Reviewed by: Jennifer Chretien, Reference Librarian
Rating: 4.5 stars
Until the fairly recent declassification of material, few people knew that thousands of women served as code breakers during WWII. In this fascinating and well researched investigative history, journalist Liza Mundy thoroughly details both the story of these women and the role of cryptanalysis within the war effort using interviews of surviving women, their families, and petitions to declassify information related to their work.
It is hard to grasp that over ten thousand women, including Bill Nye's mother, were recruited as cryptographers; yet we knew nothing of it. Among their successes were breaking the code used by the Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, and learning about the Japanese surrender before the military leaders did. Mundy brilliantly portrays what it was like for a code girl and it wasn't as glamorous as you would think. Code girls were sworn to absolute secrecy. Not even their husbands and families were allowed to know what they did. Often times they decoded details of an operation where loved ones were in mortal danger, but they were unable to do anything about it. The job was isolating, stressful, and crucial so they banded together as a support system.
I cannot praise Mundy's writing and research skills enough. I do have to warn you that there is, at times, an overwhelming amount of details and information. Some of the technical details could have been excluded without compromising the integrity of the book, and a more intimate look at fewer women would have been better. Overall, this is an amazingly readable book despite all of the details crammed into the narrative. That is a testament to just how great a writer Liza Mundy is.
If you enjoyed Hidden Figures you need to read this. I am not particularly interested in WWII military non-fiction as a rule, but Code Girls had me riveted!