Book Talk:The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone
“Not all superheroes wear capes, and Elizebeth Smith Friedman should be the subject of a future Wonder Woman movie.”
—The New York Times
Joining the ranks of Hidden Figures and In the Garden of Beasts, the incredible true story of the greatest code-breaking 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 II.
About the Book
In 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 told.
In 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, Elizebeth 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.
Reviews & What Readers Say
“ The Woman Who Smashed Codes...has drawn comparisons to Hidden Figures, though we think this one is better. In journalist Jason Fagone’s deft hands, we not only learn about a lost national treasure, but also get new insight into the history of our country at war.”
―New York Post
“ [Elizebeth Friedman] was a tireless and talented code breaker who brought down gangsters and Nazi spies...a fascinating swath of American history that begins in Gilded Age Chicago and moves to the inner workings of our intelligence agencies at the close of WWII."
―Los Angeles Times
“ It’s unsurprising that the name Elizebeth Friedman doesn’t ring a bell for most Americans, given how much of her work was classified during the war.... Still, this Quaker-born poet from Indiana was the grandmother of the National Security Agency and virtually created the modern code-breaking profession. Trust us on this one."
" One of the year’s best reads, it is both deeply researched and beautifully told."
―The Philadelphia Inquirer
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I'm a 39-year-old author and reporter who covers technology, sports, and culture. My latest book is "The Woman Who Smashed Codes," about an American puzzle-solving heroine of the world wars. In 2014-15 I was a Knight-Wallace Fellow in journalism at the University of Michigan, and now I live near Philadelphia with my wife and daughter.