Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II

Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II

by Liza Mundy


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"Prodigiously researched and engrossing."---New York Times Book Review

"Fascinating.... Addictively readable."---Boston Globe

"Code Girls reveals a hidden army of female cryptographers, whose work played a crucial role in ending World War II.... Mundy has rescued a piece of forgotten history, and given these American heroes the recognition they deserve."---Nathalia Holt, bestselling author of Rise of the Rocket Girls

Recruited by the U.S. Army and Navy from small towns and elite colleges, more than ten thousand women served as codebreakers during World War II. While their brothers and boyfriends took up arms, these women moved to Washington and learned the meticulous work of code-breaking. Their efforts shortened the war, saved countless lives, and gave them access to careers previously denied to them. A strict vow of secrecy nearly erased their efforts from history; now, through dazzling research and interviews with surviving code girls, bestselling author Liza Mundy brings to life this riveting and vital story of American courage, service, and scientific accomplishment.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316352543
Publisher: Hachette Books
Publication date: 10/02/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 885
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 7.60(h) x 1.30(d)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

Liza Mundy is the New York Times bestselling author of The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners Is Transforming Sex, Love and Family and Michelle: A Biography. She has worked as a reporter at the Washington Post and contributed to numerous publications including The Atlantic, TIME, The New Republic, Slate, Mother Jones, and The Guardian. She is a frequent commentator on countless prominent national television, radio, and online news outlets and has positioned herself at the prestigious New America Foundation as one of the nation's foremost experts on women and work issues.

Table of Contents

Author's Note xiii

The Secret Letters 1

Introduction: "Your Country Needs You, Young Ladies" 17

Part I "In the Event of Total War Women Will Be Needed"

Chapter 1 Twenty-Eight Acres of Girls 53

Chapter 2 "This Is a Man's Size Job, but I Seem to Be Getting Away with It" 86

Chapter 3 The Most Difficult Problem 130

Chapter 4 "So Many Girls in One Place" 169

Part II "Over All This Vast Expanse of Waters Japan Was Supreme"

Chapter 5 "It Was Heart-Rending" 201

Chapter 6 "Q for Communications" 244

Chapter 7 The Forlorn Shoe 311

Chapter 8 "Hell's Half-Acre" 318

Chapter 9 "It Was Only Human to Complain" 356

Chapter 10 Pencil-Pushing Mamas Sink the Shipping of Japan 375

Part III The Tide Turns

Chapter 11 Sugar Camp 401

Chapter 12 "All My Love, Jim" 448

Chapter 13 "Enemy Landing at the Mouth of the Seine" 460

Chapter 14 Teedy 487

Chapter 15 The Surrender Message 499

Chapter 16 Good-Bye to Crow 513

Epilogue The Mitten 522

Acknowledgments 551

Notes 559

Bibliography 609

What People are Saying About This

author of The Good Girls Revolt Lynn Povich

"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."

New York Times-bestselling author of Sin in the Second City and Liar, Temptress, Solider, Spy - Karen Abbott

"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."

author of The Good Girls Revolt - Lynn Povich

"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."

Pulitzer Prize-winning author of High Noon - Glenn Frankel

"Liza Mundy's Code Girls reveals one of World War Two's last remaining secrets: the true tale of the young American women who helped shorten the war and saved thousands of lives by breaking the codes of the German and Japanese armed forces. But it's also a superbly researched and stirringly written social history of a pivotal chapter in the struggle for women's rights, told through the powerful and poignant stories of the individuals involved. In exploring the vast, obscure and makeshift offices of wartime Washington where these women performed seemingly impossible deeds, Mundy has discovered a birthplace of modern America.

New York Times bestselling author of Rise of the Rocket Girls - Nathalia Holt

"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."

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Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Highly recommended.
alyssama121 More than 1 year ago
*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.* Code Girls is far and away the BEST non-fiction I’ve read this year, if not in the past five years. Following the style of Hidden Figures in showing just how much work women have done to make our country what it is today, Liza Mundy reveals the women behind the code-breaking operation during World War II. During her research, she asked for documents to be declassified (some successfully, some not), giving us access to a whole new world of information about the lives of women during the war that they were never allowed to talk about. What struck me most about this book is how well the author formats the narrative; she gives plenty of background information in the field of cryptanalysis, the context of what was happening during World War II at various times, and the context of just what the military was doing in order to combat the Axis nations. Within that, she follows the lives of a few women who left their normal lives to work for the government and help the war effort by joining a super secret project that broke codes for the military. Because of the way it’s written, you get both the full context of what’s happening and what the work the women are doing means, but you also get the human element of being able to relate to specific women who served as codebreakers, which is such a great balance to have in a non-fiction. It really helps it to become a page-turner and I was enthralled. I never realized how much I didn’t know about the US World War II effort; I would poke at my husband throughout the day to share the most interesting tidbits and tell him about what I was learning; it almost made me feel like a little kid again, discovering information that fascinated and enthralled me. And, of course, it’s so great to hear the stories of women who were rock stars but never able to tell anyone about their accomplishments; it’s humbling to read about how much work they did and the sort of conditions they put up with in order to simply help us win the war. This book is everything — heartbreaking, inspiring, emotional, and intelligently researched. I’m going to be buying copies of this for friends for Christmas this year, because this is a story that people need to know.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Everyone should learn about the dedication and efforts these woman put forth during a hectic period of American history.
LeighKramer More than 1 year ago
If you enjoyed Hidden Figures or The Boys On The Boat, you are definitely going to want to pick up a copy of Code Girls. While I was loosely familiar with Bletchley Park codebreakers in England, I didn't know anything about the US efforts, much less the important role women played. Due to the level of secrecy their job required, many people haven't heard of these amazing cryptanalysts and what they did to help end the second World War. Many of the women maintained confidentiality for decades after the war, even after the ban on talking was lifted, to the extent they were doubtful about whether they should talk to the author. I'm so grateful they did decide to share their stories, however. Mundy gives us a fascinating and valuable history with this work. The effort to recruit women to serve as codebreakers began shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbor. (Women also helped with cryptanalysis during the first World War and the chapter that centers on that period of time was mind-blowing, particularly how the women were basically dropped once the war ended.) The Navy targeted women's colleges of the Northeastern Seaboard, while the Army sent recruiters to teaching colleges throughout the South and Midwest. Mundy gives her readers a good understanding of what cryptanalysis is, as well as what it takes to be a good code breaker. This understanding made me even more in awe of what these women accomplished, especially given how much sexism and misogyny they experienced. Women were not welcomed with open arms when it came to the war effort, even though hundreds of thousands ultimately served. While the war was largely viewed as men's domain, women were given positions deemed less interesting, like code breaking. Mundy does not shy away from showing how prevailing sexist attitudes negatively affected the women's careers, especially post-war. Racism was also a factor. Although Eleanor Roosevelt wanted a certain percentage of the Arlington Hall workforce should be black, segregation and Jim Crow were at work. Black workers were given primarily menial jobs but the Army did have an African American code-breaking unit whose existence was so secretive, most white workers didn't know anything about it. Racism also affected Asian Americans who served as translators and in other capacities and who were largely distrusted due to the campaigns against the Japanese. Mundy showcases stories from both the WAVES at the Navy and the Arlington Hall workers at the Army. At times, I became confused about who was who and whether we were talking about the Army or the Navy. Picking a few women to focus on and letting their stories play out throughout the war years would have made for a stronger narrative. However, I learned a lot and I can't imagine how hard it would be to leave certain women's stories out so I can appreciate the choices Mundy made.  I was caught up in the code breaker's successes and frustrations and by the time Germany and then Japan surrendered, I wanted to shout their names from the rooftops. These women sacrificed so much for their country and received little recognition in return. Mundy has changed that by shining a light on their contributions and we are better for it. Oh, and the last paragraph of this book? Perfection. Disclosure: I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Affiliate links included in this post.
Anonymous 9 months ago
JennieR More than 1 year ago
While the history of WWII is at the heart of this entire book, the real story are the women (and a few men) that are spotlighted throughout the book. The research and extensive interviews that this author conducted are evident on every page. The details and facts make the reading that much more enriching. Due to the pure number of women in the book, I did at times need to go back and find them in other places to help me remember their back-story. At the fringe of the book is the continuing theme of what these women gave up to serve their country and then were required to give up again when the war had ended. I am slightly more than one generation away from these women and the reminder of how far we have come in such a short span of time was a memento of how crucial the change has been.
teachlz More than 1 year ago
Lindas Book Obsession Reviews “Code Girls The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War 11” by Liza Mundy, Hachette Books Kudos to Liza Mundy, Author of “Code Girls The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War 11” for the Historical research and vivid descriptions of the unsung heroines that provided much valued information used in our winning World War Two. The Genres for this book are History and Non-Fiction. This is an intriguing and intense accounting of how both the Army and Navy during World War Two recruited women to be responsible for code-breaking. The Navy wanted women that were of top intelligence, excellent mathematicians, and that could meet certain personal criteria. They were extremely selective in choosing. The Army resorted to recruiting teachers and women from different areas. The women who were chosen for the Army were hired as civilians, and had to sign documents regarding national security, and had to promise their silence. The women working for the Navy also had to sign documents, and promise silence, and were more in a civilian capacity and certainly didn’t get the privileges that the men did. There was competition between the two services of government. The women taking these positions, allowed more men at the front, and sent to fight. Unfortunately many men died, but the women hoped by breaking codes, they could save their lives. Men made much more money than the females did,when they had held these positions. There were some men that still were Code-breakers. Code-breaking was tedious, and took hours and weeks of intricate work, finding patterns. The women were sworn to silence and couldn’t even discuss their frustrations or break-throughs with friends or family. At times, it was extremely tense, and several people had a nervous collapse. I would recommend this interesting book for those who enjoy reading about World War Two.
JerseyBoy More than 1 year ago
What a great book. What great stories about the women who worked in anonymity to help win WWII. I highly recommend this book especially those with an interest in WWII history.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
BRAVO! Great read. You wont find this in your history books... Fascinating stuff. Enjoyed from cover to cover.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I find this to be very interested. recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago