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...

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.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Codebreakers: The Story Of Secret Writing

Robbyn Swan Why did I love 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.

By David Kahn,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Codebreakers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Codebreaking is the most important form of secret intelligence in the world. It produces much more and more trustworthy information than spies, and this intelligence exerts great influences upon the policies of governments.


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

Robbyn Swan Why did I love 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.

By Stephen Budiansky,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Battle of Wits as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Drawing from newly declassified documents, the author chronicles the story of codebreaking during the last world war, from cat-and-mouse games with Nazi U-boats to the invasion of Normandy.


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

Robbyn Swan Why did I love 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.

By Elliot Carlson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Joe Rochefort's War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Elliot Carlson's award-winning biography of Capt. Joe Rochefort is the first to be written about the officer who headed Station Hypo, the U.S. Navy's signals monitoring and cryptographic intelligence unit at Pearl Harbor, and who broke the Japanese navy's code before the Battle of Midway. His conclusions, bitterly opposed by some top Navy brass, are credited with making the U.S. victory possible and helping to change the course of the war. The author tells the story of how opponents in Washington forced Rochefort's removal from Station Hypo and denied him the Distinguished Service Medal recommended by Admiral Nimitz.


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

Robbyn Swan Why did I love 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.

By Liza Mundy,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Code Girls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An expert on East European politics and economics analyzes and evaluates Western policies toward the new East European democracies as they struggle to build stable political orders and functioning market economies. He argues that the West must give higher priority to assisting the region and reorient its strategies so as to emphasize the political and administrative dimensions of economic reconstruction. He reviews the economic legacy of past Western policies and of Eastern Europe's previous dependency on the Soviet Union, and then examines in detail the changing East-West trade patterns, the prospect for Western investment and technology transfer, the questions of…


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

Robbyn Swan Why did I love 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.

By John Prados,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Combined Fleet Decoded as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The most authoritative and revealing examination yet of the way intelligence--of all kinds--was instrumental in defeating Japan. Prados gives a new picture of the war in the Pacific, one which will challenge many previous conceptions about that conflict, and one which will be irresistible to those readers who find histories of that period fascinating. 16 pages of photos.


You might also like...

The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

By Ashley Rubin,

Book cover of The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

Ashley Rubin Author Of The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

New book alert!

Who am I?

I have been captivated by the study of prisons since my early college years. The fact that prisons are so new in human history still feels mind-blowing to me. I used to think that prisons have just always been around, but when you realize they are actually new, that has major implications. This is nowhere more clear than at the beginning: how hard it was to get to the point where prisons made sense to people, to agree on how prisons should be designed and managed, and to keep on the same path when prisons very quickly started to fail. It’s still puzzling to me.

Ashley's book list on the origins of American prisons

What is my book about?

What were America's first prisons like? How did penal reformers, prison administrators, and politicians deal with the challenges of confining human beings in long-term captivity as punishment--what they saw as a humane intervention?

The Deviant Prison centers on one early prison: Eastern State Penitentiary. Built in Philadelphia, one of the leading cities for penal reform, Eastern ultimately defied national norms and was the subject of intense international criticism.

The Deviant Prison traces the rise and fall of Eastern's unique "Pennsylvania System" of solitary confinement and explores how and why Eastern's administrators kept the system going, despite great personal cost to themselves. Anyone interested in history, prisons, and criminal justice will find something to enjoy in this book.

The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

By Ashley Rubin,

What is this book about?

Early nineteenth-century American prisons followed one of two dominant models: the Auburn system, in which prisoners performed factory-style labor by day and were placed in solitary confinement at night, and the Pennsylvania system, where prisoners faced 24-hour solitary confinement for the duration of their sentences. By the close of the Civil War, the majority of prisons in the United States had adopted the Auburn system - the only exception was Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary, making it the subject of much criticism and a fascinating outlier. Using the Eastern State Penitentiary as a case study, The Deviant Prison brings to light…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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