Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard : the Man Behind the Bomb

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C. Scribner's Sons, 1992 - Biography & Autobiography - 587 pages
Leo Szilard, known in scientific circles as the "father of the atom bomb", has been overshadowed by such luminaries as Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Edward Teller. Yet it was Szilard who first developed the idea of obtaining energy from nuclear chain reactions, and who first, with Einstein, pressed the U.S. government to begin atomic research and co-designed (with Fermi) the first nuclear reactor. A shy, witty eccentric who preferred giving those in power his many bright ideas, Szilard was also difficult and mercurial, a "genius in the shadows", restless in mind and spirit, often confounding to his colleagues. Just as readily he could be puckish, playful, and profoundly generous with fresh insights - whether perceiving in the 1920s the basis of "information theory" decades before it was developed by others, or whimsically predicting in 1960, with both political satire and practical strategies, how the U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms race would end in the 1980s. Szilard more than anyone lived both sides of the arms race, working first to prevent, then to hasten, and finally to outlaw nuclear weapons. Born in Hungary and educated in Berlin during the heyday of modern physics, he fled Hitler's regime in 1933 and that year first conceived the nuclear chain reaction. This invention he kept secret, lest Nazi scientists use the idea. But with Germany at war in 1939, Szilard's warning with Einstein led to the "Manhattan Project" that built the first A-bombs. The war won, Szilard led the successful lobbying in 1945 for civilian control of atomic energy; he gained Nikita Khrushchev's personal assent in 1960 to the Moscow-Washington "hotline"; and he founded in 1962 the firstpolitical action committee for arms control, the Council for a Livable World. His second career, biology, sparked ideas that won others the Nobel Prize, and his concept for a think tank to blend science and social issues became the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, where Szilard spent his final days.

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GENIUS IN THE SHADOWS: A Biography of Leo Szilard, The Man Behind the Bomb

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Undoubtedly the most eccentric of the group of unusual scientists involved in the Manhattan Project, Szilard (1898-1964) led a life sufficiently extraordinary to survive this conscientious, sometimes ... Read full review

Genius in the shadows: a biography of Leo Szilard: the man behind the bomb

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

The latest in a spate of Manhattan Project biographies, this reverent, admiring, and overly long study draws extensively on Szilard's own papers and the memories of his brother, Bela Silard. Szilard's ... Read full review


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About the author (1992)

William Lanouette has written about atomic energy and arms control for more than two decades. Publications he has written for include the Atlantic, the Economist, New York Magazine, and the Washington Post. He holds a BA in English from Fordham University and a MSc and a PhD in politics (comparative government) from the London School of Economics. He lives in San Diego, California.

Bela Silard (1900-1994), Leo Szilard's brother, simplified his name as an immigrant to the United States in 1938. He translated his parents' memoirs, compiled family records and photographs, and drafted recollections for this book.

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