American Prometheus: The Triumph And Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer

Front Cover
"American Prometheus is the first full-scale biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer, "father of the atomic bomb," the brilliant, charismatic physicist who led the effort to capture the awesome fire of the sun for his country in time of war. Immediately after Hiroshima, he became the most famous scientist of his generation-one of the iconic figures of the twentieth century, the embodiment of modern man confronting the consequences of scientific progress.
He was the author of a radical proposal to place international controls over atomic materials-an idea that is still relevant today. He opposed the development of the hydrogen bomb and criticized the Air Force's plans to fight an infinitely dangerous nuclear war. In the now almost-forgotten hysteria of the early 1950s, his ideas were anathema to powerful advocates of a massive nuclear buildup, and, in response, Atomic Energy Commission chairman Lewis Strauss, Superbomb advocate Edward Teller and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover worked behind the scenes to have a hearing board find that Oppenheimer could not be trusted with America's nuclear secrets.
"American Prometheus sets forth Oppenheimer's life and times in revealing and unprecedented detail. Exhaustively researched, it is based on thousands of records and letters gathered from archives in America and abroad, on massive FBI files and on close to a hundred interviews with Oppenheimer's friends, relatives and colleagues.
We follow him from his earliest education at the turn of the twentieth century at New York City's Ethical Culture School, through personal crises at Harvard and Cambridge universities. Then to Germany, where he studied quantum physics with the world's mostaccomplished theorists; and to Berkeley, California, where he established, during the 1930s, the leading American school of theoretical physics, and where he became deeply involved with social justice causes and their advocates, many of whom were communists. Then to Los Alamos, New Mexico, where he transformed a bleak mesa into the world's most potent nuclear weapons laboratory-and where he himself was transformed. And finally, to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, which he directed from 1947 to 1966.
"American Prometheus is a rich evocation of America at midcentury, a new and compelling portrait of a brilliant, ambitious, complex and flawed man profoundly connected to its major events-the Depression, World War II and the Cold War. It is at once biography and history, and essential to our understanding of our recent past-and of our choices for the future.
 

What people are saying - Write a review

User ratings

5 stars
8
4 stars
8
3 stars
1
2 stars
0
1 star
0

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - LynnB - www.librarything.com

I managed to find this book fascinating and way too long. It was very well researched but lack a strong narrative arc to hold all the detail together. That said, I'm glad I stuck with it because it ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Mikalina - LibraryThing

The real tragedy is not hidden in J. Robert Oppenheimer´s life - because he took a responsible stand once he understood and atoned for his errors by spreading intelligence about what nuclear weapons ... Read full review

Contents

Prologue
5
His Separate Prison
29
In 1936 My Interests Began to Change
111
Frank Clipped It Out and Sent It In
129
More and More Surely
143
We Were Pulling the New Deal to the Left
166
The Coordinator of Rapid Rupture
179
The Chevalier Affair
195
He Couldnt Understand Why He Did It
391
I Am Sure That Is Why She Threw Things at Him
406
He Never Let On What His Opinion Was
416
Dark Words About Oppie
431
Scientist X
454
The Beast in the Jungle
462
It Looks Pretty Bad Doesnt It?
487
I Fear That This Whole Thing Is a Piece of Idiocy
498

Hed Become Very Patriotic
205
Too Much Secrecy
223
Oppenheimer Is Telling the Truth
236
Suicide Motive Unknown
249
Would You Like to Adopt Her?
255
Those Poor Little People 3 13
314
I Feel I Have Blood on My Hands
323
People Could Destroy New York
336
Oppie Had a Rash and Is Now Immune
351
An Intellectual Hotel
369
A Manifestation of Hysteria
523
A Black Mark on the Escutcheon of Our Country
538
It Was Really Like a NeverNeverLand
566
It Should Have Been Done the Day After Trinity
574
Theres Only One Robert
589
Notes
601
Bibliography
685
Index
700
Copyright

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2006)

Kai Bird is the author of The Chairman: John J. McCloy, The Making of the American Establishment and The Color of Truth: McGeorge Bundy and William Bundy, Brothers in Arms. He coedited with Lawrence Lifschultz Hiroshima’s Shadow: Writings on the Denial of History and the Smithsonian Controversy. A contributing editor of The Nation, he lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

Bibliographic information