Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 222
The themes of Liza Mundy's 2017 book Code Girls include the history of women in World War II and technology.
Mundy's primary concern is showcasing both the recruitment effort and technical aspects of women's work during the second World War. First the Navy, then the U.S. Army, aggressively recruited women from the math and astronomy departments at elite schools like Radcliffe and Wellesley, as early as 1941. At times, the academics answering these recruitment calls in fact flew in the face of contemporary prejudice.
The book also reveals the sensitive nature of the women's work. Because their codebreaking was confidential and this cohort of women needed special clearance, they were not allowed to write even to their friends and loved ones about their experience during wartime in D.C.
In addition to highlighting political and cultural shift that this female participation represented, the novel also showcases the technological aspects of the work. For example, the government employed several types of cipher machines to break Japanese code, which itself was machine-generated. The women worked with the output of these machines, and their work was increasingly difficult as new machines were constantly being generated by inventors to thwart attempts at codebreaking.
Nevertheless, the codebreaking effort was reasonably successful, with women making up well over 50% of the codebreaking forces in the U.S. Army and Navy.
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