A Novelist Who’s Made a Career Writing About ‘The Only Woman in the Room’ | Modern Society of USA

A Novelist Who’s Made a Career Writing About ‘The Only Woman in the Room’

A Novelist Who’s Made a Career Writing About ‘The Only Woman in the Room’

As a 24-year-old corporate lawyer at Skadden, Arps in New York City in the mid-1990s, Marie Benedict was often the only woman in a room full of men — an experience she has drawn on in her subsequent career as a writer of novels inspired by women whose achievements have been overlooked or underappreciated by history.

The idea for “The Other Einstein” (2016), about Mileva Maric, the Serbian mathematician and physicist who was Albert Einstein’s first wife, came to her while she was reading a children’s biography of Einstein with one of her sons. The book dispensed with Maric in a couple of sentences.

“I started thinking: Here’s this woman who made this incredible ascent from the backwater of Eastern Europe, where it was actually illegal for girls to attend high school, to become one of the very first women at a university physics program in Europe,” Benedict says. “Why had I never heard of this woman? She and Einstein had the same physics education, and they were married during his most prolific period — 1905. I couldn’t help but wonder what role she might have played in his theories.” (Debate over Maric’s contributions continues, with some scholars arguing that she may have collaborated with Einstein or even co-authored some of his papers.)

Benedict’s new novel, based on the life of the Hollywood film star and legendary beauty Hedy Lamarr, puts the conceit of the lone woman in a man’s world once again on center stage. “The Only Woman in the Room,” which enters the hardcover fiction list at No. 11, homes in not on Lamarr the movie star but on Lamarr the inventor (with the composer George Antheil) of a “frequency-hopping” radio communication technology that distantly prefigured wifi. “Every day most of the people in the world stare at an invention that she had a hand in, and that’s the cellphone,” Benedict says. “Once I knew that, I knew absolutely that I had to tell her particular story.”

In Benedict’s telling, that story is a ready-made thriller as well as a feminist parable: A Jewish-born Viennese who flees the Nazis and her pro-fascist arms dealer husband, Lamarr is bent on giving the Allies a military leg up in the form of a jam-proof, radio-guided torpedo system, if only she can get the Navy to take her seriously. “The Only Woman in the Room,” which Barnes & Noble chose as its national book club pick for January, taps into a Lamarr boomlet that includes “Hedy’s Folly,” Richard Rhodes’s 2011 book, and “Bombshell,” a 2017 documentary.

Next up for Benedict? A novel about Clementine Churchill, Winston’s wife.

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