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The Woman Who Smashed Codes: Your new winter reading assignment

I’ve never review such a retaining book about spies that opens with the carefree words: “This is a adore story.”

Over the march of its hundreds of pages, The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone is damned-near unfit to put down. The book has everything: thrills, chills, kills, love, crypto, and a carefree clarity that a scarcely lost American genius, Elizebeth Smith Friedman, is finally being given her due.

In the book’s opening pages, Fagone, a publisher now at the San Francisco Chronicle, describes how he came on a trove of Friedman’s papers in a Virginia library that contained not only technical notes, but “love letters. Letters to her kids created in code. Handwritten diaries. A partial, unpublished autobiography.”

The book triumphantly tells the story of how Friedman, innate Elizebeth Smith in a tiny city in Indiana, arrived as a immature adult in Chicago, looking for work. Within a few years, she’d radically taught herself the nascent margin of cryptanalysis. By 1917, a few years later, she and her husband, William Friedman, became the powerhouse twin in the field. They literally wrote the book on complicated cryptographic practices.


The two were pulpy into service for the Great War, but, due to sexism, Elizebeth was overshadowed by her better-known husband and selfish “powerful men” who “left her out of it.” Fagone is her 21st-century champion.


Those of us who aren’t outrageous nerds may consider of Alan Turing’s efforts to better the Nazi Enigma appurtenance as being the genuine complicated mathematical delight of the 20th century. Turns out, though, complicated cryptanalysis was founded decades progressing by a span of bright-eyed and fervent Americans on a weird quasi-academic cluster in Geneva, Illinois.

In the opening pages, George Fabyan comes opposite as a strange, early 20th-century hybrid of Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Donald Trump, and Willie Wonka. This mustachioed man, whom Fagone describes as having “blazing blue eyes,” radically plucked a 24-year-old Elizebeth from a ancestral Chicago library where she had been examining an strange Shakespeare folio simply out of curiosity. He curtly demanded to her: “Will you come to Riverbank and spend the night with me?”

Astonishingly, this immature Indiana Quaker lady pronounced yes—even yet she had no thought who he was or what Riverbank was. Fabyan whisked her divided to the sight hire and told her that she couldn’t even send a telegram to her family to tell them where she was. As creepy as this all sounded, Elizebeth concluded and boarded a sight to an opposite end with this older man.

He confronted her on the sight and said, inches from her face, “Well, WHAT IN HELL DO YOU KNOW?” Her reply: “That remains, sir, for you to find out.”

It incited out that Fabyan was something of an individualist internal champion who ran his own private investigate trickery famous as Riverbank Laboratories. One of his pet projects was to compensate for ongoing investigate led by another woman, Elizabeth Wells Gallup, who was spooky with anticipating dark discernment in the works of Shakespeare created by Sir Francis Bacon.

Gallup apparently “needed an partner with childish appetite and pointy eyes.” A 24-year-old college-educated lady who once sought out a Shakespeare folio in Chicago was apparently gift enough.

Elizebeth Smith was then put to work among this “community of thinkers” in sequence to infer this Baconian theory. There, among an halcyon campus of sorts, she met William Friedman, a immature biologist about her age who was vital in a windmill on the campus.

Together, as their attribute blossomed, they began to comprehend that their patron, Fabyan, was a bit crazy and that this whole Bacon speculation was a furious crow chase.

“CG Decryption”

In the commencement of 1917, the encoded Zimmerman Telegram was intercepted by British intelligence, showing that Germany was proposing an fondness with Mexico if the United States entered World War I. America’s signals comprehension capability was non-existent, but Fabyan—ever the boaster and showman—wrote to supervision officials, dogmatic the “Riverbank Department of Ciphers open for business.”

Smith and Friedman were fast pulpy into service as the proto-National Security Agency. Working side by side with pencil and paper, they schooled cryptanalysis as they went and decoded all kinds of intercepted messages from countless supervision agencies.

Eventually, after World War I, they were hired by the United States Army: he as a major in the reserves, and she as a civilian. She was paid half what he made. While William Friedman was bustling operative on military matters—and after they’d had children and finished a home for themselves in northwest Washington, DC—Elizebeth perceived a hit on the doorway from a United States Coast Guard officer named Captain Charles Root.

Captain Root wanted her help privately with breaking codes used by rum-runners—1927 was, after all, the rise of Prohibition. She accepted, so prolonged as she was allowed to work at home. Root agreed, and she began to accept unchanging stacks of encrypted radio telegrams and decode them at home. By 1930, she had solved 12,000 rum messages involving overwhelmed activities all around the coastal waters of North America and the Caribbean.

Eventually, The Woman Who Smashed Codes reaches its apparent climax: World War II. All that use both at Riverbank and for the Coast Guard finished a outrageous disproportion in defeating the Nazis. Elizebeth vs. the Axis comprises a important apportionment of the book; we won’t spoil it for you.

Fagone writes:

During the Second World War, an American lady figured out how to brush the creation of surreptitious Nazis… The explanation was on paper: 4,000 typed decryption of surreptitious Nazi messages that her group shared with the global comprehension community. She had cowed at slightest 48 opposite surreptitious radio circuits and 3 Enigma machines to get these plaintexts. The pages found their way to the navy and to the army. To FBI domicile in Washington and bureaus around the world. To Britain. There was no mistaking their origin. Each piece pronounced “CG Decryption” at the bottom, in black ink. These pieces of paper saved lives.

Friedman, sworn to secrecy, could not speak publicly about the work that she’d finished on interest of her country—J. Edgar Hoover, meanwhile, seemed in promotion films showing how America’s spies won the war. Eventually, Elizebeth Friedman perceived a jot of recognition after her 1980 death: the NSA’s OPS1 building was dedicated as the William and Elizebeth Friedman Building during the decoration of the NSA’s 50th anniversary in 2002.

Fifteen years later, however, Elizebeth Friedman is being newly championed. We can’t wait for the film chronicle of The Woman Who Smashed Codes.

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