The Woman Who Smashed Codes

Author Jason Fagone’s book, The Woman Who Smashed Codes, tells the story of an amazing woman named Elizebeth Smith Friedman who taught herself to be a codebreaker. In a Twitter stream about the book, Jason explained that “[a] codebreaker solves secret messages without knowing the key. Starting from scratch, at age 23, Elizebeth became one of the best ever.”  She did “THE SPY STUFF:” Elizebeth hunted Nazi spies in World War II.

Here’s a simple example of code breaking. Let’s say you have two words: DPEF CSFBLFS. They don’t make sense as they are. If you can figure out that the real letters are shifted one back, the words will make sense: D becomes C, P becomes O, E becomes D, etc. Most secret code is harder to figure out, and Elizebeth was remarkable at these puzzles. Jason noted, “The FBI didn’t know how to do that. They lacked codebreaking expertise. So J. Edgar Hoover relied on Elizebeth all through the war.”