Hedy's Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World

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9780385534383: Hedy's Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World

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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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

About the Author:

RICHARD RHODES is most recently the author of The Twilight of the Bombs, the last volume in a quartet about nuclear history. The first, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, won the Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Award, and a National Book Critics Circle Award.

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Richard Rhodes
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