The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone covers the life and career of Elizebeth Smith Friedman, one of America’s pioneers in cryptanalysis. Her work has often been obscured by that of her husband, William F. Friedman, even when they both contributed to the work.
I enjoyed reading about the beginnings of America’s codebreaking efforts, and I find it fascinating how relatively young the whole enterprise is. The Friedmans’ work intersects with (and contributed to) the creation of the CIA and NSA, and the book carries an underlying theme of innocence giving way to something bigger, uncontrollable. I kept thinking that it’s easier to view Elizebeth’s pioneering work as being done in service of the greater good, whereas the forces that emerged later are more ambiguous from an ethical/moral standpoint, especially when surveillance is turned inwards on America’s own citizens.
“Forgotten histories of pioneering women” is one of my favorite nonfiction genres, but I also hope that we need less and less of it, and that women get their due recognition while they are still living and working.