In my misspent youth, I was a Cryptologic Technician in the United States Navy. We often laughed about running afoul of the “Little old-ladies in tennis shoes” at NSA. I suspect that some of those feared women were the heroes of this book by Liza Mundy, Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II.
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The book is excellent. The stories of these women is told in a way that gives you not just a flavor of the times, but of the intense nature of their quest to break codes. The stress is palpable, and having done some of this kind of work, I fully get the torture they were feeling when things were not going well, codes remained unbroken, or personal tragedies were revealed to them in the course of their activities, and they couldn’t talk about it to anyone.
Heroes. Each of the people involved in that code-breaking effort was a hero. The turmoil that work causes in the life of the operator is unbelievable.
I don’t review books like most people. But what I will say is that this book is a joy to read, excellent choice of subject matter, and an inside look into the war’s greatest secret.
Now, why should you read it? There is a story here that will put an end to the revisionist history you have been subjected for the past 40 years. There are truths in the world, and one of them is that our enemies, and a few of our friends, during the war were evil. These women read the mail of the devil. They understood what could, and would, happen if they failed to do their jobs well. It is also a story of life in the shadows, as they were sworn to secrecy. It’s a tough thing to deal with that kind of stress, and it’s almost unbearable for some of us. Indeed, it’s a miracle that more of those code-breakers didn’t crack up.
One other reason I loved the book is Liza Mundy’s turn of phrase. She had me chuckling and smiling in appreciation of her wordsmith skills. Very gifted writer.
Finally, I’d like to honor a code girl that I know: My wife, and fellow Navy CTI2, Kip. I am so proud of you, and so glad that I met you. Better still that I conned you into marrying me.
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