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

3.10  ·  Rating details ·  2,307 ratings  ·  524 reviews

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes delivers a remarkable story of science history: how a ravishing film star and an avant-garde composer invented spread-spectrum radio, the technology that made wireless phones, GPS systems, and many other devices possible.
Beginning at a Hollywood dinner table, Hedy's Folly tells a wild story of innovation that culminates in U.S.

Kindle Edition, 272 pages
Published (first published January 1st 2011)
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Average rating 3.10  · 
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 ·  2,307 ratings  ·  524 reviews

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Start your review of Hedy's Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World
May 17, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: No One
Recommended to Carmen by: Library
It annoyed her deeply, however, that few people saw beyond her beauty to her intelligence. "Any girl can be glamorous," she famously and acidly said. "All you have to do is stand still and look stupid."

This book really annoyed me. I was surprised and intrigued when I found out that Hedy Lamarr was an inventor. "Great!" I thought. "I will read this book about a gorgeous woman who invented in her spare time. It will be feminist and exciting." ... ... ... WRONG!

The book is boring and was also makin
The Library Lady
This book suffers from schizophrenia. It is subtitled "The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr", but Rhodes does not manage to smoothly incorporate the two.

Having done a pretty good job on Lamarr's early life, he abruptly switches to the life of her co-inventor George Antheil. And while Antheil may have been a heckuva interesting guy, we don't need to hear about the ups and downs of his life as a composer, details about Sylvia Beach's "Shakespeare and Company" store and his life in P
2.5 Stars

I don't know how to feel about this book.

I was super excited to read Hedy's Folly because its about such an interesting and underreported part of history. Hedy Lamarr was a Hollywood actress during the 1930's & 1940's she was known as The Most Beautiful Woman in the World. Hedy's fame and fortune were built on her stunning looks but Hedy Lamarr was so much more than a pretty face. Hedy was an Jewish immigrant from Vienna, Austria who in her free time when not making films enjoyed inven
Ann Fisher
Sep 12, 2012 rated it it was ok
Such a disappointment. But I suppose if it had been titled "A little bit about Hedy Lamarr and a lot about some composer you've never heard of" not as many people would pick it up. Rhodes is so focused on the invention that we get whole chapters in which Lamarr doesn't appear at all. It's also disappointing that several times the story looks like it's building to some exciting climax--Hedy is gathering secret information she can use to blackmail her husband so she can escape, they're perfecting ...more
Jenny McPhee
Jan 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Larry Summers Eat Your Heart Out: Hollywood Bombshell Hedy Lamarr Invented A Sophisticated Weapons Technology Between Films

What do Caroline Herschel, Ada Lovelace, Mary Somerville, Mary Anning, Lise Meitner, Emmy Noether, Jocelyn Bell, Rosalind Franklin, Vera Rubin, and Hedy Lamarr (among others) have in common? They each made extraordinary scientific discoveries that went unrecognized because they were women, many of them having to endure male colleagues taking credit for their work, then winni
Mar 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed reading this well-researched book. It's probably half about Hedy and the other half is about her inventor partner George Antheil, a talented composer and writer. They developed and patented a radio frequency hopping technology during the Second World War. The sections describing it are technical, and I could follow the gist of it. However, both of their lives were colorful and turbulent, especially Hedy's. She was so much more than just another "pretty face" in the Hollywood movies, as ...more
BAM The Bibliomaniac
Hedy " invented to Challenge herself or bring order to a disorganized works", and still made movies and looked gorgeous. I can barely wash my face, brush my teeth, and put shoes on every day

This is the perfect book for girls who think science is not for them. It proves that girls CAN!

Lenten Buddy Reading Challenge book #6
Jan 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
Other’s have said that the first third of this book is slow but if you’re interested in reading a who’s who in the arts in the few decades before the second World War, especially in Vienna and Paris, you’ll find nothing slow about the first section. They’re all here: Stravinsky, the Fitzgeralds, Hemingway, Picasso, etc.* There’s nothing in depth about them…’s more a splash of color. The story is centered on Hedy and the very beginning of her acting career as well as that of her soon to be co ...more
David Schwan
A short history of Hedy Lamarr's an George Antheil's invention of Spread Spectrum radio. I spent a decade designing direct sequence spread spectrum radios for cordless phones, and was already aware of the underlining technology. This book gives some insight about where Hedy Lamarr got her inspiration. This book also gives us a mini biography of the American composer George Anhteil. I would liked to have read more about the invention but it appears that significant parts of the story are still cl ...more
Feb 12, 2014 rated it did not like it
Completely false advertising. A more appropriate title would be: The History of the People Involved with Broadcast Information Technology and a Study of Historical Developments in the Field. You know why they don't do that? Because no one would read it. There is about as much space devoted to the life of George Antheil in this book as there is to the eponymous Hedy Lamar, and yet there is no mention of the quirky composer on the cover at all. Those thinking they're going to get a vindicating rev ...more
Nov 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Hedy's Lamarr was far, far more than a pretty face. She was a human sponge, seemingly remote and beautiful but always listening and storing away information. Especially during her first marriage, to the head of a munitions company. It helped her to build a better torpedo, though no one knew that for years as the patented technology languished in the Navy's classified files. Finally, in 1999, she was recognized as being a Pioneer of Science. We should think of her every day, because her idea is t ...more
If this book had been titled anything but what it was, I wouldn't really have any complaints. As it is though, I feel the title is misleading. I'd say only about half the book is about Hedy Lamarr, the rest about George Antheil and their invention. I understand that the invention having two creators means you have to talk about them both, but then don't make the book sound like it's about Hedy Lamarr only and her inventions. It's a joint biography, and really only one invention is discussed in d ...more
e drive
Read by Bernadette Dunne

Austro-American actress and mathematician, celebrated for her great beauty, who was a major contract star of MGM's "Golden Age."

9 November 1913 – 19 January 2000
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
I only found out the story of Hedy Lamar in technology, a few months ago. I was vaguely aware of her Hollywood career but her mathematical contributions were unknown to me until recently. This story covers her career but also spends a lot of time on her partner in invention Antheil who helped her develop spread spectrum technology basically multiplexers that use different wavelengths to send multiple signals down a channel at once using different parts of the spectrum. It is a mathematical inno ...more
Gail Cooke
Dec 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

It makes a remarkable story is the way the author describes Hedy Lamarr’s partnering with George Antheil “to invent a fundamental new wireless technology.” Indeed, it is a remarkable story and ably told by Richard Rhodes. Hedy’s Folly is a unique pairing in more ways than one. First, who would believe that the woman who owned the sobriquet “the most beautiful woman in the world” and created a scandal by baring all in an erotic 10 minute film scene when she was but 17 could possibly be intellige
Dec 23, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I was greatly disappointed by this book. It presents itself as the story of Hedy Lamarr as more than just beauty, but instead meanders all over history of those years in a poorly connected narrative. At least half of the book is devoted to George Antheil and his self-promotional life, including an afterword addressing his music and his family after his death. The rest of the book largely looks at Hedy as a woman who flitted through life, with out much exposition her her achievements and intellig ...more
Diane S ☔
While there are many parts of this book that are extremely interesting, the style is rather dry. I did like reading about Hedy's earlier life but than the book just started throwing facts at the reader, almost too many, and I started skimming. That Hedy was beautiful, but would rather have been admired for her intelligence, was fascinating. The inventions she and composer George Antheil patented made possible many of the electronics we take for granted today.
Movie star Hedy Lamarr, who divorced six men, who had both beauty and brains, invented in her free time. She worked with writer and composer George Antheil to invent the basis for the technology used in much of modern communications, although it was originally invented in hopes that the US Navy would use it in WW II, which it didn't. This follows her life from the time she began her acting career, though multiple marriages, ending with her finally being recognized for it when she was already aro ...more
Mal Warwick
Dec 23, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Nazi Generals, Wireless Torpedoes, and "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World"

A quarter-century ago Richard Rhodes won the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction for a masterful history, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, and he has received numerous plaudits in the years since, both for nonfiction and fiction. But I don’t see any prizes in his future for this half-hearted little effort.

There’s nothing lacking in the material. It’s relatively well-known that Hedy Lamarr, a stunning film superstar of MGM’s Go
Jul 05, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2012
Hedy's Folly is a short work of non-fiction from Richard Rhodes [he usually writes epics connected to science about the atom bomb] that looks at the unlikely inventor Hedy Lamarr, movie star from the 1930s and 1940s. Hedy's Folly is more a 2.5, but no half scores on goodreads, so I'm going 2 stars for this due to the fact that no matter how brief, it still feels a little flimsy as it unfolds. It almost feels like an extended essay to me rather than that of a book. She co-invented an early versio ...more
Dec 08, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: bio/memoir readers
This is a book that really needs 1/2 stars! I'm giving it 3 stars (like most readers) because it does get clunky and begins to disintegrate once the Navy (view spoiler), but worthy of 3 1/2 stars. However, it is a great story. After all, what's not to like about an actress who invents for a hobby and a composer who helps her? Despite the need for tighter writing, this book deserves more readers/listeners if for no other reason the knowledge of pa ...more
Adam Tschorn
Hedy Lamarr, a legend of Hollywood's Golden Age and siren of the silver screen who starred in movies such as "Algiers," "White Cargo" and "Samson and Delilah" in the late 1930s and '40s, is remembered today mostly for her exquisite feminine pulchritude. Think of her as the Farrah Fawcett (the red bathing suit pinup-poster version) of her day — a Viennese-born actress whose physical attributes earned her the sobriquet of "the most beautiful woman in the world."

And, in the seven decades since Lama
Joseph Sciuto
Apr 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Long before Hedy Lamarr became almost as famous for her inventions as for her movie career, I used to look at her movies and think that if ever I had to cast a woman who was beautiful, cunning, inventive, and super intelligent it would be her. I don't know if it were her facial expressions or her amazing eyes, but behind that lovely face there seemed to be a thousand different ideas running through, what we now know, was that ingenious brain of Ms. Lamarr.

Richard Rhodes, author of the Pulitzer w
Feb 15, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-biography
A fun and quirky lighthearted history, of the sort that makes you want to say “Ain't the world a funny place” or something equally profound. Also, it's short enough so you can finish the public library ebook before Amazon comes along and yanks it off your book reader.

Once her invention is invented, the book veers away from her life (supposedly the subject of the book, according to the title), so we don't learn much about her marriage, film careers, legal battles, and so forth. In addition, devot
Susan Ferguson
May 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I have enjoyed this book. I temporarily lost it in the car for a couple of months, but just found it and picked up reading again.
Hedy said "Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid." But Hedy's father used to take her for walks and explain how things worked. She became interested and her hobby was inventing. Her first husband was an Austrian munitions manufacturer who refused to let her continue acting and never let her go anywhere unwatched. She finally got f
Feb 03, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beautiful, driven and smart, Austrian-born Hollywood movie star Hedy Lamarr liked to spend her spare time inventing things. Since she had listened when her first husband and his commercial cronies talked about weapons systems and the armaments business at their fancy, formal dinner parties, Hedy knew a surprising amount about the working mechanisms of the submarines Germans were using with such destructive force in the early days of WWII, so when she met iconoclastic and perennially broke compos ...more
D.R. Oestreicher
Jun 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Hedy’s Folly by Richard Rhodes comes with the unwieldy and misleading subtitle of The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr… Her co-inventor was avant-garde composer George Antheil. The book is evenly split between the two inventors. However, following the 1941 story by the National Inventors Council story: “HEDY LAMARR INVENTOR, Actress devises “Red Hot” apparatus…,” Rhodes also ignores Antheil in his title.

This book is recommended for anyone interested in the 1920s, women’s or techno
Jun 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Read this as a companion to "The Only Woman in the Room". It does put a slightly different light on Hedy's first marriage (she probably didn't have to disguise herself to escape), gave background on her inventing partner George Antheil, an American Composer, info about patent law and a bit of technical info about her patent, which - naturally - went right over my head. (I would really have to study to get it.)
Mary Ronan Drew
Mar 13, 2012 rated it liked it
Hedy's Folly is an unusual book, to say the least. It is a combination Hollywood film star biography and explanation of spread spectrum communications technology.

Born in Vienna Hedwig Kiesler, Hedy Lamarr more or less ran off from her upper middle class family to become a motion picture actress in the 1920s. She quit her career and married the third richest man in Austria, an arms merchant. But as the 20s turned to the 30s and Nazism began to become more of a threat she fled to London and then t
Dec 18, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although this story includes fascinating information that I never knew about Hedy Lamarr, it is a story. Not in the sense that it isn't true, but in the sense that it is like my grandfather and great aunts and uncles told stories to my cousins and I when we were young. Everything the oldsters told us was fascinating and new to us, but occasionally the original story got lost in another story, that got lost in a third story...until sometimes we would request a new telling of the original, or have ...more
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Richard Lee Rhodes is an American journalist, historian, and author of both fiction and non-fiction (which he prefers to call "verity"), including the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1986), and most recently, Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race (2007). He has been awarded grants from the Ford Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation a ...more

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49 likes · 25 comments
“Today Hedy’s invention serves millions through GPS, Galileo, and GLONASS satellites, Bluetooth, cell-phone, and digital wireless systems. (illustration credit i1.23)” 1 likes
“It was "not so much the [lack of] leisure, but also the nervous tension. One comes back to one's native land and sees that one has been abandoned." - Antheil” 1 likes
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