Friday, March 22, 2019

Book Review: Code Girls

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

I'm pretty sure I read about this book in the references section of the first book in the Maggie Hope series by Susan Elia MacNeal. If you haven't checked out that series (about a young woman who gets caught up in working for England during World War II), then you should definitely read it as well. I have the third book sitting on my TBR. But today, I want to write about this book, Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II by Liza Mundy.

This is the non-fiction story of some of the many women who worked in Washington, DC, and elsewhere, during World War II and helped break enemy codes. With the codes broken, they could interpret intercepted messages from Japan and Germany (and elsewhere) and gain intelligence on the war. Since the work they were doing was so classified, many of them never got to talk about what they did during their entire lifetimes and took the secret of their work to their graves. When they were asked about what they did during the war, they were told to reply that, "they were secretaries, that they filled inkwells, they emptied baskets, they sharpened pencils. And because they were women, people believed that the work they were doing had to be trivial and secondary and unimportant." The work they actually did was finally declassified around the 1990s.

Liza Mundy's book was published in 2017 and while there were over 10,000 women who participated in this work, Mundy interviewed about twenty surviving women for her book. Many of them had died by the time she started doing research but she was also able to talk with their families, many of whom didn't know the whole extent of what their mothers had done. And when they did have an inkling of the work, they didn't believe that their mothers had been involved.

The book follows a number of these women from the time they were recruited (at first out of prestigious colleges and then from careers as schoolteachers and librarians) until they finished the war. I found the work these women did fascinating (although I didn't understand a lot of the more intricate details of how to break codes) and the types of projects they were involved with, or pioneered, captivating.

This book outlines some of the main events of the war in the Pacific, the Atlantic, and Europe, and writes about how the codes the women were breaking, and the messages they were able to interpret, led to some of the major events of the war, with victories for the Allies.

After the war, some women stayed in the intelligence agency work but many were "forced" to depart, leaving the jobs open for men who were returning from fighting overseas. Then these women had to adjust to marriage and parenthood. Some of the last chapters, telling stories of the women once the war had ended, made me so sad. They were brilliant and ambitious and couldn't continue to do work they loved.

I really want Dave to read this book. I think some of the ways in which the enemy codes were broken was fascinating. I also enjoyed learning about World War II from a different perspective. And I thought the story of the various women, and the jobs they did, were fascinating. (I may have said that already.)

I highly recommend you read this book to learn a little known piece of history. And so that the story of these women, long hidden, comes to light just a little more.


  1. This sounds fantastic!!! And when you talk about how many of the women were unable to continue their work once the men came home and needed jobs, it reminds me of a fascinating podcast I listened to that explained this phenomenon and how it led to the current differences in maternity leave policies in America vs. Europe...I never understood that it all went back to WWI & WWII!! Still sucks (for American women, that is), but interesting to know how the disparities developed.

  2. Added to my TBR! This looks like it will be a very fun book to read.

  3. Wow, this sounds interesting.
    I remember as a young teen finding out that a friend of a friend had a father who used a Ham Radio. I was so intrigued, but wasn't able to look into it further.

  4. Did you read Hidden Figures? I found that to actually be really dry (so sad to say that out loud) - if you read it, how do these compare? I definitely think the topic is fascinating because I had never heard about code breaking in WW2 until that movie whose name has escaped me about the guy who basically invented the computer and broke Nazi code in WW2. I definitely want to check this out!


Thank you for being interested in my life as I blog it and for leaving a comment. Comments make me happier than reading a good book and drinking a cold Coke. Almost :)