The Woman All Spies Fear: Code Breaker Elizebeth Smith ­Friedman and Her Hidden Life

Random House Studio. Oct. 2021. 336p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780593127193.
Gr 8 Up–Most people have likely never heard of Elizebeth Smith Friedman, but she is one of the most prolific code breakers in U.S. history. Often overshadowed by her husband, with whom she worked closely, this biographical account of her life brings her story to young adult readers. From falling into code breaking by landing a job for an eccentric millionaire during a visit to the library to falling in love with a fellow code breaker and working her way through two world wars solving ciphers and more, Smith Friedman’s life story is a fascinating one. The book follows a linear time line, from her birth and childhood all the way to how she has been recognized and commended post-humously. Each chapter ends on a cliff-hanger, which helps to make a sometimes slow-paced narrative more engaging. There are also sections that break up the chapters called “Code Breaks,” which give more detail on either the subject’s work or the ciphers themselves. This narrative is very dense at times, but the level of detail and interesting topic make up for that. The back matter includes a bibliography and notes from each chapter.
VERDICT A worthy purchase for secondary school libraries and where there are gaps in historical biography sections, especially about women in STEM.

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