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

I am old enough to remember the 1954 hearings in the matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer, but I was too young to understand that there was more to this story about a supposed Communist in the nuclear weapons program than was being reported in the Los Angeles newspapers of the time. Much later I read Philip Stern's 1969 book, The Oppenheimer Case: Security on Trial and even the Atomic Energy Commission's transcript of the hearings, a tome of over 1000 pages that one once could buy from the US Government Printing Office (no longer available). Focusing as they did on only the tragic end of his career in the AEC, I did not understand the connection between the trial and the rest of the career of this charismatic genius, known to chemists for the Born-Oppenheimer approximation. Now comes American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, an insightful and engaging, National Book Critics Circle Award-winning biography. This book is written so well that you feel as if you come to know its subject - a complicated and troubled soul. The man that emerges is not simply the opponent of the development of fusion weapons, the advocate against secrecy that appeared on Edward R. Murrow's "See It Now" television program, or the captain of the Manhattan Project. He is very human in American Prometheus, which is recently available in a paperback edition. Jeff Kovac recommended this book in his suggestions for Summer Reading this year.

Publication information
Pick Attribution: 

Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin

Publication Date: 
Sunday, January 1, 2006