Spying on Spies: How Elizebeth Smith Friedman Broke the Nazis' Secret Codes

Written and illustrated by Marissa Moss

Hardcover edition

Publisher Abrams Imprint Abrams ISBN


Spying on Spies: How Elizebeth Smith Friedman Broke the Nazis' Secret Codes

In stock


Discrimination: Religious,Discrimination: Sexism,Violence: Death,Violence: General

Bestselling and award-winning author-illustrator Marissa Moss tells the gripping story of America’s first female cryptanalyst, Elizebeth Smith Friedman, who busted Nazi spy rings

From bestselling and award-winning author-illustrator Marissa Moss, praised for her accessible blend of narrative nonfiction with graphic novel-style chapter openers in The Woman Who Split the Atom: The Life of Lise Meitner, comes another fascinating story of a groundbreaking woman in STEM.

One of the founders of US cryptology who would eventually become one of the world’s greatest code breakers, Elizebeth Smith Friedman (1892–1980) was a brilliant mind behind many important battles throughout the 20th century, saving many lives through her intelligence and heroism. Whip-smart and determined, Elizebeth displayed a remarkable aptitude for language and recognizing patterns from a young age. After getting her start by looking for linguistic clues to the true authorship of Shakespeare’s writings, she and her husband, William Friedman, were tasked with heading up the first government code-breaking unit in America, training teams and building their own sophisticated code systems during the lead-up to World War I.

Elizebeth’s solo career was even more impressive. She became the Treasury Department’s and Coast Guard’s first female codebreaker and created her own top-notch codebreaking unit, where she trained and led many male colleagues. During Prohibition in the 1920s, her work solving and intercepting coded messages from mobsters and criminal gangs lead to hundreds of high-profile criminal prosecutions, including members of Al Capone’s gang. Her crowning achievement came during World War II, when Elizebeth uncovered an intricate network of Nazi spies operating in South America, a feat that neither law enforcement nor intelligence agencies had been able to accomplish. Despite her unparalleled accomplishments, she was largely written out of history books and overshadowed by her husband. Only in very recent years has her name begun to receive the attention it deserves, including the US Coast Guard naming a ship in her honor and the US Senate passing a 2019 resolution to honor her life and legacy.

Back matter includes codes for kids to learn!

Author's note. "What Are Codes? What Are Ciphers?" Glossary. Time line. Notes. Selected bibliography. Index. Black-and-white illustrations and archival photographs.
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