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Hedy's Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World Hardcover – November 29, 2011

3.4 out of 5 stars 125 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, December 2011: Hedwig (Hedy) Kiesler may be one of the greatest unsung heroes of twentieth century technological progress. An opportunistic Austrian immigrant driven by curiosity and a desire to make it as a Hollywood actress in the early years of World War II, Hedy worked with avant-garde composer George Antheil to create the technology that we depend upon today for cell phones and GPS: frequency hopping. Though Richard Rhodes presents details about everyone involved in the separate experiences that the two inventors drew upon to make their breakthrough in Hedy’s Folly, the invention itself takes center stage, driving the remarkable story with precision. Rhodes skillfully weaves together all the disparate parts of the story, from how Hedy learned about Nazi torpedoes to why George’s knowledge of player pianos was key to the invention, in order to create a highly readable genesis of the technology that influences billions of lives every day. --Malissa Kent


Hedy's Folly is one of the Huffington Post's Best Film Books of 2011!

Praise for Hedy's Folly:

Rhodes’s talent is making the scientifically complex accessible to the proverbial lay reader with clarity and without dumbing down the essentials of his topicsalong the way he expertly weaves social and cultural commentary into his narrative…. Behind the uniqueness of this story lie deeper themes that Rhodes touches upon: the gender biases against beautiful and intelligent women, the delicate interpersonal politics of scientific collaboration and…the neverending, implacable conflict between art and Mammon in American culture.”—John Adams, front page of the New York Times Book Review

"It’s to Mr. Rhodes’s credit that he gently makes this implausible story plausible."Dwight Garner, New York Times

"This is a smart, strange and fascinating book, which deserves to find an audience.... Rhodes is particularly good when describing intellectual milieus, whether Vienna in the first years of the 20th century, the Paris of James Joyce, Ezra Pound and Sylvia Beach and — for that matter — the permanent bureaucracy of the Pentagon. Many will have forgotten the brutal Soviet attack on Finland in 1940, but Rhodes sums it up poignantly and succinctly in three pages about the death of Antheil’s brother Henry. Finally, Rhodes is one of those few writers capable of explaining complicated scientific ideas to the general public, invariably with clarity and precision and sometimes wit and poetry as well."Prof. Tim Page, Washington Post

"In Hedy's Folly, Rhodes weaves a fascinating...account of Lamarr's journey into scientific exploration and the political machinations of war, mixing thorough techno research with Hollywood glam."Bill Deskowitz, USA Today

"Hedy Lamarr, Hollywood starlet and inventor of a torpedo guidance system during World War II? Who knew? Richard Rhodes, the Pulitzer-winning author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb, drops quite a bombshell with this revelation in his new book."Weekend Picks, USA Today

"Richard Rhodes...unites the social history of Vienna, the classic era of Hollywood film, Paris in the ’20s, experimental music, weapons design, the niceties of patent law and the technology of information transmission — a real grab bag of elements — in this short, charming and remarkably seamless book. He makes a rigorous effort to establish exactly what Lamarr contributed.... 'She deserved better,' Rhodes writes, than to be judged by that spectacular face alone, and now, at last, she is."Laura Miller, Salon

"Actresses often long to turn director, but how many of them yearn to turn inventor? Given the success that the screen siren Hedy Lamarr achieved in that realm—revealed in Richard Rhodes’s fascinating biography, Hedy’s Folly—it’s a pity more of them don’t consider it.... Rhodes’s beguiling book shows Hedy Lamarr to have been a secret weapon in more ways than one."Liesl Schillinger, Newsweek

"...[M]ost people were reluctant to believe that the most beautiful woman in the word had an invetor's brain; but one man who came to believe in her was George Antheil.... Richard Rhodes...is the perfect historian to describe the abilities of Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil as scientists and inventors.  In Hedy's Folly, Rhodes is also very good on culture-rich Vienna...[and] the Hollywood of the '30s and '40s."Larry McMurtry, Harper's Magazine

"With admirable and tenacious skill, Richard Rhodes' new book on Hollywood screen legend Hedy Lamarr unveils the inquisitive brain behind the beauty.... [It] reads at turns like a romance novel, patent law primer, noir narrative and exercise in forensic psychology.... Rhodes...ends up shedding valuable insight on the Hollywood mythmaking of the era."Adam Tschorn, Los Angeles Times

"Hedy Lamarr, glamorous Hollywood star. Hedy Lamarr, glamorous genius inventor.
That's the gist of Richard Rhodes' Hedy's Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, although, of course, it's far more complicated than that. And far more fascinating.... The Pulitzer Prize-winning Rhodes (for the first volume in his history of nuclear science and weaponry) goes at all this with diligence and curiosity
."Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer

"Richard Rhodes’s book should be celebrated: he shows that even in the “information” age, there is a way to write about an American movie star that gives readers something new...even the best-known details of the star’s life seem fresh."Rachel Shtier, The New Republic

"Literary luminary Rhodes is not the first to write about movie star Hedy Lamarr’s second life as an inventor, but his enlightening and exciting chronicle is unique in its illumination of why and how she conceived of an epoch-shaping technology now known as frequency hopping spread spectrum. As intelligent and independent as she was beautiful, Jewish Austrian Lamarr quit school to become an actor, then disastrously married a munitions manufacturer who got cozy with the Nazis. Lamarr coolly gathered
weapons information, then fled the country for Hollywood. As she triumphed on the silver screen, she also worked diligently on a secret form of radio communication that she hoped would boost the U.S. war effort, but which ultimately became the basis for cell phones, Wi-Fi, GPS, and bar-code readers. Lamarr’s technical partner was George Antheil, a brilliant and intrepid pianist and avant-garde composer whose adventures are so fascinating, he nearly steals the show. In symphonic control of a great wealth of fresh and stimulating material, and profoundly attuned to the complex ramifications of Lamarr’s and Antheil’s struggles and achievements (Lamarr finally received recognition as an electronic pioneer late in life), Rhodes incisively, wittily, and dramatically brings to light a singular convergence of two beyond-category artists who overtly and covertly changed the world."Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred)

"Rhodes manages to shed light on the strange partnership that led a screen siren and an eclectic composer to produce what was later recognized as a groundbreaking technology.... Hedy’s Folly is a reminder that neither time nor gravity can diminish the allure of a beautiful mind."—Bloomberg Business Week

"If the subtitle of this book—The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World—doesn’t make you want to read, nothing we say is likely to change your mind. But we will add this much: Rhodes, who has written about everything from atomic power to sex to John James Audubon, is apparently incapable of writing a bad book and most of what he does is absolutely superior, including this tale that has Nazi weapons, Hollywood stars, 20th century classical music, and the earliest versions of digital wireless."—The Daily Beast

"[Rhodes] once again interweaves moving biographical portraits with dramatic depictions of scientific discovery.... [He] proves adept at elucidating the science behind this invention and the subsequent development of spread-spectrum systems (which today enable the use of cell phones and Wi-Fi), but his particular genius lies in placing the invention within a tumultuous historical moment.... With crisp, unadorned prose and plentiful quotes from primary sources, [he] paints a compelling history.... [Hedy's Folly] proves a riveting narrative, propelled by the ambition and idiosyncrasies of the inventors at its core."—Nick Bascom, Science News

"Expertly explaining the genesis and consequences of Lamarr's invention, in Hedy's Folly, Richard Rhodes transforms a surprising historical anecdote into a fascinating story about the unpredictable development of novel technologies."—Jonathan Keats, New Scientist's Culture Lab

"The author of The Twilight of the Bomb (2010) returns with the surprising story of a pivotal invention produced during World War II by a pair of most unlikely inventors—an avant-garde composer and the world’s most glamorous movie star....A faded blossom of a story, artfully restored to bright bloom."—Kirkus Reviews

"Here's a recipe that might surprise you: take a silver-screen sex goddess (Hedy Lamarr), an avant-garde composer (George Antheil), a Hollywood friendship, and mutual technological curiosity, and mix well. What results is a patent for spread-spectrum radio, which has impacted the development of everything from torpedoes to cell phones and GPS technologies. This surprising and long-forgotten story is brought to life by Pulitzer Prize winner Rhodes (The Making of the Atomic Bomb), who deftly moves between Nazi secrets, scandalous films, engineering breakthroughs, and musical flops to weave a taut story that straddles two very different worlds—the entertainment industry and wartime weaponry—and yet somehow manages to remain a delectable read.   Hedy Lamarr is experiencing something of a renaissance, and Rhodes's book adds another layer to the life of a beautiful woman who was so much more than the sum of her parts. It will appeal to a wide array of readers, from film, technology, and patent scholars to those looking for an unusual romp through World War II–era Hollywood."—Teri S...

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (November 29, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385534388
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385534383
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (125 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #293,169 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Ash Jogalekar TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Hedy Lamarr was a Hollywood star, considered one of the most beautiful women in the world. She was also an inventor. These two disparate sounding facts would make anyone sit up and take notice. We are fortunate that a writer of the caliber of Richard Rhodes did notice. What he gives us is a fascinating account of Lamarr and her fellow inventor, musician George Antheil, as well as a host of other topics including evocative portraits of 1920s Vienna and Paris, insightful commentary on Hollywood and World War 2 and a crystal clear account of the technical details behind Lamarr and Antheil's key invention- spread-spectrum frequency hopping, a technique which can be used for jam-proof wireless communication in everything from submarine transmission to cell phones.

As is the case with his other commanding works, Rhodes is most adept at creating sharp character portraits of the main protagonists and an evocative recreation of the times that they lived in. He also offers a characteristically lucid account of science and technology reminiscent of the accounts in his landmark "The Making of the Atomic Bomb". Wherever possible he lets the characters speak in their own voices. He starts by describing Hedy's childhood in 1920s Vienna, a city that was a mecca for the arts and a sort of dream world for the young and ambitious. Acting was in Hedy's blood and with the encouragement of a doting father, she never looked back. After starring in a variety of roles, some scandalous for the times, she had the misfortune to marry a charming but opportunistic arms dealer who was cozy with fascists and Nazis and who turned Hedy into a trophy wife trapped in a golden cage.
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This book is a page-turner by any definition of the word. It arrived yesterday and I took it to the gym with me this afternoon with the intention of reading it for the hour I spend riding the exercise bike to nowhere. Two and a half hours later, I had to put it aside at the insistence of my leg muscles who made it clear that while I was enthralled with my book, my muscles had a different opinion. After dinner I read more until my eyes were too blurry to continue. This book is more interesting than fiction. In fact, the story might not be believable as fiction. Truth is definitely stranger than fact.
It's amazing that a successful Hollywood Starlet--widely considered the most beautiful woman in the world at the time and who had been married to one of the world's most successful arms dealers could combine her talent for inventing things with the similar talents of George Antheil. He was an avant-garde composer of who had lived in Paris at the beginning of the 20th century, and who had moved to L.A. to compose music for the movie business, but who was also an amateur inventor.The two of them devised a system of radio control based on Antheil's production of his musical piece "Mechanisms." Working in their home workshops they devised and patented a radio controlled torpedo for the U.S. Navy. The technique remained secret for decades but their combined invention eventually resulted in today's wireless cell phones, Bluetooth networks and the various GPS systems. "Most military communications rely on Lamarr and Anthiel's breakthrough."
This is a wonderful and very uplifting true story. I don't know how any reader could fail to be mesmerized by it.
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Since I was the individual who Nominated Hedy Lamarr for the Electronic Freedom Foundation Award in 1996 (which she got) and helped in the nomination for the prestigious Austrian Academy of Science award - her native country - which she also received, I was keen to see how accurate and balanced Richard Rhodes account was.

It was excellent and accurate on pages 112-114 where he describes my seminal role.

He was ALSO accurate and informative about 'Scibor Marchocki' ( pages 196-2040) the young Naval Technical Contractor who actually used her Patent in early 1950s to design the Naval 'Sonabuoy' to help detect hostile submarines - the VERY FIRST use of her 'frequency hopping' concept. When an old Scibor in 1996 read about the EFF award I got for her, he emailed me detailed information on when, how, and why he used her patent 50 years earlier. I provided that to Rhodes, who used it to accurately not not only describe the device, but also prove that her patent was actually used earlier than MANY try to claim.

So while I have been sent and seen many publications about her 'invention' Rhodes is both the most complete and accurate of them all.

By the way CBS did a March 4th 2012 8 minute 'Sunday Morning' program about her, the invention, Rhodes, and even her son Anthony. You can access [...]

Oh yeah, I might be a little biased, for when I was 13 years old in 1941, and she was 26 I was in love with her, from her pictures and movies.
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