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Jason Fagone: The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America’s Enemies

(Nonfiction, 464 pp, 2018)

Elizebeth Smith Friedman’s unconventional path toward deciphering extraordinarily complex intelligence systems started out simply, if idiosyncratically, enough in 1916: parsing the occurrence of tell-tale phrases in Shakespeare. Jason Fagone’s brilliant research and evocative writing — earning him Columbia Journalism Review’s one of 10 Young Writers on the Rise distinction — conjures the remarkable reads-like-fiction story of pioneering cryptographer wife-and-husband duo Elizebeth and William Friedman. From finding catch phrases to catching gangsters and smugglers during Prohibition, Elizebeth went on to crack Nazi spy systems snaking throughout South America, penetrate deeply classified information within Hitler’s inner circle, and disrupt multiple versions of the Enigma machine. Simultaneously, William plunged into the secrets of Japan’s Enigma equivalent, designated Purple, and spearheaded American investigations of Axis ciphers. While their mutual devotion was strong, their work was secret even to one another. The insistent pressures of unscrambling always-urgent life-or-death puzzles took a terrible personal toll.

Discussion Questions from the Geneva Public Library

Review by Courtney Weinbaum, The RAND Corporation, Feb. 13, 2019

Review by Genevieve Valentine of NPR, Sept. 30, 2017. An NPR Best Book of the Year

Review by Sony Bunch, The Washington Post, Oct. 3, 2017

Review by Joan Burda, NY Journal of Books

Kirkus Review

What the Reviewers Say by

Collected Reviews on HarperCollins Publishers webpage

Elizebeth Smith Friedman Wikipedia page

William Frederick Friedman Wikipedia page

The Codebreaker episode, PBS American Experience, Jan. 2021 (video)

Interview with author with Andrew Hammond, International Spy Museum SpyCast podcast, Nov. 1, 2017 (audio)

Interview with author with Deborah Bonanni, Former NSA Chief of Staff and board member of Association of Former Intelligence Officers, AFIO, Aug. 1, 2017 (video)

Interview with author with WOCA radio (audio)