Book Club in the Daytime: The Woman Who Smashed Codes
3:00 pm - 4:00 pm
The Book Club in the Daytime meets on the third Wednesday every month at 3:00 p.m. in the Board Room. Join us for a discussion of books of all kinds: both American and international, fiction and nonfiction, new and old! This group is open to everyone. No registration is required.
(We also meet every third Thursday at 6:30. You are welcome to join us for whichever meeting day/time works for you! We read the same book for both groups.) Questions? Please call the Reference Desk at 610-828-0441 ext. 103 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This month’s book:
(Click the title to search our catalog and place a hold on the book.)
In 1916, a young Quaker schoolteacher and poetry scholar named Elizebeth Smith was hired by an eccentric tycoon to find the secret messages he believed were embedded in Shakespeare’s plays. She moved to the tycoon’s lavish estate outside of Chicago expecting to spend her days poring through old books. But the rich man’s close ties to the U.S. government, and the urgencies of war, quickly transformed Elizebeth’s mission. She soon learned to apply her skills to an exciting new venture: codebreaking—the solving of secret messages without knowledge of the key. Working alongside her on the estate was William Friedman, a Jewish scientist who would become her husband and lifelong codebreaking partner. Elizebeth and William were in many ways the Adam and Eve of the National Security Agency, the U.S. institution that monitors and intercepts foreign communications to glean intelligence.
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—from the Great War to the Cold War. He traces Elizebeth’s developing career through World War I, Prohibition, and the struggle against fascism. She helped catch gangsters and smugglers, exposed a Nazi spy ring in South America, and fought a clandestine battle of wits against Hitler’s Reich, cracking multiple versions of the Enigma machine used by German operatives to conceal their communications. And through it all, she served as muse to her husband, a master of puzzles, who astonished friends and foes alike. Inside an army vault in Washington, he worked furiously to break Purple, the Japanese version of Enigma—and eventually succeeded, at a terrible cost to his personal life.
A discussion guide with author bio, interview excerpt and discussion questions is available here.