J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Cold War, and the atomic West

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University of Oklahoma Press, Oct 30, 2009 - Biography & Autobiography - 248 pages
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In 1922, the teenage son of a Jewish immigrant ventured from Manhattan to New Mexico for his health. It was the first of many trips to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, a western retreat where J. Robert Oppenheimer would eventually hold pathbreaking discussions with world-renowned scientists about atomic physics. Oppenheimer came to feel at home in the American West, and while extensive studies have been made of the man, this is the first book to explicitly link him with the region. J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Cold War, and the Atomic Westexplores how the West influenced Oppenheimer as a scientist and as a person--and the role he played in influencing it. Jon Hunner's concise account of Oppenheimer's life and the emergence of an Atomic West distills a vast literature for students and general readers. In this brisk, engaging biography, the author recounts how Oppenheimer helped locate the atomic weapons research lab at Los Alamos, New Mexico, and helped establish leading physics departments at the University of California-Berkeley and Caltech. By taking part in moving atomic physics west of the Mississippi, Oppenheimer bolstered the establishment of research labs, uranium mines, nuclear reactors, and more, bringing talented people--and billions of dollars in federal contracts--to the region. Interwoven into this atomic tale are insights into the physicist's troubled growing-up years, his marriage and family life, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Oppenheimer's eventual downfall. After the first atomic bomb burst over the New Mexican desert in 1945 and as the Cold War developed, the American myth of the Wild West expanded to encompass atomic sheriffs saving the world for democracy--even as powerful opponents began questioning Oppenheimer's place in that story. Against the backdrop of the physicist's life twining with the region's history, Hunner explores the promise and peril of the Atomic Age.

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A Strange Childhood 1
Oppenheimer at Los Alamos a final time 1964 Frontispiece
Chasing the Atom

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About the author (2009)

Jon Hunner is Assistant Professor and Director of the Public History Program at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. His publications include "Santa Fe: A Historical Walking Tour (co-author), as well as numerous articles about New Mexico and the American Southwest.