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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.
"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)
"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