Book Review: Code Girls

When I was browsing through the titles of new publications at NetGalley, Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II by Liza Mundy caught my eye. I knew I’d not read of these women before, I had no idea the amazing and delightful story I was to discover.

Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II
by Liza Mundy
This readable history provides insight to the lives of the women code breakers of World War II. Young women arrived in Washington from the Seven Sisters colleges after passing a correspondence course in cryptography. Others first flocked to recruiting stations in small towns across the United States before alighting at Union Station. When pressed they would say they “did office work” never hinting to the vital role they played in the war.

Many of the young women excelled at maths or sciences though not all. The women recruited into the code breaking departments of the Army and Navy were critical to the war effort. They took their work seriously during and after the war. Their vow of silence and secrecy meant the public only knew of the exploits and heroic deeds of their brothers and husbands, until now.

From the beginnings of code-breaking efforts through the end of the war we follow the lives of several women. With them we watch how they learned to break codes, live in Washington, and navigate military life as women. It is important whatever your general views on war and conflict.

This book portrays responsible women who deciphered encoded communications when the computing power was by-and-large manual, and human. We get a glimpse of their lives in a Washington overrun with young women moving in and men shipping out.

Mundy’s work, through her oral histories and research help to, with respect and care, honour the work they performed and kept confidential throughout their lives. I wish the stories of all the code breakers, including the African-American women were better told but time and their vows of secrecy makes that omission understood.

This history is of interest to a range of readers; those interested in maths and computing, linguists, and military history will all be captivated by the treasure within. I am very thankful Mundy wrote this book and gave voice to those who never before shared their stories.


I received an eARC of this title from NetGalley in exchange for a review. The FTC wants you to know.