The best books about American code-breaking in World War II

Who are we?

Anthony Summers and I are the authors of several books that focus on the world of intelligence, including The Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama bin Laden- which was a Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. As we revealed in our most recent book, A Matter of Honor, U.S. code-breaking efforts in World War II began with a colossal failure – Pearl Harbor. According to the first official report on the disaster, the attack “had been clearly foreshadowed” in the Japanese diplomatic traffic the U.S had decoded. The story of how the Americans turned that initial failure into success came to fascinate me.


We wrote...

A Matter of Honor: Pearl Harbor: Betrayal, Blame and a Family’s Quest For Justice

By Anthony Summers, Robbyn Swan,

Book cover of A Matter of Honor: Pearl Harbor: Betrayal, Blame and a Family’s Quest For Justice

What is our book about?

On the seventy-fifth anniversary, the authors of Pulitzer Prize finalist The Eleventh Day unravel the mysteries of Pearl Harbor to expose the scapegoating of the admiral who was in command the day 2,000 Americans died, report on the continuing struggle to restore his lost honor--and clear President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the charge that he knew the attack was coming.

The books I picked & why

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The Codebreakers: The Story Of Secret Writing

By David Kahn,

Book cover of The Codebreakers: The Story Of Secret Writing

Why this book?

Superb. Kahn’s book, written almost fifty years ago, is rightly considered the classic work on the history of cryptography. It’s enormous, some 1200 pages, but it draws the reader in with its richly detailed portraits of code-makers and code-breakers from ancient times to the modern era. Kahn’s analysis of American cryptographic operations during WWII is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the intelligence failures that preceded Pearl Harbor. The 1996 updated edition is still in print.


Battle of Wits: The Complete Story of Codebreaking in World War II

By Stephen Budiansky,

Book cover of Battle of Wits: The Complete Story of Codebreaking in World War II

Why this book?

A brilliant book that draws on millions of pages of British and U.S. documents released in the 1990s. Battle of Wits tell the amazing story of how Allied code-breaking success made it possible read the intentions of German and Japanese commanders – and led to victory. Budiansky has great story-telling abilities, so this is a terrific read even for non-buffs.


Joe Rochefort's War: The Odyssey of the Codebreaker Who Outwitted Yamamoto at Midway

By Elliot Carlson,

Book cover of Joe Rochefort's War: The Odyssey of the Codebreaker Who Outwitted Yamamoto at Midway

Why this book?

The first biography of Captain Joseph Rochefort, who led “Station Hypo”, the Navy’s code-breaking unit in Hawaii. Tragically, those running the U.S. cryptanalysis effort in Washington had decided to focus on breaking Japan’s diplomatic code. Only after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor were Rochefort and his team permitted to throw all their efforts at breaking Japanese naval codes. Their work led to America’s resounding success at Midway, only months after the disaster at Pearl. Carlson does an admirable job of bringing to life one of the forgotten men of the war.


Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II

By Liza Mundy,

Book cover of Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II

Why this book?

Mundy’s unputdownable book tells the story of the women behind some of the most significant code-breaking triumphs of the war. The work of women like Elizabeth Friedman – who got her start unpicking the codes of Prohibition-era liquor smugglers – was one of the war’s best-kept secrets.


Combined Fleet Decoded: The Secret History of American Intelligence and the Japanese Navy in World War II

By John Prados,

Book cover of Combined Fleet Decoded: The Secret History of American Intelligence and the Japanese Navy in World War II

Why this book?

A groundbreaking work of research that is at the same time a page-turning read that sheds new light on the epic battles of the conflict. Prados interweaves the intelligence successes and failures of the U.S. and Japanese combatants in a way that has not previously been attempted. The resulting work adds hugely to our understanding of the war in the Pacific.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in World War 2, the Battle of Midway, and cryptography?

5,810 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about World War 2, the Battle of Midway, and cryptography.

World War 2 Explore 968 books about World War 2
The Battle Of Midway Explore 9 books about the Battle of Midway
Cryptography Explore 20 books about cryptography

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