America’s chief World War II codebreaker and her posthumous teaching of cryptology
Journalist Jason Fagon, when he set out to write a biography of the extraordinary Elizebeth Friedman, America’s chief codebreaker during World War II, had an obstacle to overcome that most biographers don’t face: He had to learn cryptology, the art and science of secret writing.
Fortunately, Fagon had a good teacher: Elizebeth Friedman herself.
Friedman had been dead for more than two decades when Fagon began his research — she died in 1980 — but she had left much of her work in papers given to the George C. Marshall Research Library in Lexington, Virginia.
Fagon started by reading about cryptology and trying to get an idea of how it happened. He admitted in an interview with Fortune magazine that he didn’t feel he had gotten very far.
But then this lucky thing happened, and I discovered a codebreaking manual written by Elizebeth herself, left behind in her personal archive. It’s an unpublished manuscript of a book she wrote for young adults, explaining how to break common types of codes and ciphers with a pencil and paper, in this very clear and encouraging and witty style. The spirit of the book is like: You can do it! Jump in! Have fun! It’s a game! Don’t be afraid! And it was perfect for me, as an amateur. That’s how I learned the basics of cryptanalysis, by reading Elizebeth’s own book and stepping through some of the example problems that she laid out. Elizebeth Smith Friedman: ‘The Woman Who Smashed Codes’
Besides his willingness to dig into cryptology, Fagon had another advantage as a biographer: he had a spectacular and important subject that few people knew anything about. Friedman’s life defies a short description.
She stumbled into cryptology after being asked by an eccentric millionaire to help prove that Sir Francis Bacon had written the plays of William Shakespeare. (He didn’t, according to a book she and her husband wrote many years later.) This job led her to her working for the government during Prohibition, breaking codes of smugglers and testifying against them in court.
When World War II broke out for America in 1941, she became America’s chief cryptanalyst, breaking Nazi and Japanese codes and helping the FBI track down Nazi spies throughout North and South America. Because her work was often classified and because she was a woman, and a modest one at that, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover never gave her the credit she deserved for her work.
Fagon’s book, The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America’s Enemies, published in 2017, has helped to correct that injustice. The book has become a best-seller and was named as a National Public Radio Best Book of the Year. Stuart Smith’s biography, A Life in Code: Pioneer Cryptanalyst Elizebeth Smith Friedman, is available at WorldCat at this link.
Note: She spelled her name Elizebeth, so the story goes, because she didn’t want to be called “Eliza.”
Serial Season 3: A deep dive into the justice system
Serial, the ambitious podcast that set the standard for the use of the compelling nature of audio, is set to begin its third season on Sept. 20. This season will focus on stories about the U.S. justice system, using the local courts in Cleveland, Ohio, as a springboard for its episodes.
Podcast journalist Nicholas Quah has the details in this story for Vulture magazine:
Serial will officially return for its third season later this month, and this time, the hit investigative podcast is switching things up. Instead of focusing on a single case — a murder in Baltimore in season one, a soldier’s desertion in season two — the upcoming season will dive into the infinitely complicated topic of the American criminal justice system by delivering weekly stories from inside the courts of Cleveland, Ohio. “It’s one courthouse, week by week,” according to a press release. Source: Serial Season 3: When Does It Premiere? What Is It About?
Quah also reports, in a different venue, that Serial has signed on a single sponsor in what is probably the biggest deal in the short history of podcasting. This is an interesting look inside the production of podcasts.
In case you missed these recent (and ancient) posts on JPROF.com:
Self-publishing workshop at Blount County Public Library, Oct. 6, 2018
My duties and responsibilities as writer-in-residence at the Blount County Public Library (Maryville, Tennessee) continue to evolve. On the first Saturday of October, I will be offering a half-day workshop on getting started with self-publishing.
If you’re in the area and are interested in this topic, sign up here:
Here’s the description:
Introduction to Self-Publishing Details: ADVANCED REGISTRATION FORM WITH $10 FEE, LUNCH INCLUDED, FOR SESSION ON OCTOBER 6th, 2018
The workshop will be held Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Sharon Lawson Room. You will learn the basics of self-publishing in this half-day workshop conducted by Jim Stovall, the Blount County Public Library’s current writer-in-residence (www.jprof.com). The workshop will cover everything you need to know about getting started in the world of independent publishing and how to make your book available on Amazon, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, and other book-selling forums. Advance online registration is required as is a $10 registration fee which includes a box lunch from the library’s Bookmark Café. Lunch is not optional, and lunch order options are on the registration form below. Seating is limited to 30. For more details, call Adult Services (Reference Desk) at 865-273-1428 or 865-982-0981, option 3.
Remember, the $10 fee includes lunch!
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