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Dubbed "the most beautiful woman in the world", Austrian-born Hedy Lamarr was a glamorous Hollywood starlet whose striking looks and acting talent secured her place among the few European-born actors to successfully transform into a major American movie star. But beneath the breathtaking beauty for which she was so often praised there was an intelligence and curiosity that went unacknowledged with equal measure. Hedy Lamarr was an inventor who, with the assistance of American composer George Antheil, created and patented a "Secret Communication System" that used radio frequency-hopping; this technology is the precursor to spread spectrum which is commonly used  today in wireless communications.
Hedy's Folly
My Rating: 1.5 out of 5  


I was eager to read Hedy's Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr by Richard Rhodes because it seemed to offer an exciting look into old Hollywood glamour and the technological advances of the U.S. World War II effort (written by a Pulitzer prize winning author no less). I'm sorry to report that I was sorely disappointed. Despite the book's rather misleading title, actual biographical information about Hedy is pretty scant. One could learn almost as much about her by reading her Wikipedia page. To compensate for the apparent lack of primary sources on Hedy, the book is fluffed with too much biographical material about her inventing partner Antheil's early life and career, including numerous quotations from letters written to his patron, acquaintances, and wife as well as selected quotations from Antheil's autobiography and his wife's unpublished manuscript.

If you manage to make it halfway through the book, things finally start to pick up when Hedy is inspired to help the war effort of her adopted country with her invention to improve the accuracy of radio navigated torpedoes. Unfortunately, the excitement of reading about WWII is short lived because the author proceeds to bore you to death with excruciatingly detailed descriptions of Lamarr's and Antheil's design sketches, the patenting process and the committee which reviewed inventors' submissions to the U.S. military. I did not realize that there was an illustration of Lamarr's design at the very end of the book (I was reading a Kindle edition) and it would have been immensely helpful to see the image in the actual chapter where the author explains how the mechanisms worked. I am incredibly disappointed in this snooze-fest inducing a book. I expected much better storytelling from a prize winning author. Perhaps if I was more knowledgeable about radio technology or was a WWII history buff some sections may have been more engaging. As I am neither, too much of the technical information went over my head.

Truthfully, the only reason I pushed through to the end of the book was because I intended to write a review as part of my Summer Reading Challenge. As much as I really hoped the story would get more interesting in each successive chapter, it most certainly did not. I do feel that the actual events conveyed in the book are fascinating and worthy of investigation, and I hope that another talented researcher/writer will do a better job with this story in the future because Hedy Lamarr's creativity is definitely worthy of recognition.

FINISHED BOOKS:
#1 - The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
#2 - Hedy's Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr by Richard Rhodes

NEXT BOOK: #3 - The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom