- Audio CD
- Publisher: Hachette Books; Unabridged edition (October 10, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1478922702
- ISBN-13: 978-1478922704
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.6 x 5.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Customer Reviews: 825 customer ratings
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #158,026 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II Audio CD – Audiobook, CD, Unabridged
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"Code Girls...finally gives due to the courageous women who worked in the wartime intelligence community."―Smithsonian.com
"Code Girls is a riveting account of the thousands of young coeds who flooded into Washington to help America win World War II. Liza Mundy has written a thrilling page-turner that illuminates the patriotism, rivalry, and sexism of the code-breakers' world."―Lynn Povich, author of The Good Girls Revolt
"Code Girls is an extraordinary book by an extraordinary author. Liza Mundy's portraits of World War II codebreakers are so skillfully and vividly drawn that I felt as if I were right there with them--mastering ciphers, outwitting the Japanese army, sinking ships, breaking hearts, and even accidentally insulting Eleanor Roosevelt. I am an evangelist for this book: You must read it."―Karen Abbott, New York Times bestselling author of Sin in the Second City and Liar, Temptress, Solider, Spy
"Code Girls reveals a hidden army of female cryptographers, whose work played a crucial role in ending World War II. With clarity and insight, Mundy exposes the intertwined narratives of the women who broke codes and the burgeoning field of military intelligence in the 1940s. I cannot overstate the importance of this book; Mundy has rescued a piece of forgotten history, and given these American heroes the recognition they deserve."―Nathalia Holt, New York Times bestselling author of Rise of the Rocket Girls
"Mundy is a fine storyteller.... A sleek, compelling narrative.... The book is a winner. Her descriptions of codes and ciphers, how they worked and how they were broken, are remarkably clear and accessible. A well-researched, compellingly written, crucial addition to the literature of American involvement in World War II."―Kirkus (starred review)
"Similar to Nathalia Holt's The Rise of the Rocket Girls and Margot Lee Shetterly's Hidden Figures, this is indispensable and fascinating history. Highly recommended for all readers."―Library Journal (starred review)
"Mundy's fascinating book suggests that [the Code Girls'] influence did play a role in defining modern Washington and challenging gender roles--changes that still matter 75 years later."―Washingtonian
"Fascinating.... Addictively readable.... [Mundy] displays a gift for creating both human portraits and intensely satisfying scenes."―Boston Globe
"Like Hidden Figures, this well-crafted book reveals a remarkable slice of unacknowledged U.S. history.... Captivating."―The Christian Science Monitor
About the Author
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According to this book, the women worked for seven days straight, with their eighth “off” day spent on shopping, errands, and probably housework as well. However, my mother did not mind the long hours. On her commute from Washington, she even ran into Eleanor Roosevelt one morning around 6; Roosevelt said she took early walks to evade the Secret Service. Like other women in this book, my mother roomed with another woman who was also a code breaker and who became a close friend, and she enjoyed the camaraderie of her whole code-breaking group.
Author Liza Mundy weaves a number of narrative strands. She discusses the work done at not only Arlington Hall, but at the separate Navy code-breaking facility (where most code breakers were WAVES) and at Sugar Camp. Sugar Camp was an NCR rustic retreat outside Dayton, Ohio used in peacetime to train salesmen; during the war it housed WAVES who wired the bombes that NCR manufactured to break the German Enigma codes. Mundy gives as much technical detail on code breaking as the average, nonspecialist reader can probably handle. This includes work done during World War 1 and between the wars. Some World War 1 code breakers carried right on into World War 2.
I was disappointed that almost all the World War 2 information focuses on the Japanese codes. It’s true that the Japanese codes were extremely challenging. They were complex, the Japanese used several different codes, and the codes were changed constantly. It was hard to find Americans who knew Japanese. The code breakers were given some basic relevant vocabulary. Then--Mundy mentions only in passing, late in the book--the decoded messages were passed to translators, many of them missionaries or children of missionaries who had lived in Japan. Mundy also mentions somewhere that the messages of many other countries were decoded at Arlington Hall. (I’d assume this was also true of the Navy facility.) But that’s all she says. The organization of the code-breaking facilities seems to have been complex, with people working in many different groups for both efficiency and secrecy. I gained little sense of the overall organization or what the groups were. I have no idea what my mother worked on, but my guess is messages in French. She had a BA in French, she was fluent in French, and I’d assume Vichy France was pumping out messages at the same phenomenal rate as other countries.
Mundy may have focused primarily on the Japanese code-breaking group due to her choice to tell the personal stories of a number of code breakers, especially Dorothy (Dot) Braden, now Dorothy Braden Bruce. Dot worked in a Japanese group and Mundy interviewed her extensively for this book. Dot’s personal life included her close friendship with her roommate, code breaker Ruth Weston; Dot’s on-off engagement to a soldier named George Rush; and Dot’s postwar marriage to another soldier named Jim Bruce. Dot also had brothers in the war. In between handling all that coded text, Dot and other code breakers wrote huge numbers of letters, to husbands, fiancés, brothers, even soldiers they’d never met who wanted pen pals. The workforce was mostly female—my mother said there was only one man in her group, an elderly Egyptologist who had worked on cracking hieroglyphics. But the code breakers’ lives were full of men, to the extent that (Mundy relates) pregnancies were not uncommon among unmarried women at Arlington Hall. (The Navy was much tighter and required even married pregnant women to quit work.) I can’t help wondering whether my 30-ish mother was also feverishly writing to soldiers and dating numerous men when they were on leave. Certainly not my father—they did not meet till after the war and in any case, he was rejected by the draft due to a medical condition.
Although Mundy goes back and forth between code-breaking organizations and various personal stories, she manages to move through the war narrative more or less chronologically. Her descriptions of military and naval action are mostly focused on the end of the war, especially the excitements of D-Day and the Japanese surrender. My mother said that two of her coworkers always joked that “by the end of the war they’d be cutting out paper dolls.” When my mother and others came in after their day off, they discovered those two coworkers had spent that day making paper dolls, using every scrap of paper they’d saved up, and had hung the dolls all over the office. Mundy mentions that people danced in the streets of Washington.
However relieved the women code breakers were, their immediate experiences were not altogether joyous. The Arlington Hall workers were given a speech encouraging them all to quit work as soon as possible. Most did, at least after they married or had a child. (A few did stay into the Cold War and beyond.) The US mounted a reverse recruitment campaign, telling all women it was their patriotic duty to turn over their jobs to returning men. Women married the fiancés they’d been corresponding with and proceeded to have babies. Some were happy housewives; some were not. Many, including my mother, missed the sense of challenge and purpose they’d had as code breakers, and went back to work. After the war my mother got a graduate degree in mathematics, which my father (a physicist) never understood. Her verbal skills were so much stronger, he said; why was she determined to study mathematics? But mathematics was needed and valued at Arlington Hall, and many women did not discover their aptitude for it until they worked there. My mother waited till her children were old enough, then spent the rest of her career as a college math professor. Most of the code breakers still alive are now in assisted living facilities. It’s good that Mundy interviewed some, because they were told their work was top secret and should never, ever be revealed. Many revealed nothing substantive while they were alive, including my mother, though it was clearly one of the happiest times of her life.
When I was 12 or 13, my mother sat me down and taught me the rudiments of code breaking. This was just the beginning, she said; the work at Arlington Hall was much harder. What she was teaching me was not classified. But I should learn something about breaking codes, because I’d never know when I might need to.
The author incorporates personal information from a number of the "code girls" and factual information on many others. Women were responsible for many of the most important code breaking accomplishments during the war, and their efforts definitely helped the U.S. to win the war on both fronts. They actually learned of the Japanese surrender before many in the government and military did!
Women were recruited from colleges and universities, and many had been trained as teachers, one of the few occupations available to educated women at the time. They underwent extensive screening and training to ensure that they were fit for the work. They arrived in Washington, D.C. in droves and were housed in hastily constructed rather Spartan accommodations. The work was scheduled 24 hours a day, and housing was so limited that it wasn't uncommon for multiple girls to use the same bed. They were housed and fed, and provided with a wage that was more than any of them could ever had made as teachers; nevertheless their pay rate was still 25-30% less than men doing the same work. It was an exciting time to be in the Capitol, and the women also had lively social lives, some of them being courted by multiple men in uniform and all of them maintaining a steady correspondence with one or more men who were serving the country.
The technical information relating to the strategy and tactics of code breaking was quite detailed, but somewhat inscrutable to me so I skimmed quickly some of those sections; suffice it to say that it required an extreme amount of organization, attention to detail, a mathematical orientation, razor sharp memories and ability to see patterns, both small and large.
I found the book quite riveting, with enough personal detail to enliven the story, and enough technical detail to establish just how serious and demanding their work was. I can definitely imagine that a movie will be made of this exciting and interesting chapter in our nation's history.
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