Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II Review
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Through books and movies, we’ve all heard numerous stories about the Second World War—about the battles, the horrors, the resistance. But in Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II, author Liza Mundy explores a different side of the war story, introducing an unlikely group of civilians and soldiers who fought from the home front.

The story examines a very different kind of battle: a secret battle that took place in heavily guarded buildings around the country, fought primarily by young women. They were unmarried schoolteachers or scholars or recent college graduates who were recruited by the military to take part in their secret code breaking operations. Many didn’t know what they were signing up for; they just wanted to help with the war effort. And, for years, they told friends and family that they’d done menial tasks for the military, when, in fact, they were responsible for some of the greatest victories of the war.

Code Girls tells a remarkable story—one that you probably haven’t heard before—about the thousands of young women who played a critical but generally unacknowledged role in the war.

Thoroughly researched, using both documents and interviews with the subjects and their families, it offers first-person accounts of the efforts. But instead of telling the story through the eyes of just a couple of these women, it features so many stories and so many characters that it’s hard to keep track of them all. It skips from character to character, offering personal details along with the career details. And, at times, a story is set on the back burner for several chapters before being picked up again. Because of this, it lacks emotional impact. Readers get to know a few of the characters, but there are simply too many to remember.

Meanwhile, despite the book’s title, this isn’t just about the girls. It’s also about the men—and about the general code breaking process. It often goes into great detail about the specifics of various codes and ciphers and how they were cracked. And while that may be fascinating for people with a special interest in codes, it makes for a long and often tedious read.

The idea behind Code Girls is truly fascinating—and this account is an eye-opening one. But if you’re expecting an easygoing narrative, you’ll be disappointed to find yourself slogging through lengthy passages about Japanese codes instead of truly getting to know the characters who broke them.

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