The Best Books About American Code-Breaking In World War II

The Books I Picked & Why

The Codebreakers: The Story Of Secret Writing

By David Kahn

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.


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

By Stephen Budiansky

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.


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

By Elliot Carlson

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.


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

By Liza Mundy

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.


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

By John Prados

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.


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