New & Noteworthy in History

Our NEW & NOTEWORTHY selections highlight recent additions to our collection that have received significant acclaim in their field.

We all know cybersecurity as one of the most essential and fastest growing technical fields. Breaches in the political as well as corporate sphere underscore how important cybersecurity can be to the safe operation of any system that depends upon computers in order to work properly. During World War II they called it “signals intelligence.” There it worked both ways. The USA wanted to protect our ability to send coded messages without hindrance, and also to be able to read the coded transmissions of enemies and allies.

The wartime concern for secure transmissions gave rise to cybersecurity today. It underpins the practices and protocols of our current computer industry, as well as modern military intelligence. Without it, we probably wouldn’t have the National Security Agency, founded by President Harry S. Truman in 1952.

While you may know some of this wartime history, you may not know the women who founded the field of clandestine eavesdropping and through their secret work helped shorten the war. These women, called “code girls,” disrupted invasions across Europe, kept essential shipping routes open for supply, and saved countless lives.

In her national bestselling book, Code Girls:  The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II, Liza Mundy explores what may be one of the last remaining secrets of World War II. The book recounts in detail the story of the 10,000 young women who helped break the codes of the German and Japanese armed forces. Using archival research into declassified materials, and first-hand interviews with survivors, the author tells the fascinating story of the brilliance, courage, and service of these remarkable young women. Sworn to utter secrecy, the code breakers held their wartime discoveries throughout their lifetimes hidden from everyone, and are only now receiving recognition for their genius.

The thinking at the time was that, with manpower in short supply, educated women with mathematical or linguistic skills could be useful in the tedious work of cryptanalysis, or code-breaking. Working in teams, these anonymous women studied reams of repetitive intercepted communications, maintained detailed indexes and files of information, and came to recognize patterns by memory, collaboration and intuition. They literally discovered the keys that unlocked the codes and separated the signals from the noise.

It’s interesting to note that lately the New York Times has been regularly running a poignant “Overlooked” obituaries section featuring people whose lives had great impact but who went unrecognized by history — many of them talented women in scientific and technical fields. If you enjoy histories like Code Girls, you may also want to read Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, recently made into an award winning film,  Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us From Missiles to the Moon to Mars, and Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet. All of these great new titles and many more are available from the CSN Libraries.