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History Book Club:
The Woman Who Smashed Codes
Please join the HHS History Book Group on Sunday, December 9, at 4 p.m. at the Tuck Museum, to discuss The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone.

"This is a nonfiction book that reads like a spy novel," said Barbara Tosiano, referring to The Woman Who Smashed Codes, the book to be discussed at the upcoming Book Group meeting, which Tosiano leads. "You have to stop and remember that everything in the book really happened."

The book, further described as "a true story of love, spies and the unlikely heroine who outwitted America's enemies," is by Jason Fagone, and is a national bestseller.

"The heroine, Elizebeth Smith Friedman, was one of the 20th century's leading cryptologists," said Tosiano. "You would expect her to be a mathematician but, oh no, her background was in literature. She excelled at looking for patterns in speech and language, and this is how she broke codes."

Smith Friedman got her start in code breaking in 1916 working for an eccentric millionaire who funded a variety of research projects. She worked on a project that looked for hidden messages in Shakespeare's works.

When the First World War broke out in 1917, she took a job with the War Department, and it was here that she met her husband, William Friedman, with whom she solved World War I codes for the U.S. government.

Husband and wife worked for the U.S. military through the 1940s, eventually in different departments, so they could not discuss their work with each other. During World War II Smith Friedman broke Nazi codes while her husband broke Japanese codes.

Smith Friedman is quoted as saying, "You did what you could with what you had to do it with."

"She used pencil and paper," noted Tosiano. "There were no computers.

"These were two people caught up in great events, but we didn't hear about them because their work was classified," said Tosiano. "They were two talented individuals who did very challenging jobs in very challenging times."

All are welcome to attend the book group meeting and it is not necessary to read the book to join the discussion. Tosiano bakes for each meeting and at the December 9 meeting she will offer traditional Christmas cookies.