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

3.09  ·  Rating details ·  1,942 ratings  ·  444 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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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 i
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
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
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
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
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
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 Gol
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
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 o ...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
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
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.
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
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
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
Carl Rollyson
Jun 22, 2012 rated it liked it
Hedy Lamarr (1913-2000) is probably the only Hollywood star who had a drafting table in her home and a dedicated work space to concentrate on her inventions. Her unusual collaboration with composer George Antheil during WW II, when she conceived of a weapon that could attack German submarines that were devastating Allied shipping, has received the full attention of biographers Ruth Barton (Hedy Lamarr: The Most Beautiful Woman in Film) and Stephen Michael Shearer (Beautiful: The Life of Hedy Lam ...more
Kathy Stone
Mar 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: from-the-library
This was a decent biography of an actress and an inventor. Where it failed was in depth of topic on invention, but that may be because her invention could not be used at time of patent. Hedy Lamarr was not only beautiful, but intelligent and able to use whatever knowledge she gained into practice. Her meeting up with George Antheil increased the practicality of her inventive side. Even though she had difficulties in her personal life she stayed away from the Hollywood parties and invented design ...more
Immensely readable, but it manages to be both short and unfocused. It's the biography of the invention of frequency hopping (SO COOL) more than an account of Hedy's life (I was left puzzled by threads that remained dangling. Like, did her mother ever immigrate to the U.S.? And why did she and her first son become estranged? I AM A NOSY PERSON, YOU CAN'T JUST MENTION THESE THINGS AND NOT ELABORATE. Excuse me while I go to Wikipedia for my answers!). There was soooo much focus on the earlier influ ...more
Margaret Sankey
Dec 23, 2014 rated it liked it
Is there anyone better at explaining 1940s technology to laypeople than Richard Rhodes? In this book, he describes the 1940 Hollywood encounter of Hedy Lamarr, actress, ex-wife of an Austrian munitions magnate and creative genius and George Antheil, avant-garde composer, player-piano expert and gland theory crackpot. With their combined expertise, and a Philco remote radio channel changer, they invented and patented a method by which a torpedo could be guided and that directional signal protecte ...more
Jenny T
Dec 15, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, read-in-2011
A fascinating look into Austrian actress Hedy Lamarr's collaboration with avant-garde composer George Antheil in the invention of the "spread spectrum" radio jamming device used to control torpedoes (a technology later adopted by GPS, cell phones, etc.).

The subject was interesting and the book well-researched, but I was expecting more of a biography of Ms. Lamarr, her personality and contributions. Instead, we get a condensed history of the art movement in the 1920s, brief mention of a few of he
Mar 15, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, science
The early sections about Hedy Lamarr's life in pre-war Austria and her co-inventor's life in pre-war Paris were colorful and interesting, and the section about the big invention itself (a frequency-hopping technique designed to help guide torpedoes) stayed clear enough, but once the Navy declined to do anything with their idea at the time, the book basically says "then they got old and died." A little more biographical information would have been nice. And after the first section, Hedy Lamarr se ...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
“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
More quotes…