Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Review: CODE GIRLS, by Liza Mundy

Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II, by Liza Mundy. Published 2017 by Hachette. Audiobook narrated by Erin Bennett.

I was attracted to Code Girls because I've been reading a lot of memoirs and history by and about women, and I've really been enjoying them. And at the outset I learned that many of these women came from the Seven Sisters including my own Wellesley College. Having this connection to the story really piqued my interest.

But the women who populated the code-breaking ranks didn't just come from elite east-coast schools. They came from all over the country, from community colleges and teachers' colleges and institutions of all kinds- although mostly from all-womens' institutions, since many four-year colleges didn't admit women in the first half of the 20th century (and some, well into the second half).

Mundy tells this fascinating story of women who broke codes, built encryption machines and worked in both military and civilian jobs to aide the war effort behind the scenes, in an energetic, page-turning fashion. She focuses on the lives and accomplishments of several women in particular who made important contributions, but I won't tell you too much about them here. You should read Mundy's thorough and engaging narrative which also covers their living conditions, personal lives and stories before and after the war.

Mundy's copious research including many hours of interviews with surviving codebreakers paid off in the form of an illuminating read. I had heard of the women codebreakers at Bletchley Park in England but had no idea that U.S. women made similar, and sometimes surpassing, contributions; I had heard of Alan Turing but not of Agnes Meyer Driscoll or Genevieve Grotjan. Mundy also lays bare the sexism that kept these women and their accomplishments from popular recognition. Even Driscoll, possibly the greatest of America's World War 2 cryptanalysts, never got the chance her male peers did to tell her own story via oral history. Mundy tells her story, and others, in this essential book, and Erin Bennett's lively narration made it all the more riveting.

So yes please read Code Girls if you're interested in World War 2 history or womens' history or any history. Many of the women key to the war effort went on to help guide agencies like the NSA after the war, shaping America's codebreaking and national-security efforts well into the 20th century, a subject I'd love to read more about. In the mean time I'm glad this book is out there.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I received a promotional copy of the audio book via Libro.fm.

1 comment:

Mystica said...

I am glad that the story got told eventually.