Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers Who Helped Win World War II by Liza Mundy

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

In the tradition of Hidden Figures and The Girls of Atomic City, Code Girls is the astonishing, untold story of the young American women who cracked key Axis codes, helping to secure Allied victory and revolutionizing the field of cryptanalysis.Recruited by the U.S. Army and Navy from small towns and elite colleges, more than ten thousand women served as codebreakers durin...

Title:Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers Who Helped Win World War II
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Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers Who Helped Win World War II Reviews

  • Julie Barnard

    My mother was in the Navy during World War II during code breaking; she was at Terminal Island near Long Beach in Southern California. She had been a classics major in college, studying Latin and Greek. The book was fascinating and made me wish that I could talk to her and ask the dozens of questions I never did.

  • Biblio Files (takingadayoff)

    Code Girls is a terrific oral history and more. Liza Mundy, a journalist, interviewed dozens of people, scoured government documents, studied contemporary newspaper and journal articles, and tapped a wealth of books, videos, and web pages to tell the previously untold story of the hundreds, possibly thousands, of women who cracked codes during World War II. Many were recruited from universities, some hired on with the U.S. Government, some joined the WACS or WAVES. They moved to the Washington,

    Code Girls is a terrific oral history and more. Liza Mundy, a journalist, interviewed dozens of people, scoured government documents, studied contemporary newspaper and journal articles, and tapped a wealth of books, videos, and web pages to tell the previously untold story of the hundreds, possibly thousands, of women who cracked codes during World War II. Many were recruited from universities, some hired on with the U.S. Government, some joined the WACS or WAVES. They moved to the Washington, D.C. area and lived in government housing or shared quarters with other code breakers.

    Mundy tells the history of wartime code breaking in the U.S. and describes some of the methods that were used. She follows the progress of the war and some of the women who worked long hours doing meticulous work, knowing that solving the ciphers quickly was critical and could mean life or death to troops halfway around the world. For many years they were anonymous, taking seriously the pledge of non-disclosure the government swore them to. When the cone of silence was finally lifted, many were still reluctant to talk, and sadly, many had died. Mundy talked with many of the women, and with surviving family members of others, was given access to letters and journals, and to the many colorful memories so many of the women had.

    I enjoyed reading about the decoding processes and the evolution of codes during the war, as well as the more personal side of the women's stories. Mundy dug up fascinating details such as what the women did during their free time (one group of women bought a sailboat and spent their free time floating on the Potomac), the attitudes of the civilian and military men to working with so many women, and what the women did after the war.

    A well researched and thoroughly documented account of a story that has too long been untold.

    (Thanks to NetGalley and Hachette for a digital review copy.)

  • Joy Smith

    This story--and the identities of the code girls--was classified for years. It's a fascinating look at our history and how these incredible and intelligent women helped us win the war. Their work of decoding and translating Japanese and German communications (and others) had to be kept secret so our enemies couldn't learn why our military so often was able to destroy u-boats and ships of all kinds, and it helped us on the islands that the Japanese held. Back in the day women weren't encouraged t

    This story--and the identities of the code girls--was classified for years. It's a fascinating look at our history and how these incredible and intelligent women helped us win the war. Their work of decoding and translating Japanese and German communications (and others) had to be kept secret so our enemies couldn't learn why our military so often was able to destroy u-boats and ships of all kinds, and it helped us on the islands that the Japanese held. Back in the day women weren't encouraged to go to college, to study math, the sciences, and other languages, so many of the women were recruited from colleges and schools, including teachers; most of these women had persevered--working hard--to get an education. And they weren't told what their work would be when they were first approached, but they were eager to help in the war effort and looked forward to the opportunity--whatever it was. And they could never reveal to anyone, including family and friends, what they were doing; they kept the secret for years.

    The stories of the women and their working conditions are interwoven with the history of the war, including the rivalry between the Navy and the Army who had their own cryptography departments; the author does an amazing job of making this an interesting read. There are updates and a long list of acknowledgments and a bibliography that hint at the research she did. There is romance and tragedy and the horrors of war. This is a must read because the history of these women and the war and the aftermath should not be forgotten any longer.

  • Rick

    “Code Girls” by Liza Mundy was a delightful story, and one not told before. This book joins that genre that has been abuilding about barely known or almost forgotten groups – often women – whose untold or rarely told stories show how much they have contributed to the progress of our nation. For example, the book (by Margot Lee Shetterly) and movie (Hidden Figures) about the African-American women who helped advance the space program. Other narratives such as those on the Tuskegee Airmen and WASP

    “Code Girls” by Liza Mundy was a delightful story, and one not told before. This book joins that genre that has been abuilding about barely known or almost forgotten groups – often women – whose untold or rarely told stories show how much they have contributed to the progress of our nation. For example, the book (by Margot Lee Shetterly) and movie (Hidden Figures) about the African-American women who helped advance the space program. Other narratives such as those on the Tuskegee Airmen and WASP women aviators fill the same category.

    Code Girls is a World War II tale of 10,000 some women being recruited to act as code breakers (using cryptanalysis) which enabled the Allies to know of enemy plans and strategies before they occurred. Both the U.S. Army and Navy used Code Girls: the Army as civilians at Arlington Hall and the Navy as commissioned officers and enlisted personnel in the WAVES at the Naval Annex; both locations were close to Washington DC.

    The book was sent to me through a Goodreads Giveaway. Well researched and written on a personal level, this was an engaging narrative. Recommended.

  • Katie/Doing Dewey

    A perfect narrative nonfiction blend of personal stories, global events, and a history of code breaking.

    "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

    A perfect narrative nonfiction blend of personal stories, global events, and a history of code breaking.

    "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" (

    ) but here the author is able to share their story based on interviews and recently declassified documents.

    This book was everything I hoped it would be. The personal stories, told with the help of letters and interviews, really brought the women to life. An author couldn't have made up more engaging stories. Although the author does include the women's personal lives and their romances, this helped present them as well rounded people without taking over the story. Marriages were presented as part of their stories, but not as the culmination or ending.

    The bigger picture story was presented well too. The female code-breakers during WWII influenced global events throughout the war and their lives were influenced by global events, so this made for an intimate perspective on the course of the war. The history of code breaking, particularly the constant participation of women, was also explored. I loved learning about some principles of code-breaking as well. The author did an incredible job integrating all of these aspects - personal stories, global events, and code-breaking history - in a wonderful, engaging way.

  • Cynthia

    Though I've long been interested in the WWll code work all my reading up until now was about Bletchley Park and the work the Brits did so Code Girls was a welcome addition to my ongoing quest for understanding of this topic. The focus stays firmly on the women's perspective which was a welcome though often frustrating outlook. The often very young women, new college grads or even teenagers, accomplished amazing things while getting little credit. Sometimes the men fulfilled strereotypes of how w

    Though I've long been interested in the WWll code work all my reading up until now was about Bletchley Park and the work the Brits did so Code Girls was a welcome addition to my ongoing quest for understanding of this topic. The focus stays firmly on the women's perspective which was a welcome though often frustrating outlook. The often very young women, new college grads or even teenagers, accomplished amazing things while getting little credit. Sometimes the men fulfilled strereotypes of how women were treated at this time (and even today) but in other instances there was a surprisingly level playing field as all ideas were welcomed from the youngest to the most mature minds and from the highest ranking to the non ranging civilians. There was one shared goal: to find out what the enemy was up to so they could save American and Allied lives.

    There's a nice balance between the women's work and home life though the two were fairly mixed together since the women shared living quarters and tended to invite their male cohorts over for parties or meals. It was easier that way with less fear of saying the wrong thing to outsiders. Don't get me wrong the youthful high spirits were more focused on work than home or romantic life. I found this book inspiring and it was refreshing to read about the American code breakers.

    Thank you to the publisher for providing an advance reader's copy.

  • Katie

    A really hard to follow but ultimately rewarding book. Liza Mundy (mostly) describes the experiences of two code breakers: Dot and Ruth. Through their eyes, we are able to see the inner workings of what was one of the most secretive US operations during WWII.

    This book is a treasure trove of information. These women were responsible for saving thousands of lives--and on the other hand, they bore the weight of destroying thousands of others; most notably they broke the code that allowed the US to

    A really hard to follow but ultimately rewarding book. Liza Mundy (mostly) describes the experiences of two code breakers: Dot and Ruth. Through their eyes, we are able to see the inner workings of what was one of the most secretive US operations during WWII.

    This book is a treasure trove of information. These women were responsible for saving thousands of lives--and on the other hand, they bore the weight of destroying thousands of others; most notably they broke the code that allowed the US to intercept and take down Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. Their work was both difficult and stressful. They were not allowed to tell anyone (including friends or family) what they were doing. Sometimes they broke codes that made them realize their brothers, husbands, or friends would die and that they were powerless to save them.

    It's hard to imagine working under pressure of this magnitude, and Mundy does a wonderful job of relaying how the women were able to normalize their lives, often turning to each other for a sense of community. My biggest complaint is that the narrative jumps around a lot. There are so many women, from so many places, each with their own set of circumstances, families, and job specialties. I found it really hard to keep track of all of them. Add to that the fact Mundy tries to break down how they went about their code breaking using additives and patterns...I was SO LOST!

    That being said, I learned a lot from this book and am glad I stuck with it. I honestly don't know what the world would be like today without the contributions of these incredible women.

  • Kaitlyn Red Wing

    I was provided with a free copy of this book by NetGalley and Little, Brown in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

    I'm always game for a book centered around World War II. Add women and their major role and you've got me hooked. Code Girls is like taking a walk through history. A walk that is so rarely acknowledged and respected. While men were oversees fighting, women stepped up, Mundy gives a thorough history of the U.S. recruitments of women to break enemy codes. Over ten t

    I was provided with a free copy of this book by NetGalley and Little, Brown in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

    I'm always game for a book centered around World War II. Add women and their major role and you've got me hooked. Code Girls is like taking a walk through history. A walk that is so rarely acknowledged and respected. While men were oversees fighting, women stepped up, Mundy gives a thorough history of the U.S. recruitments of women to break enemy codes. Over ten thousand women moved to Washington, in secret to decode enemy messages that would change the fate of the war.

    The book is a lot to take in. It covers a lot of information over many years and at times can become confusing. Especially when switching between Navy and Army code breakers and the countless women we follow. Where I felt the book lacked was in the characters themselves. Too much of the book was "Dot was this old, lived here, here parents names were blank and blank and this is why she joined the war" Only this was over entire chapters. Too much time was spent on the backstories of each women and not on their actual efforts in the war. While I value this homage to their lives, the book felt choppy and these chapters unnecessary.

    This book could've gone one or two ways, either it should've been just about cryptography and the war and how it worked, or it should've been about a few women (real or not) and their work over the course of the war. It felt like it was trying to be both and it failed. I really wish I could say this book hit the nail on the head, but it missed, just barely.

    If you're okay reading an ultimately boring book but looking for some interesting facts in the midst, feel free to pick this up. I did learn some things, but felt like I could've got all of the necessary information in a 100 page book

  • Jackballoon

    I enjoyed this book tremendously, never having known that women were also codebreakers. My Dad was one who never talked about it. He was one of the those who was evacuated off Correigedor, by submarine, just before it fell. (Page 133) He was missing in action for awhile, and landed in Australia. He was in Navy communications for 30 years, but none of us ever knew what he did. I bet if he were alive now, he still wouldn't answer any questions.

  • Jean Poulos

    I first heard about women code breakers in a historical fiction book by D. M. Sorlie. The heroine in the Sue Lee Series was recruited and trained to be a cryptographer by the Army. When I saw this book, I thought it might fill in my gap of knowledge on the subject.

    During World War One many women were recruited as Code breakers but as soon as the war was over they were sent home and told the secrecy oath was still effective. They were forgotten over time by the historians. During World War Two mo

    I first heard about women code breakers in a historical fiction book by D. M. Sorlie. The heroine in the Sue Lee Series was recruited and trained to be a cryptographer by the Army. When I saw this book, I thought it might fill in my gap of knowledge on the subject.

    During World War One many women were recruited as Code breakers but as soon as the war was over they were sent home and told the secrecy oath was still effective. They were forgotten over time by the historians. During World War Two more than 10,000 women worked on breaking and creating complex codes for the military and diplomatic forces.

    Mundy stated that during her research she discovered that many of the code breakers were female school teachers. The requirements for a code breaker were the ability to detect patterns, and have a deep understanding of the inner workings of languages and mathematics. The Navy recruited from the elite Seven Sisters Colleges and the Army recruited from teacher colleges of the South and Midwest. There were also a large portion of women code breakers that were civilian workers. The author states a small group of African-American women worked in the cryptology section and specialized in money movements and banking. The demand for educated women was at its highest during the war.

    The working conditions were difficult. The could not talk about their jobs; they lived in cramped quarters and had to put up with complex bureaucracy and sexual harassment. There accomplishments were most often dismissed by the men. The men stated that all the women were good for was to do the tedious work.

    After seventy years the information about the women code breakers was declassified. The book is well written and the research was meticulous. The author searched the government documents and archives. She interviewed the women code breakers, many of them were in their 90s.

    I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. The book is fourteen hours long. Erin Bennett does a great job narrating the book. Bennett is a voice-over artist and award-winning audiobook narrator.

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