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

Hedy's Folly : The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World  / Richard Rhodes (Powell's Books):
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. patent number 2,292,387 for a "secret communication system." Along the way Rhodes weaves together Hollywood’s golden era, the history of Vienna, 1920s Paris, weapons design, music, a tutorial on patent law and a brief treatise on transmission technology. Narrated with the rigor and charisma we've come to expect of Rhodes, it is a remarkable narrative adventure about spread-spectrum radio's genesis and unlikely amateur inventors collaborating to change the world.

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 intelligence until the end of the afterword.

This is barely a book about Hedy Lamarr's work as an inventor, and only slightly more so about her "Folly," her "extravagant and consequential invention," on which the premise of this book is supposedly built. The book does have some very interesting information, but the narrative is dry and poorly held together, which is odd considering the apparent interest and enthusiasm for the related history that the author displays.


I will not deny that I felt some measure of relief after reading other reviews to see that my feelings towards the narrative were not unique.  Hedy's Folly definitely touches on some interesting history, but when a book comes with such recommendations as "narrated with the rigor and charisma we've come to expect of Rhodes, it is a remarkable narrative adventure about spread-spectrum radio's genesis and unlikely amateur inventors collaborating to change the world," I do not expect a dull book that is confused about which story it is telling.

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