The Woman Who Smashed Codes - Jason Fagone

The Woman Who Smashed Codes

By Jason Fagone

  • Release Date: 2017-09-26
  • Genre: History
Score: 4.5
From 350 Ratings


National Bestseller 

NPR Best Book of the Year

“Not all superheroes wear capes, and Elizebeth Smith Friedman should be the subject of a future Wonder Woman movie.” —The New York Times

Joining the ranks of Hidden Figures and In the Garden of Beasts, the incredible true story of the greatest codebreaking duo that ever lived, an American woman and her husband who invented the modern science of cryptology together and used it to confront the evils of their time, solving puzzles that unmasked Nazi spies and helped win World War II.

In 1916, at the height of World War I, brilliant Shakespeare expert Elizebeth Smith went to work for an eccentric tycoon on his estate outside Chicago. The tycoon had close ties to the U.S. government, and he soon asked Elizebeth to apply her language skills to an exciting new venture: code-breaking. There she met the man who would become her husband, groundbreaking cryptologist William Friedman. Though she and Friedman are in many ways the "Adam and Eve" of the NSA, Elizebeth’s story, incredibly, has never been told.

In The Woman Who Smashed Codes, Jason Fagone chronicles the life of this extraordinary woman, who played an integral role in our nation’s history for forty years. After World War I, Smith used her talents to catch gangsters and smugglers during Prohibition, then accepted a covert mission to discover and expose Nazi spy rings that were spreading like wildfire across South America, advancing ever closer to the United States. As World War II raged, Elizebeth fought a highly classified battle of wits against Hitler’s Reich, cracking multiple versions of the Enigma machine used by German spies. Meanwhile, inside an Army vault in Washington, William worked furiously to break Purple, the Japanese version of Enigma—and eventually succeeded, at a terrible cost to his personal life.

Fagone unveils America’s code-breaking history through the prism of Smith’s life, bringing into focus the unforgettable events and colorful personalities that would help shape modern intelligence. Blending the lively pace and compelling detail that are the hallmarks of Erik Larson’s bestsellers with the atmosphere and intensity of The Imitation Game, The Woman Who Smashed Codes is page-turning popular history at its finest.


  • Interesting history

    By Twizzard
    Well written history of a woman who made major contributions to our country, yet was almost unknown, forgotten, and unappreciated.
  • Excellent read

    By Glurb glub glub
    Amazing book. Well worth the read. Always fascinating to understand history not as it was written, but as it occurred based on the evidence. Utterly fascinating read.
  • The woman who smashed codes

    By writon
    This book is so well written, a joy to read. It tells the truly amazing story of an unheralded woman and her husband who single handedly began the code breaking and making teams that protected our country from defeat in WWII. Her humility, diligence, compassion, strength, creative daring, and quiet authority are a model for today’s women in leadership positions. Everyone should read this story and know about this momentous woman.
  • Read this book!

    By Inspired lady pilot
    Fascinating read!! Loved reading about the basic workings of code and code-breaking. Thrilled to have the story of this remarkable woman come to light. So many details, I’m sure it was hard to choose how many of them to include...I found myself wading in some long texts, but overall very worthwhile I highly recommend it as an inspiration to men but especially to women everywhere.