Hedy's Folly

  • by Richard Rhodes
  • Narrated by Bernadette Dunne
  • 5 hrs and 55 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

What do Hedy Lamarr, avant-garde composer George Antheil, and your cell phone have in common? The answer is spread-spectrum radio: a revolutionary inven­tion based on the rapid switching of communications sig­nals among a spread of different frequencies. Without this technology, we would not have the digital comforts that we take for granted today.
Only a writer of Richard Rhodes’s caliber could do justice to this remarkable story. Unhappily married to a Nazi arms dealer, Lamarr fled to America at the start of World War II; she brought with her not only her theatrical talent but also a gift for technical innovation. An introduction to Antheil at a Hollywood dinner table culminated in a U.S. patent for a jam- proof radio guidance system for torpedoes - the unlikely duo’s gift to the U.S. war effort.
What other book brings together 1920s Paris, player pianos, Nazi weaponry, and digital wireless into one satisfying whole? In its juxtaposition of Hollywood glamour with the reality of a brutal war, Hedy’s Folly is a riveting book about unlikely amateur inventors collaborating to change the world.

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What the Critics Say

"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 gatheredweapons 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)
"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)
"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)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

fascinating short bio

I enjoyed this. the narrator was fine, finally. I've had a bad streak of lackluster readers.

But this story is good and there is a good bit of bio on George Antheil as well (helps to understand what he brings to the device) leading up to his and Hedy's meeting and work on the torpedo problem. (you can sample his Ballet Mechanique in itunes to see what he was up to musically, quite different).

but i think the important thing that came across to me was again how short sighted, perhaps in this case misogynistic, men in power were and can be. anyone with the guts and the intelligence to realize what Hedy and Antheil devised could have appreciable shortened WW2. Not to mention kickstarted our electronic age 40 years earlier. It made me think of the Tesla bio Wizard and what a different world we could be living in right now. You don't get a sense of that aspect until the wrap up and that's not what this bio is about except tangentially. But the ideas are presented in a manner that makes them accessible to the layman. the first half is very much the bio aspects of the 2, but the whole thing moves quickly and is short as well so i can recommend it.

and to think that her/their ideas, if they had retained the patent, could have made them billions.
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- Darryl

Like a 1930s People Magazine

Would you try another book from Richard Rhodes and/or Bernadette Dunne?

Meh


What do you think your next listen will be?

The Tao of Willie


Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Bernadette Dunne?

She was okay, it was the material.


What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Disappointment


Any additional comments?

Want gossip about the marriages and divorces of 1930s and 40s screen stars? A DETAILED bio of George Antheil? This may be your book. With ONE exception, Hedy Lamar's inventions remain a secret until they're quickly listed in an Afterword. I had thought the whole point of the book was her "Breakthrough Inventions." Rambling, gossipy string of precise but irrelevant dates and details about OTHERS. I can't believe I sat through the whole thing.

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- Home Hunter 808

Book Details

  • Release Date: 11-29-2011
  • Publisher: Random House Audio