With all that has been written about J. Robert Oppenheimer, it is
with considerable excitement that one turns at last to the master's
voice himself. Will there be revelations? Explanations of the
enigmatic personality, the flawed-but-adored image? Yes and no.
Editors Smith and Weiner have collected over a hundred letters
extending from Oppenheimer's freshman year at Harvard through 1945.
They have kept interpretation to a minimum, but have provided
excerpts of a long interview with Thomas Kuhn in which Oppenheimer
discusses his scientific career. So what is here is very much for
the reader to ponder, and it is fascinating. The first letters,
many to Oppenheimer's high school English teacher, are almost a
pastiche of the precious polymath, the young man dabbling in
fiction and poetry, studying Chinese, and taking courses in
philosophy, math, and physics. The prose is arch-baroque, usually
beginning with a fulsome apology. The Harvard and later graduate
years at Cambridge and Gottingen see Oppenheimer in full
Dostoevskian fervor, at times talking all night with literary
friends like Paul Horgan, at times depressed and isolated. There is
a bout of suspected TB, an unsuccessful psychoanalysis, the almost
strangling of a friend, and a strange repugnance for music (later
reversed). And withal, as a rich man's son, there are vacations in
France or Italy, sails at Bay Shore, and the discovery of his
beloved New Mexico haunts. As Oppenheimer grows professionally, we
have a wonderful series of letters to younger brother and future
physicist Frank, first full of avuncular advice, later revealing a
rare intimacy. Then, as his career flowers, the letters lose all
their sophomoric pretensions and become charming epistles,
combining thoughtfulness with scientific communication.
Nevertheless, there is a feeling of remoteness, of someone whose
elegant expressions of care belie an emotional distance. Marriage
and two children come late in this period, and nothing here casts
light on this side of Oppenheimer's life. With the advent of Los
Alamos, the letters become increasingly businesslike in tone. As
for the turbulent aftermath, the editors include Oppenheimer's
speech to Los Alamos scientists expressing his fears for the
future; his testimony at the security hearings; and a summary of
the final chapter of his life. It is all absorbing reading - more
clues, yes, but the mystery remains. (Kirkus Reviews)
Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967) is one of the few American
scientists who have become public and controversial figures in the
twentieth century.T his book adds a new dimension to the
Oppenheimer story by offering a look at the private man behind the
public figure. It consists of letters spanning the period from his
Harvard student days in 1922 to his departure from Los Alamos in
1945. The letters are supplemented by recollections of those who
knew Oppenheimer and by his own recollections from an interview a
few years before his death. 'A beautifully organized collection of
letters and reminiscences ...The editors have interviewed those who
knew and worked with him, stirred in the necessary explanatory
background, and produced an account, both scholarly and highly
readable, which throws fresh light on a man who will probably
always remain something of an enigma. Amid devotional defense and
almost rabid attack, their book is a model of objectivity.' New
York Times Book RevieW 'An intimate, carefully documented, and
honest book.' Scientific American 'The first scholarly attempt to
come to grips with the development of Oppenheimer's elusive
personality, it is all the more impressive because its many
revealing letters and candid commentary were gathered from those
who knew him best.' Science 'A milestone in Oppenheimer scholarship
...The full measure of Oppenheimer the man, the scientist, and the
public figure remains to be taken, but the publication of this rich
volume will markedly aid the accomplishment of that ultimate and
Is the information for this product incomplete, wrong or inappropriate?
Let us know about it.
Does this product have an incorrect or missing image?
Send us a new image.
Is this product missing categories?
Add more categories.
Review This Product
No reviews yet - be the first to create one!