The Woman All Spies Fear
Elizebeth Smith Friedman had a rare talent for spotting patterns and solving puzzles. These skills led her to become one of the top cryptanalysts in America during both World War I and World War II.
She originally came to code breaking through her love for Shakespeare when she was hired by an eccentric millionaire to prove that Shakespeare's plays had secret messages in them. Within a year, she had learned so much about code breaking that she was a star in the making. She went on to play a major role decoding messages during WWI and WWII and also for the Coast Guard's war against smugglers.
Elizebeth and her husband, William, became the top code-breaking team in the US, and she did it all at a time when most women weren't welcome in the workforce.
Amy Butler Greenfield is an award-winning historian and novelist who aims to shed light on this female pioneer of the STEM community.
This book shines a light on the extraordinary work that Elizabeth accomplished in a time when women weren’t expected to work and weren’t recognized fully for their contributions. When the media did hear of her contributions to putting criminals away during prohibition and beyond, there was more emphasis on her style and stature than on her revolutionary work in codebreaking. Her media coverage was very controversial because her government agency wanted good publicity. Her husband’s government agency was very nervous that his secrets might get revealed. Elizabeth herself realized that media coverage could put her family in danger since she was the expert witness in many cases against organized crime. From that time on, she worked hard to stay out of the public light. In later years, the government even raided their house to make sure classified information wasn’t present. Which makes it very hard to fully know all that she was part of.
What has been declassified about their work is fascinating. They were right in the middle of breaking Enigma machines, Japanese and Nazi transmissions, taking down organized crime, and developing bank security measures. The couple was responsible for training the majority of the other military codebreakers and saving many American lives. They had tremendous influence in history to be so unknown.
This book also goes into the personal aspects of Elizabeth’s life. Her husband had incapacitating mental health bouts under the stress of the wars and the secrets he had to keep. He was crucial in war efforts but surrounded by antisemitism. Part of the reason we know what we do about their work is that Elizabeth wanted the work of her husband to be recognized as well and hid notes within the margins of her donated library collection.
Final Verdict: The author does a good job in breaking down the basics of the foundations of codebreaking and making it understandable to amateurs. The subject matter was interesting and revealed a part of history that due to the sensitive nature of codebreaking is only now becoming safe to be revealed. Elizabeth was really neat and did amazing things in a time where she would have had to work extremely hard to earn the amount of respect that she did.