Richard Rhodes’s 21st book is a bit of a departure for the author (who is best known for his four-volume history of the nuclear age): It’s an account of film siren Hedy Lamarr’s unlikely involvement in the American war effort. What it has in common with Rhodes’s other works is that it, too, is riveting.
Lamarr, who was born in Vienna and made her first Hollywood film in 1938, was as glamorous (and as beautiful) as Dietrich and Garbo. Together with the composer George Antheil, she was also the inventor of a torpedo-guidance system that continues to find applications in the military and telecommunications industries. Rhodes’s account of the system’s development gives us a close look at Lamarr’s Vienna (then one of the world’s most interesting cities) and WWII-era Hollywood. There’s enough technical and military history here to keep Rhodes’s hard-core fan base satisfied. But the cultural history is just as interesting, and Rhodes tells both stories with a sure and supple hand.
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