory in 1910. She was hired to work on secret codes. She went on to play a key role in the development of cryptoanalysis in the USA. She met William Friedman at the Riverbank Labs and soon they were married and working together decoding messages for the government during World War One. Between the wars and during prohibition, Elizabeth broke the codes of the smugglers for the Coast Guard and other divisions of the Department of the Treasury. She frequently testified in court. During World War Two Elizabeth worked on decoding messages from spy rings in the North and South America for the Coast Guard. J. Edgar Hoover asked her to set up the Cryptology Division of the FBI. The book is well written and meticulously researched. At times the book reads more like a spy novel than a biography. Apparently, J. Edgar Hoover took credit for a lot of the work done by Elizabeth. This is another in a series of books about women’s little-known role in science and government work during both wars.I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. The book is thirteen and a half hours long. Cassandra Campbell does an excellent job narrating the book. Campbell is an actress and voice-over artist as well as an award- winning audiobook narrator. Campbell won the 2011 Audie Award. She also was the Best Voice in fiction for 2009 and 2010. She was Best Voice in Children’s literature for 2009. Audible just announced Campbell as a 2017 inductee in the Audible Narrator Hall of Fame.
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  • Patrick Brown
    January 1, 1970
    This was fantastic, and I'm not surprised. Fagone is a great writer (check out his previous book Ingenious: A True Story of Invention, Automotive Daring, and the Race to Revive America), and here he has great subject matter to work with. This book tells the story of Elizabeth Friedman, a pioneer in the field of cryptanalysis (that's codebreaking to us civilians), and one of the great unsung heroes of the 20th Century. Friedman's story has all the stuff you want in a great history -- wingbat theo This was fantastic, and I'm not surprised. Fagone is a great writer (check out his previous book Ingenious: A True Story of Invention, Automotive Daring, and the Race to Revive America), and here he has great subject matter to work with. This book tells the story of Elizabeth Friedman, a pioneer in the field of cryptanalysis (that's codebreaking to us civilians), and one of the great unsung heroes of the 20th Century. Friedman's story has all the stuff you want in a great history -- wingbat theories about Shakespeare, gangster rumrunners, Nazi spies, and a trip to Hitler's mountaintop lair. And any book that opens its section about WWII with a Fugazi quote is ok by me. I haven't read many history/biographies, but I can't say I've read one that moves quite as well as this. Highly recommended for anyone interested in espionage, codebreaking, WWII, or Prohibition. If I hadn't been trying to read this during the baseball postseason I would have finished it in a day.
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  • Ollivier
    January 1, 1970
    Anyone interested in the History of cryptography knows William F. Friedman, known as the man who broke Purple the Japanese cipher machine and many things. But who did know that his wife, née Elizebeth Smith, was his equal in cryptographic skills? She created a Coast Guard cryptographic team, broke an Enigma without any help from Bletchley Park, helped expose many Prohibition-era gangs and Nazi spy networks in South America during WWII and worked in tandem with William during WWI. She is as much Anyone interested in the History of cryptography knows William F. Friedman, known as the man who broke Purple the Japanese cipher machine and many things. But who did know that his wife, née Elizebeth Smith, was his equal in cryptographic skills? She created a Coast Guard cryptographic team, broke an Enigma without any help from Bletchley Park, helped expose many Prohibition-era gangs and Nazi spy networks in South America during WWII and worked in tandem with William during WWI. She is as much part of cryptographic history as her husband is.This is her history in that book, I highly recommended it.I knew she was very good but I didn't know she was that good. Thanks to the author for the book, loved it.
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  • Marlene
    January 1, 1970
    Originally published at Reading RealityOnce upon a time in the West, a wealthy and charismatic man whisked a young woman off to a luxurious life on his expansive estate.And even though that sentence is true, this is not that kind of story. Although it is a love story. And a war story. And a spy story.The man was George Fabyan, a wealthy businessman who had created a kind of scientific and technical utopia on his estate at Riverbank, outside of Geneva Illinois. The town of Geneva still exists, an Originally published at Reading RealityOnce upon a time in the West, a wealthy and charismatic man whisked a young woman off to a luxurious life on his expansive estate.And even though that sentence is true, this is not that kind of story. Although it is a love story. And a war story. And a spy story.The man was George Fabyan, a wealthy businessman who had created a kind of scientific and technical utopia on his estate at Riverbank, outside of Geneva Illinois. The town of Geneva still exists, and its location, and its horrible winters, are still exactly as described.The young woman who was carried from the steps of the Newberry Library in Chicago to Riverbank was Elizebeth Smith, later Elizebeth Smith Friedman. Elizebeth’s career took her from Riverbank to Washington, as she became one of the foundational figures of cryptography and cryptanalysis in America.Elizabeth Smith Friedman is also one of the many women who played pivotal roles in World War II on both sides of the Atlantic, whose contributions were lost to history. In her case, that loss occurred out of a combination of factors. Sexism certainly played a part. Both Elizebeth and her much more famous husband William were the premier cryptographers of their time. But popular beliefs about women’s brains and women’s places caused many to assume that she was the lesser light, supporting his career, even having some career of her own, but never quite equal.Her biggest contributions, like those of the codebreakers at Bletchley Park in England, were shrouded in top secret classifications for decades after the war ended, and have only been de-classified in the 21st century.And finally, while Elizebeth (and William) worked in secluded, top secret government offices, J.Edgar Hoover, the powerful director of the FBI, was under no restrictions about what he said and did, or more importantly, what he said that he and his agency had said and especially done. Hoover was more than happy to take the credit and the accolades that the Friedmans’ could not claim for themselves.(I have yet to read anything that touches on Hoover and written after his death that does not have plenty of nasty things to say. He clearly had a gift for alienating anyone who had to deal with him in person, while capable of doing a splendid job of what we now call “spin doctoring” with the press and the general population)Like the women in Hidden Figures, Elizabeth Smith Friedman is an important figure in the history of science in particular, and the history of U.S. in general, whose contributions deserve a giant spotlight.Elizebeth Smith Friedman was the woman who broke the Nazi Enigma machine code during WWII, which allowed the nascent U.S. intelligence forces in South America to prevent Nazi Germany from creating strongholds within easy reach of the U.S. She, with her pencils and paper and absolutely amazing mind, helped to end the war.She deserves to be remembered, and this account of her life, pulled together from her own archives and collected correspondence, is a fantastic start.Reality Rating A+: The Woman Who Smashed Codes is nonfiction, It’s all true and it all happened. But the life of Elizebeth Smith Friedman is also the stuff of which great stories are made. And this particular account of her life is so well-written that it reads like the most compelling piece of fiction. But it’s a true story.The story reaches out and grabs the reader from the first page, when George Fabyan breezes into the Newberry and asks the young Elizebeth if she will come and spend the night at his estate. It does sound a bit like a romance cliche. But it’s not that kind of invitation.Instead, Fabyan invites her to join a rather strange project. One of the many scientists working at his estate is a woman who was convinced that Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare’s plays. While she was (and is) not alone in that particular.theory, her application was a bit different. She was convinced, and had convinced Fabyan, that the truth was revealed in code in the typography of the First Folio. Elizebeth was recruited to assist in breaking this code.While she eventually came to believe that this particular Bacon/Shakespeare theory was a load of bunk, it did teach both Elizebeth and her future husband William the art and science of codebreaking. A science that they spent the rest of their lives building, expanding, cataloging and most importantly, practicing.There is a love story here. And what makes the story so interesting, and so relevant, is that the love story between Elizebeth and William is a marriage of equals, and always acknowledged as such by both of them – if not always by the outside world.And also that the story of Elizebeth’s accomplishments is never overshadowed by that of her husband or her family obligations within the course of this narrative. This is her biography and the tale of her accomplishments and never descends into a family saga. Not that she didn’t also raise two children and often help her husband, but it is refreshing to see a biography of an accomplished woman written in the same manner as that of a similarly accomplished man, with the focus on her career and intellectual achievements.The story of those achievements is a thrilling ride. She may have fallen accidentally into the field of cryptography, which, after all, did not exist when she began. But once in, she swam strong and swift up the steam, breaking the codes of the organized crime bosses running rum during Prohibition and the Nazis attempting to take over the world in World War II. Her cracking of the Enigma cipher in the U.S. occurred simultaneously and independently of the British crack of the same cipher at Bletchley Park.She was an amazing woman, and she led an amazing life. She was the founding mother of cryptography in the U.S., and one of the pioneers of all codebreaking in this country, including the creation of the NSA.The Woman Who Smashed Codes is a marvelously told story of a fascinating life that should be widely read. Anyone who has an interest in the lives of true unsung heroines and/or in the history of cryptography and cryptanalysis in the U.S. will get sucked right into Elizebeth’s story.I certainly was.
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  • Mal Warwick
    January 1, 1970
    When Richard Nixon asked Chou En-Lai in 1972 about the impact of the French Revolution, the Chinese Premier famously said, "It's too early to tell." That terse response is generally understood to illustrate the Chinese ability to take the long view of history. But it might be more accurate to regard it as reflecting the constraints on those who write history. Historians can only work with available records: there is no history without documentary evidence. And sometimes decades, even centuries p When Richard Nixon asked Chou En-Lai in 1972 about the impact of the French Revolution, the Chinese Premier famously said, "It's too early to tell." That terse response is generally understood to illustrate the Chinese ability to take the long view of history. But it might be more accurate to regard it as reflecting the constraints on those who write history. Historians can only work with available records: there is no history without documentary evidence. And sometimes decades, even centuries pass before the most crucial evidence comes to light.In fact, ironically, the exchange between Nixon and Chou reflects a misunderstanding that drives the point home even more strongly: they were both referring to the events of 1968, not 1789. Only now, much later, once a diplomat present at the scene clarified the exchange, can historians accurately interpret what the two men meant.There are few areas in which the unavailability of documentary evidence has been more telling than in the history of espionage in the 20th century. Only in recent years have the archives of the CIA, the KGB, MI6, the NSA, and other leading intelligence agencies opened widely enough for us to understand what really took place in the world of espionage in World War II and the Cold War. (Doubtless, some explosive documents are still locked away and won't surface until later in this century, if ever.) And there is no more dramatic example of how what has passed for history has misled us than what we have been taught about the FBI's role in counterespionage in the 1920s and 30s (combating rumrunners and smugglers) and in the 1940s (catching Nazi spies).Working with recently declassified files from the World War II era as well as long-ignored archival records and contemporary press reports and interviews, journalist Jason Fagone has brought to light at last the astonishing story of Elizebeth Smith Friedman and her husband, William Friedman. (Yes, her first name is spelled with three e's.) As Fagone shows in his beautifully written story of this surpassingly brilliant couple, The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America's Enemies, the Friedmans may well have been the most important 20th-century American codebreakers, and quite possibly the best and most successful in the world.William Friedman is celebrated in cryptology circles as the man who broke the Japanese military code called Purple. "MAGIC became the top-secret moniker for these Japanese decryptions . . . MAGIC led directly to bombs falling on imperial ships at Midway," the turning point of the war in the Pacific.Fagone notes, "Today historians of cryptology believe that in terms of sheer, sweaty brilliance, the breaking of Purple is a feat on par with Alan Turing's epiphanies about how to organize successful attacks on German Enigma codes." However, independently, before the US and Britain's Bletchley Park were collaborating on the effort, Elizebeth Friedman broke not one but three different types of Enigma machines. Fagone makes abundantly clear that the two were at least equal in ability. In fact Elizebeth may have been just a bit smarter. (William always insisted she was.)"William Friedman is . . . widely considered to be the father of the National Security Agency," Fagone writes. But both he and Elizebeth came to loathe the practices of the agency not long after its formation in 1952. It's very likely they would be scandalized by the indiscriminate collection of information about civilians by today's NSA.As Fagone notes, "Elizebeth and William Friedman unscrambled thousands of messages spanning two world wars, prying loose secrets about smuggling networks, gangsters, organized crime, foreign armies, and fascism. They also invented new techniques that transformed the science of secret writing, known as cryptology." Although today Elizebeth isn't nearly as famous as her husband, that was by no means always the case. During the 1930s, she become a celebrity for her work against rumrunners and other smugglers and gangsters during the Depression. The public attention halted when she was enlisted by the Coast Guard for a top-secret effort to identify the extensive Nazi spy network in South America—work at which she and her team were extraordinarily successful. Their efforts led to the dismantling of the Nazi network well before the end of the war. However, J. Edgar Hoover claimed the success for the FBI, ignoring their efforts, and he was able to get away with it because he had become so powerful. "It's not quite true that history is written by the winners," Fagone writes. "It's written by the best publicists on the winning team."The Woman Who Smashed Codes is an astonishing story that simply has to be read to be believed. His principal subject, Elizebeth Friedman, was an extraordinary woman he refers to more than once as a genius. (The evidence is there.) And Fagone writes the tale with often-elegant, metaphorical prose. He calls the book a love story, but it is of course far more than thatThe same declassification of secret files that allowed Jason Fagone to write The Woman Who Smashed Codes has led to the publication of several other recent books about women in espionage. The most prominent of these was Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II by Liza Mundy.
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  • Rick
    January 1, 1970
    Immediately added to my favorites shelf. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.The Woman Who Smashed Codes will be compared with Hidden Figures, and that's fair, to a point. Both books have at their core a story of remarkable scientific/mathematic achievement, overlooked because of gender, largely forgotten (until now) as others took credit. But it is so much more, so rich in its account of not only an extraordinary woman, but the time in which she lived, two World Wars and her central role Immediately added to my favorites shelf. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.The Woman Who Smashed Codes will be compared with Hidden Figures, and that's fair, to a point. Both books have at their core a story of remarkable scientific/mathematic achievement, overlooked because of gender, largely forgotten (until now) as others took credit. But it is so much more, so rich in its account of not only an extraordinary woman, but the time in which she lived, two World Wars and her central role in both, the incredible marriage that gave birth to modern American cryptanalysis, that I think it deserves to be evaluated on its own.Even in the hands of a merely serviceable writer, it would be an enjoyable read. But Fagone elevates the story, weaving it into as rich a tapestry as you could hope for. Secondary characters jump from the page just as much as Elizebeth and her husband William; little details transport you to the small, smoke-filled rooms where Elizebeth and her tiny team toiled in obscurity in defense of the country. Fagone firmly establishes Elizebeth Friedman's place in our history, and not only gives her her due, but demands that we reevaluate what we thought we knew about the wars, and the origins of America's intelligence services (nearly all of them have her fingerprints on them), and the people who are given credit for critical milestones in the country's history.This is a magnificent, memorable, important book.
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  • Tina Othberg
    January 1, 1970
    This book had the potential to be awesome (looking at other reviews!). However, the writing style of this journalist-turned-author comes off like a recitation of facts. Elizebeth is a fascinating woman that history ignored, her accomplishments and life man-splained away. As much as I appreciated learning about this dynamic figure, I found the writing dry and bogged down with too much detail.
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  • Barb in Maryland
    January 1, 1970
    Well done biography of one of the most interesting women of the 20th century.Though I do have a quibble with the blurb GR is using for this book, which describes Elizebeth Smith as a 'brilliant Shakespeare expert'. Ermmmm, not quite. Brilliant? Probably. Shakespeare expert? No. Rather, she was a well educated young woman whose casual interest in Shakespeare led her to be in the right place at the right time to catch the interest of eccentric millionaire George Fabyan. He happened to need an assi Well done biography of one of the most interesting women of the 20th century.Though I do have a quibble with the blurb GR is using for this book, which describes Elizebeth Smith as a 'brilliant Shakespeare expert'. Ermmmm, not quite. Brilliant? Probably. Shakespeare expert? No. Rather, she was a well educated young woman whose casual interest in Shakespeare led her to be in the right place at the right time to catch the interest of eccentric millionaire George Fabyan. He happened to need an assistant for his friend Mrs Gallup, who believed that there was a hidden code in Shakespeare's works. A code she believed she had cracked, only she was having trouble finding someone who could independently verify her work. Perhaps Elizebeth would be the one? No. But Elizebeth was now in place, as was fellow Fabyan employee William Friedman (who was working on a genetics project involving fruitflies), when the US entered WWI and Fabyan convinced the Army that his Riverbanks Lab was the perfect place for them to locate their code-breaking operation. The rest, as they say, is history. The Friedmans led the US codebreaking efforts, while also laying down the building blocks of modern cryptanalysis.I first heard of Elizebeth Smith Friedman in the summer of 1970. The details were limited to the work she and her husband William did as codebreakers in WWI and his work during WWII. Fagone's work adds rich detail and background to the little I already knew and then gave me so much more! I had known nothing of her work for the US Coast Guard in tracking (and catching) liquor smugglers during the Prohibition era; that work, while technically public knowledge, was pretty much forgotten knowledge by 1970.After WWI Elizebeth tried to 'retire', she really did. She had ideas for a couple of children's books (on code,of course, and the alphabet). She and William had started a family. However, the government needed some help with codes and William was unavailable. Perhaps she could help. Thus started her long association with the US Coast Guard. At first she was just decrypting intercepted messages (working at home!), then she was hired (in 1931) to lead (and train) a new unit to handle the increase in coded messages that the Coast Guard was dealing with. Absolutely fascinating reading.William left the Army after WWI, but was soon drawn back into the cryptology business by the government, though he never worked with Elizebeth again. In the 1930s her work load shifted from tracking rum-runners to tracking Nazi spies; his work was focused on breaking the Japanese codes.So much of what Elizebeth and William did before and during WWII was kept classified for years after the end of the war. William's work in breaking the Japanese code became public knowledge years ago (see Ronald William Clark's The Man Who Broke Purple, published in 1977). However, the work Elizebeth did, with her now expanded Coast Guard unit, to track Nazi spies both in the US and South America, remained sealed until 2000. She was sworn to secrecy about this work and kept her word.The section on Elizebeth's WWII work is riveting. The descriptions of the codebreaking efforts were not too technical for this puzzle lover to follow, while managing to convey the complexity and difficulty of the problems she and her team faced. The Nazi spy efforts in the US were thwarted early on (the FBI hogged all the credit), but the Nazi efforts in South America continued to almost the end of the war. The constant need in Elizebeth's work was to keep the enemy unaware that her group was able to read his messages. Once aware, the enemy would certainly change codes and the decryption effort would have to start all over again, leaving a gap of weeks, perhaps months, with no information. This worst case scenario unfolded in South America, thanks, in part, to the FBI. (J. Edgar Hoover was not one of Elizebeth's favorite people.) However, through hard work and perseverance, Elizebeth's group broke the new code (an Enigma one) and the information flowed again. (Fagone devotes a short section to the Enigma machines and the various efforts to crack their codes. While I was certainly aware of Turing's successful efforts in England, I was not aware that the US had also succeeded, independent of the British)While the thrills of the codebreaking efforts make up the bulk of the book, Fagone doesn't stint on the personal. In the early years we learn of coded letters exchanged with their young children while they are at camp, Christmas cards with simple puzzles hiding the holiday message, cocktail parties with friends--all fairly typical suburban goings-on. During and after the war, however, the reader gets a good look at the cost to both Elizebeth and William in working under such pressure for so long. William suffered from depression for most of his adult life and there were times when he was hospitalized. Those parts of the story are harrowing. Treatment for depression and other mental illnesses was primitive to say the least. The post war years make for rather melancholy reading. William died in 1969. Elizabeth spent her final years cataloging his papers; her own papers did not receive the same attention from her. She died in 1980, almost forgotten. But then, she never did like the limelight. She just wanted to do the job.I've already read this through twice. I've even bought a hardback copy to go on my shelf, next to my copy of 'The Man Who Broke Purple'. Highly recommended, even if you don't know anything about codes.
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  • L F
    January 1, 1970
    Frequently slow, but the topic of a woman’s skills in solving mysteries involving codes or cryptic messages is fascinating.
  • Nicole R
    January 1, 1970
    I literally just finished listening to this and I want to rush out and tell everyone I know about how freaking amazing Elizebeth Smith Friedman was. I want everyone to read this book and just marvel at how she was a superhero of her day, and yet few of us have heard of her. Because, you know, woman in the first half of the 1900s. There are no words to sum up the feats of code-breaking that this woman—this PERSON—achieved. She broke codes during WWI, using her pen and paper to make other counties I literally just finished listening to this and I want to rush out and tell everyone I know about how freaking amazing Elizebeth Smith Friedman was. I want everyone to read this book and just marvel at how she was a superhero of her day, and yet few of us have heard of her. Because, you know, woman in the first half of the 1900s. There are no words to sum up the feats of code-breaking that this woman—this PERSON—achieved. She broke codes during WWI, using her pen and paper to make other counties' efforts to conceal their secrets look like chump change. Then, while working for the US Coast Guard when it was housed in Treasury, broke smuggler codes during prohibition and make national headlines when the "lady" testified in court. Against booze smuggling cartels! But, the real pièce de résistance, was during WWII when she suddenly left the public eye because she was breaking freaking Nazi codes. BY HAND. Oh yeah, you know that machine that Alan Turing invented to break Nazi codes produced by their famous Enigma machine? She broke them. BY HAND. (It bore repeating). Elizebeth basically prevented the Nazis from getting a foothold in South America through Argentina. Which I totally didn't even know was even a thing! And, even more amazing, her husband was also a famous cryptoanalyst whose WWII Naval unit that he formed was the precursor to the NSA. So, while she was focused on South America, her husband was busting codes from Japan it created on their machine Purple. And, they each did their incredibly high stress, massively important, top secret jobs, then came home to their two children and fell asleep in the same bed and did not ever once talk about their work. For over 25 years. Can y'all hear the excitement in my typing?!?!The writing of the book was not as strong as some of my other favorite narrative nonfictions, and sometimes it slid into some eye-glazing descriptions of codes and solving them, but I could not care less. It was engaging, comprehensive, straight-forward and very much a story that needed to be told. I would rate it a 3.5 or 4 stars based on the writing in isolation. But, the shear enjoyment I got out of reading about this woman I had never heard of vastly overshadows any minor nitpicks I have with the writing. I love books like this. Women are awesome. Elizebeth deserved to have her story told.I also heard that it has been optioned for a TV show. I am a little bummed because I think it would make a better movie, but you bet your ass I will be watching it if it ever makes it to any screen.
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  • SueKich
    January 1, 1970
    The Word Smith.Elizebeth (with three ‘e’s) Smith became one of the most renowned codebreakers in history by a quirk of serendipitous fate. As a young woman brought up in a Quaker household, she wished to extend her horizons and at the age of 23 she went to Chicago in search of work. The quest was unsuccessful – but on the last day of her trip, on a whim, Elizebeth decided to visit the Newberry Library where a rare copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio was on display. The librarian noted the visitor’ The Word Smith.Elizebeth (with three ‘e’s) Smith became one of the most renowned codebreakers in history by a quirk of serendipitous fate. As a young woman brought up in a Quaker household, she wished to extend her horizons and at the age of 23 she went to Chicago in search of work. The quest was unsuccessful – but on the last day of her trip, on a whim, Elizebeth decided to visit the Newberry Library where a rare copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio was on display. The librarian noted the visitor’s interest as well as her obvious intelligence and told Elizebeth about an eccentric local tycoon, George Fabyan, who was looking for a research assistant. Fabyan was called and, there and then, virtually kidnapped Elizebeth and brought her back to his Riverbank estate to work on one of the many research projects he championed; this one, an ongoing mission to prove that Bacon was the writer of Shakespeare’s plays and that the entire body of work was actually a coded memoir of Bacon’s life. Mad right? It wasn’t long before Elizebeth realised that her assignment was a nonsense. But in the meantime, she had become friends with another Riverbank researcher: William Friedman. Like Elizebeth, William had a ferocious intelligence but had also not yet found his niche. Together, they became a kind of outsourced decoding department for the US authorities. With America about to become embroiled in the First World War, deciphering expertise was thin on the ground. Elizebeth and William not only became ‘an item’, their unique skill at unlocking codes made them an invaluable help to the War Department and the fledging secret agencies sprouting up in Washington. William went on to become America’s foremost decoding expert; Elizebeth’s role was no less vital but remained rather more low-key and certainly lower-paid: the fact that she was a woman deprived her of due recognition and reward. She went on to break codes that were used in various illegal activities from illicit liquor to drug-running, but it was her work in preventing Nazism from gaining a foothold in South America that made her a (comparatively unsung) heroine. This is an interesting story and one that was well worth exploring by journalist Jason Fagone. In the early 20th century, radio was the equivalent of the internet now. A new technology that required a new set of skills to fully comprehend its functionality and maximise its potential. The key issue then, as ever, was where to draw the line between privacy and security in a democracy. In this book, Elizebeth Smith Friedman clearly has a warm champion in Jason Fagone but unfortunately, the author seems to lose sight of her as a three-dimensional personality after she leaves Riverbank. (Perhaps the secret nature of her wartime work made her personal life less accessible to researchers.) I found the writing – er, how to put this tactfully? – satisfactory rather than satisfying but, nevertheless, this is a recommended read for anyone interested in the power of words – and their rearrangement.
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  • ⋟Kimari⋞
    January 1, 1970
    You might also enjoy:✱ Code Girls: Women Code Breakers of World War II✱ The Wolves at the Door✱ A Life in Secrets✱ Between Silk and Cyanide✱ The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy✱ Codebreakers✱ Hidden Figures✱ Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
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  • writegeist
    January 1, 1970
    In high school, I was a big WWII history fan, normally on the European and African theaters (Battle of the Bulge, Afrika Corps). I thought I knew a lot about what was going on... Well, I didn't. Not by a long-shot. Fagone's book reveals yet another level to all the actions, both military and civilian, behind the scenes of WWI, Prohibition, and WWII. The Friedman's almost single-handedly created the field of cryptoanalysis (with nods, of course, to the work of Alan Turing and his associates), hel In high school, I was a big WWII history fan, normally on the European and African theaters (Battle of the Bulge, Afrika Corps). I thought I knew a lot about what was going on... Well, I didn't. Not by a long-shot. Fagone's book reveals yet another level to all the actions, both military and civilian, behind the scenes of WWI, Prohibition, and WWII. The Friedman's almost single-handedly created the field of cryptoanalysis (with nods, of course, to the work of Alan Turing and his associates), helping to set the stage for the CIA and NSA. Their work provided a window into the activities of the Axis and Japanese troops as they "read their mail" throughout the war. Ironically, just because you know what the enemy is going to do doesn't mean you can act on it. As stated in the book, the winners do write the history, but even the winners shade their own accomplishments, and Elizebeth (yes, with an "e" instead of an "a"), though a powerhouse in the realm of decryption, was robbed of her place in history.This is also the story of Elizebeth's and William's lifelong romance, one of shared respect and pride in the other's accomplishments.Definitely worth the read.
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  • Vicki
    January 1, 1970
    There is so much to think about in this book. Cryptography, women in the workforce, the start of the NSA, World War 1, World War 2, privacy, work, marriage, partnership, humanity, what it means to leave behind a legacy, the dignity of intellectual work, motherhood - and so, so much more. It's a dense read, but today, as we grapple with what it means to be human and to entrust our privacy to machines, and in an era of intense debate about the role of women in technology, it's an important read th There is so much to think about in this book. Cryptography, women in the workforce, the start of the NSA, World War 1, World War 2, privacy, work, marriage, partnership, humanity, what it means to leave behind a legacy, the dignity of intellectual work, motherhood - and so, so much more. It's a dense read, but today, as we grapple with what it means to be human and to entrust our privacy to machines, and in an era of intense debate about the role of women in technology, it's an important read that adds a lot of historical context to the growing rise of the surveillance-industrial complex and the people with good intentions who started it. It's marketed as the same vein as Hidden Figures as a story about women's fight to gain equality in the workplace, and it does that, but it's also lot more complicated than that, and the author deftly covers a breadth of topics, including a detailed description of cryptography, especially during World War II. It does get a bit lengthy in the middle, which is the only reason I took off a star, but I really recommend it for anyone looking to learn about the history of US cryptography and women's role in it.
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  • Joyce
    January 1, 1970
    This is one of a number of interesting titles that have come out this year, all celebrating women in unusual roles who made important contributions but were overlooked in their male dominated fields. For fans of spy fiction with codes and codebreaking, this is a particularly interesting one. It chronicles the life of Elizabeth Smith Friedman, a Shakespeare scholar who worked for the eccentric George Fabyan (known to those of us in the Chicago area) but made her name, along with that of her husba This is one of a number of interesting titles that have come out this year, all celebrating women in unusual roles who made important contributions but were overlooked in their male dominated fields. For fans of spy fiction with codes and codebreaking, this is a particularly interesting one. It chronicles the life of Elizabeth Smith Friedman, a Shakespeare scholar who worked for the eccentric George Fabyan (known to those of us in the Chicago area) but made her name, along with that of her husband, as a codebreaker in WWI and WWII and beyond. The pair are now recognized as the founders of the science of modern cryptology, as research reveals her contribution was as important as his. Interesting tale of her career from looking for the true authorship of Shakespeare's plays (under Fabyan) to breaking codes of foreign powers and rum runners. Also how she balanced her career with other life as wife and mother and kept out of the limelight. Carefully researched, accessible, informative, and riveting, it makes an interesting listen (Cassandra Campbell is always a pleasure to hear) or read.
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  • Katarina Szulenyiova
    January 1, 1970
    “You can never get sick of too much knowledge.” Such a simple, yet elegant, premise of a book.“The Woman who smashed codes,” a story filled to brim with an insatiable desire for knowledge, revolves, tellingly, around Elizebeth Friedman, who with her husband form a highly unexpected couple of the first and the best cryptanalysts in the US history. Their shared belief that “knowledge is power” keeps returning as the main fil-rouge of this literary adventure, and lays a groundwork for the spectacul “You can never get sick of too much knowledge.” Such a simple, yet elegant, premise of a book.“The Woman who smashed codes,” a story filled to brim with an insatiable desire for knowledge, revolves, tellingly, around Elizebeth Friedman, who with her husband form a highly unexpected couple of the first and the best cryptanalysts in the US history. Their shared belief that “knowledge is power” keeps returning as the main fil-rouge of this literary adventure, and lays a groundwork for the spectacular story that is to follow.Elizebeth’s life endeavour is a story that grabs you from the very first pages, and does not let you go until the very end. Well researched and founded on both her and her husband William’s diaries, letters and work memos, Jason Fagone skilfully manages to bring the couple to life. We get the chance to observe their daily paths from the moment they started exchanging sideways glances at the mysterious Riverside establishment, under the authoritative rule of the eccentric George Fabyan, through their first breakthroughs in the field of cryptanalysis, all the way to becoming the most sought-after experts in the area. What exactly made this book so memorable for me? Caught completely unawares, Fagone brought back to life a woman that I slowly, but inadvertently, came to respect, admire, revere. He brought back to life the woman I want to become. Loving, caring, intelligent, yet humble, with never-ending drive to solve any challenge that crossed her way, Elizebeth steps out from the pages as a full-fledged, believable character, “a quivering, keenly alive, restless, mental question mark.” Her quirky love for language and its intricacies (which I oh-so-share), her obsession to always call the situation by its right name, and never-ending hunger to decipher the undecipherable made her one of the most memorable characters I have ever come across. She became an epitome of how much a woman can achieve, if only she sets her exceptional mind to it.The never-failing chemistry between Elizebeth and William is also admirable, a picture of an enviable relationship. William, portrayed as a slightly aloof and dreamy character, “enjoyed science because it was an interesting way of being alive” and, throughout more than 50 years of their marriage, always looked at Elizebeth “with eyes like little bonfires”. Even when continents apart, they cherished their relationship though long-winding letters in which they never failed to proclaim their love for each other, their soul-companionship breathing from every single page. Whether in personal or professional setting, passionate about constantly uncovering hidden meanings behind letters, their minds operated on the exact same wavelengths, often just through a shared look. And now, imagine all this highly dynamic and life-like characters interwoven with the remarkable story of codebreaking, rum-smuggling and the Axis spy-hunt across Latin America during the first four decades of the twentieth century… you get an ultimate recipe for an unforgettable literary adventure. Why didn’t I give it five stars? While the story itself was a clear five-star material, the author’s literary skill remained in the shadows and Fagone presented the story rather matter-of-factedly, without lending it too much of a “writer’s flair” that I enjoy in books. Limiting himself to predominantly descriptive style, and only occasional linguistic somersaults (“They strolled through cities of text with their wrecking kit, swinging hammers with glee, blowing up brick, melting steel, the sound of breaking glass echoing out into the prairie”), I felt the book clearly mirrored his vocation of a journalist, rather than that of a novelist. However, even despite this small shortcoming (based purely on my personal taste), he makes the dusty, black-and-white photo of the World War II come to life with colors previously unimagined and doses and doses of fireworks. Details describing the smoke-filled, sweat-drenched cabinets in which Elizebeth and her team made the words come alive, making the whole reading experience all the more entrancing. Highly recommended read for anyone looking for a small, but vivid window in to this quietly fading part of our history, and the spectacular woman behind it all. Many thanks to @Paul Ark for the recommendation!
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  • Christina DeVane
    January 1, 1970
    This story is amazing and makes you realize so many people worked on the war effort that we will never know about. I listened to an unabridged version which I felt like had too much background and history because I lost the storyline and interest in it several times. But I finally finished it! I also learned that my brain was not made for deep scientific things! 😂 Cryptology sounds so confusing!!
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  • Abigail
    January 1, 1970
    I was a fan of this woman before I finished the foreword! I loved the beginning when it explained her life and how she began her life as a cryptanalysis (codebreaker), but toward the end it became less and less about spies and more about the government. That's when I began to nod off. It was still an extremely interesting read! I can't believe all this stuff is real! Elizabeth and her husband won the war for America! And they couldn't tell anyone about it, not even each other.
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  • Angie
    January 1, 1970
    I don't remember another time when a non-fiction book kept me on the edge of my seat, neglecting the rest of life in the breathless anticipation of what comes next in this fascinating tale. Elizebeth Friedman was an amazing woman, on par with Grace Hopper or Marie Curie, and Fagone tells her story with great skill. He is able to convey the excitement that Friedman must have felt on learning to break codes, watching the messages take shape, reading the minds of unseen adversaries. Elizebeth Fried I don't remember another time when a non-fiction book kept me on the edge of my seat, neglecting the rest of life in the breathless anticipation of what comes next in this fascinating tale. Elizebeth Friedman was an amazing woman, on par with Grace Hopper or Marie Curie, and Fagone tells her story with great skill. He is able to convey the excitement that Friedman must have felt on learning to break codes, watching the messages take shape, reading the minds of unseen adversaries. Elizebeth Friedman and her husband William were responsible for much of the early codebreaking in US history, doing a lion's share of the work in both WWI and WWII. Their origin story as a couple and as cryptanalysts, beginning on an estate in Illinois, requiring government representatives to board trains with briefcases full of classified materials back and from from DC, beggars belief. I kept interrupting my husband with whatever he was doing: 'wait, wait, listen to this, can you believe it? this is incredible!'Elizebeth's role as a code breaker against rum runners during Prohibition and then Nazis in the 30s and 40s was instrumental to the Allied success in WWII. To tell her story, Fagone had to retell what Hoover called the Battle of America, the counterintelligence efforts against the Nazis in the US but also South America, specifically Brazil and Argentina. J. Edgar Hoover doesn't come out smelling rosy in this telling. Through the experiences of the Friedmans, we see the nascent forms of the CIA and NSA take shape, the cooperation between the UK and US that extended to shaping their intelligence activities, and the exhausting efforts put into winning the war no matter the personal sacrifice. We also see mistakes made, ambition sidelining good sense, and competition verging on foul play between the forming agencies. What a remarkable woman! Friedman was lost for a time, not in the public eye, but Fagone has fashioned a powerful tribute to her, full of detailed facts and explanations that make her accessible to us all.
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  • Katelyn
    January 1, 1970
    I loved learning about Elizebeth Smith Friedman and her foundational work with cryptoanalysis in the US before and during WWII. This was a great previously hidden history of a woman in a unique position for her time. Fagone cleverly comes up with great descriptions of Elizebeth's code breaking. She smashes, tears apart, etc codes. He keeps the description fresh despite writing about her deciphering many times.Overall I enjoyed this book but found it a little overlong. Despite it feeling a little I loved learning about Elizebeth Smith Friedman and her foundational work with cryptoanalysis in the US before and during WWII. This was a great previously hidden history of a woman in a unique position for her time. Fagone cleverly comes up with great descriptions of Elizebeth's code breaking. She smashes, tears apart, etc codes. He keeps the description fresh despite writing about her deciphering many times.Overall I enjoyed this book but found it a little overlong. Despite it feeling a little overlong, I also would have liked more detail in some areas. Fagone only briefly mentions that towards the end of WWII Elizebeth is working in a building that also houses many other women working to break codes. She's working apart from them, but it would have been nice to round out the picture and learn about what they were doing. I'm looking forward to reading "Code Girls", also just published, to get this picture.
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  • Bonny
    January 1, 1970
    I would bet that only a few people know about cryptography, and fewer still are familiar with the names and work of those who developed the science, like Turing, Shannon, and Friedman. Even if you have heard of William Friedman as one of the founders of the National Security Agency, you most likely have never heard of his wife Elizebeth and her work. Thanks to Jason Fagone, we can finally read her fascinating story in The Woman Who Smashed Codes. She was first hired by eccentric George Fabyan to I would bet that only a few people know about cryptography, and fewer still are familiar with the names and work of those who developed the science, like Turing, Shannon, and Friedman. Even if you have heard of William Friedman as one of the founders of the National Security Agency, you most likely have never heard of his wife Elizebeth and her work. Thanks to Jason Fagone, we can finally read her fascinating story in The Woman Who Smashed Codes. She was first hired by eccentric George Fabyan to work at his Riverbank Laboratories to prove that Francis Bacon had written Shakespeare's plays. Over time, her skepticism about the project grew, but she was developing new cryptographic techniques and working with the man she would eventually marry, geneticist William Friedman. She went on to solve codes for the Navy, Treasury Department, and the military during World War II. Fagone explains the differences between working on paper codes and machine codes (such as Enigma), and Elizebeth excelled at all of them. I had never heard of her, but the author has written a riveting biography, one that makes us all aware of Elizebeth, her curiosity, talents, and accomplishments, gives her long overdue credit, and is a wonderful read. (I can't help wishing that Jason Fagone would also write a book about Riverbank Laboratories. George Fabyan sounded like a rich, crazy, eccentric, but I'm curious about what other research he was funding there, and what may have come out of that research. I think the topic may be worthy of another book, Mr. Fagone!)
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  • Jay
    January 1, 1970
    I found “The Woman Who Smashed Codes” to be very entertaining. My enjoyment keyed off of two topics, local history and the discussion of codebreaking. Roughly the first third of the book introduces a true character in history, Colonel Fabyan, and his compound in Geneva, Illinois. I have lived less than 10 miles from what’s left of his compound for more than 20 years and had never heard this story, and it was quite unexpected given the area. Fabyan had his own kind of “Wonderland Ranch”, with dia I found “The Woman Who Smashed Codes” to be very entertaining. My enjoyment keyed off of two topics, local history and the discussion of codebreaking. Roughly the first third of the book introduces a true character in history, Colonel Fabyan, and his compound in Geneva, Illinois. I have lived less than 10 miles from what’s left of his compound for more than 20 years and had never heard this story, and it was quite unexpected given the area. Fabyan had his own kind of “Wonderland Ranch”, with diapered monkeys walking the grounds, visitors including Presidents, three miles of trenches dug for soldier training, and a Frank Lloyd Wright house. Those grounds were used for different kinds of research, including what began as an investigation into the belief that Shakespeare was an invention of Francis Bacon but later became a hotbed of cypher codebreaking. The descriptions of Fabyan’s Riverbank Labs and the combination of odd and historically significant happenings there will ensure I visit the compound, now partly a park. The main topic of the book was the life of the Friedmans, a husband and wife team hired by Fabyan as researchers, who later used the knowledge they gained searching for cyphers in Shakespeare to become world renown code breakers. The Friedmans leave Fabyan’s compound about a third of the way into the book, and head off to Washington, working the rest of their careers for the military, the FBI, the Coast Guard, and others. Given the secret nature of their jobs, their work paths didn’t often cross. This enabled each of them to independently drive cryptography and code-breaking as a science, and in use. Their working life included code-breaking during both World Wars as well dealing with organized crime. The sadness of their later life is also described. The biography aspects of this book were well done, and a big part of what made these subjects interesting was the sheer variety of work that they did. They were unique and ground-breaking, involved in the most interesting events of interesting times. True science heros.The author also included short and simple descriptions of the different kinds of codes that the Friedmans were working on throughout their lives, culminating in the breaking of the German Enigma code machine. This was done in easy-to-understand language, which was a pleasant surprise given the complexities in the concepts. It never felt like a math class, although there is a whiff of statistics…This is the second book by Fagone I have read. He is on my short list of non-fiction authors to watch for upcoming books. Well done.
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  • Judy Lesley
    January 1, 1970
    My oh my, what an amazing story this book has to tell. Puzzle solving is something I find myself doing on a small scale on a daily basis so this revelation of the work in cryptanalysis by Elizebeth Smith Friedman was positively fascinating. Thanks to the passage of time documents which tell this story have now been declassified and it is possible to learn the debt we owe to Elizebeth Friedman for her work with the coast guard and their solution of the Enigma code and William Friedman, her husban My oh my, what an amazing story this book has to tell. Puzzle solving is something I find myself doing on a small scale on a daily basis so this revelation of the work in cryptanalysis by Elizebeth Smith Friedman was positively fascinating. Thanks to the passage of time documents which tell this story have now been declassified and it is possible to learn the debt we owe to Elizebeth Friedman for her work with the coast guard and their solution of the Enigma code and William Friedman, her husband, for his work with solving the Japanese code Purple. But Elizebeth's team didn't just solve the Enigma code, they solved it three times!Elizebeth Smith was given the opportunity to live and work on an estate outside Chicago in 1919 to help prove that Shakespeare's works are actually codes written by Francis Bacon. This is where she met William and where they married. Once Elizebeth admitted she did not see any coded messages in the Shakespeare plays she was allowed to move on to other types of codebreaking. Eventually both the Friedman's needed more depth and freedom in their professional lives so they left Riverbank to continue on their codebreaking careers except for different government agencies. This book reveals the genius of Elizebeth Friedman when it came to codebreaking and her absolute loyalty to her teams and her government. She swore an oath of secrecy and she never broke that oath even when others were appropriating her successes and claiming them for themselves. The more information that becomes available about J. Edgar Hoover the more his self styled crown of achievement tarnishes.The successes of Elizebeth Friedman are brought to light here. The toll this incredibly intense profession had on both the Friedmans is sad to see. I was positively riveted to the pages of this book when the codebreaking during World War II was revealed. This is an incredible story.
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  • Helen
    January 1, 1970
    I loved this book and highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys stories of unsung heroes finally getting their due. This is the fascinating story of Elizebeth Smith Friedman, who with her husband, William Friedman, was pioneer cryptologist. She learned cryptology when an eccentric millionaire hired her to help with a project trying to prove Francis Bacon wrote William Shakespeare's plays. That meant when World War I came around, she was among the few people who knew anything about decoding messa I loved this book and highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys stories of unsung heroes finally getting their due. This is the fascinating story of Elizebeth Smith Friedman, who with her husband, William Friedman, was pioneer cryptologist. She learned cryptology when an eccentric millionaire hired her to help with a project trying to prove Francis Bacon wrote William Shakespeare's plays. That meant when World War I came around, she was among the few people who knew anything about decoding messages. She gained a measure of fame after the war testifying at trials of alcohol smugglers (and a few drug dealers) whose messages she decoded during Prohibition. However, it was during World War II that she really showed her stuff. While William worked for the Army, breaking the Japanese codes, she worked under the auspices of the Coast Guard, interpreting intercepted Nazi messages, particularly from Nazi spies in South America. Because they worked for separate agencies, Elizebeth and William couldn't discuss their work and lived under tremendous pressure (and in his case, depression.) It really is fascinating to read about the efforts to understand Enigma, the famous Nazi coding machines, that the British and Americans separately broke. While she used computers to assist in the end, Elizabeth largely depended on her own mind, plus paper and pencil to puzzle out codes. If you didn't already dislike J. Edgar Hoover, you definitely will after reading this book. Hoover claimed credit for the FBI for unmasking spy operations that Elizebeth had actually exposed. In one case, the FBI-led roundup of spies created tremendous disruption for the Allies by revealing that the Nazi codes had been breached. ("It was if the FBI had tried to destroy an approaching steroid with a single huge bomb but instead just blasted the rock into dozens of sentient fragments able to regenerate and spread wreckage over a wider swath of earth.") After that, the Coast Guard often left the FBI out of the loop on its decoded messages. Great story about a pioneering woman who made a tremendous difference in the war effort.
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  • Feisty Harriet
    January 1, 1970
    Cryptology, the study and science of code breaking, got it's start in the US (and Europe) by a husband-wife team who were GENIUSES at making and breaking codes. However, it was Elizabeth and not her husband who truly did the brunt of code-breaking to take down enormous Nazi spy rings during WWII. Elizabeth and William (Billy) started working for the government solving codes during WWI, but it wasn't until after the war that Elizabeth came into her own, creating the first code-breaking unit with Cryptology, the study and science of code breaking, got it's start in the US (and Europe) by a husband-wife team who were GENIUSES at making and breaking codes. However, it was Elizabeth and not her husband who truly did the brunt of code-breaking to take down enormous Nazi spy rings during WWII. Elizabeth and William (Billy) started working for the government solving codes during WWI, but it wasn't until after the war that Elizabeth came into her own, creating the first code-breaking unit with the US Coast Guard, a group that eventually became the National Security Agency. This book details a lot of the history of cryptography, the process of solving code with or without a key/cipher. Elizabeth Friedman is a genius, a code mastermind, and absolutely instrumental in the Allies winning WWII. Read this. You won't be disappointed.
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  • Correen
    January 1, 1970
    A story that begs to be told, Elizabeth Friedman was a strong and adaptable woman whose story has been hidden far to long. She was a major actor in the Allied win in WWII. We are much aware of British code breaking but little aware of the work done in the U.S. especially of this unsung hero. Elizabeth and her husband worked together for many years and then in separate projects. He became known to other code breakers but Elizabeth was neither paid well or adequately recognized. For those who knew A story that begs to be told, Elizabeth Friedman was a strong and adaptable woman whose story has been hidden far to long. She was a major actor in the Allied win in WWII. We are much aware of British code breaking but little aware of the work done in the U.S. especially of this unsung hero. Elizabeth and her husband worked together for many years and then in separate projects. He became known to other code breakers but Elizabeth was neither paid well or adequately recognized. For those who knew of her, she was a highly significant influence in the establishment of code breaking, solving difficult problems, writing extensively, and training vast numbers of persons. She was never allowed to talk about her work because of rules enforced after WWII, or even about her work in finding smugglers, and crime solving.I was very pleased to find this book and recommend to those interested in codes, WWII, significant and interesting persons, and looking for an interesting biography.
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  • Heather
    January 1, 1970
    This is a book that deserves praise, but I could only give it 3 stars because of my own faults: I am bored by war stories, and really couldn’t care less about codes and cryptology. I read it anyway because it was our book club selection this month, but unfortunately my experience was similar to when I read “Unbroken” a few years back. I slogged through it, all the while feeling guilty for not having more eclectic tastes.That being said, I am glad this story was told and the book has been receive This is a book that deserves praise, but I could only give it 3 stars because of my own faults: I am bored by war stories, and really couldn’t care less about codes and cryptology. I read it anyway because it was our book club selection this month, but unfortunately my experience was similar to when I read “Unbroken” a few years back. I slogged through it, all the while feeling guilty for not having more eclectic tastes.That being said, I am glad this story was told and the book has been received well by others.
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  • Elizabeth Buckner
    January 1, 1970
    I thought this book was quite interesting, well written, a true story. Code breaking is not really something I'd ever thought of before, especially involving the World Wars and how things might have been different if Elizebeth and William Friedman had not done what they did! Disclaimer: there is some language.
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  • Erica
    January 1, 1970
    A great historical read about a couple I had never really heard of, but who had major influence on code breaking, cryptology and the shadow war during WWII. I thought it was fascinating how they were so good at breaking codes and ciphers without ever really being trained, they were almost completely self taught. There was some profanity sprinkled throughout, and few of their dairy entries and letters to each other were a bit personal and lewd.
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