Brotherhood of the Bomb: The Tangled Lives and Loyalties of Robert Oppenheimer, Ernest Lawrence, and Edward Teller / Edition 1

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The story of the twentieth century is largely the story of the power of science and technology. Within that story is the incredible tale of the human conflict between three men-Robert Oppenheimer, Ernest Lawrence, and Edward Teller-the scientists most responsible for the advent of weapons of mass destruction. How did science, enlisted in the service of the state during the Second World War, become a slave to its patron during the Cold War-and scientists with it? The story of these three men, is fundamentally about loyalty-to the country, to science, and to each other-and about the wrenching choices that had to be made when these allegiances came into conflict.

Gregg Herken gives us the behind-the-scenes account based upon a decade of research, interviews, and new documents. Brotherhood of the Bomb is a vital slice of American history told authoritatively-and grippingly-for the first time.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Gregg Herken received a MacArthur Award to write this book, and it's not difficult to understand why. The author of The Winning Weapon zeroed in on another atomic bomb subject -- the three scientists most essential to the development of the Manhattan Project -- and researched it with a decade of interviews and sleuthing into American and Russian archives. The three men at the center of Herken's story shared genius but little else. Irascible émigré anti-Communist Edward Teller seemed destined to be the foil of Robert Oppenheimer, a softspoken, stubborn, left-leaning New York idealist. South Dakota-born Ernest O. Lawrence charted his own course. The misunderstanding and strife, both personal and ideological, between these men serves as a trellis for Herken to weave his Cold War tale of politics and betrayal.
From the Publisher
"The most commanding history yet written of the internal politics of the United States during the early years of the nuclear age . . . an enthralling narrative." -The New York Times Book Review

"The story is well-crafted and meticulously researched, drawing on recently declassified FBI files and documents, and it moves at a helter-skelter pace . . . a gripping account of three tangled lives." -The Washington Post World

"A well-written, well-documented, exciting and yet unhappy tale of a crucial encounter between science and politics."-Los Angeles Times

Publishers Weekly
The personalities of the scientists who made the nuclear bomb are the focus of this detailed, engrossing history of one of the greatest scientific discoveries of the 20th century. Relying on author interviews and primary and secondary sources, Herken (The Winning Weapons) explains the backgrounds of the three physicists who were essential to the creation of the atomic bombs dropped over Japan during WWII. But even though the author focuses on Oppenheimer, Lawrence and Teller offering both brief bios of each and depicting the sometimes-tempestuous relationships among them it's the former who garners the lion's share of his attention. "Oppie," as he was known, has long been a controversial figure for his later opposition to weapons programs and his alleged Communist links (he was stripped of his U.S. government security clearance during the McCarthy years). As Herken notes, the trial might have had a backlash, turning many scientists against U.S. defense projects for years to come. But there's no smoking gun here: Herken argues that it is unlikely that Oppenheimer, despite his strong leftist sympathies, was ever a member of the Communist Party, let alone a spy. But he nicely details the intersection between the scientific and leftist communities (particularly during the 1920s and 1930s) and the government's attempt to infiltrate these communities after the war. The book is unlikely to end the debate over Oppenheimer's past or change any minds about the balances between security needs and civil liberties but if there was ever a question that politics plays a part in science, this book washes away any doubts. (Sept.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Herken is curator of the National Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian and a leading authority on the development of America's nuclear arsenal (Counsels of War). Here he examines the network of scientists who created the most devastating weapons known to humankind. He is particularly interested in examining the enmeshed lives of physicists Ernest Lawrence, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Edward Teller. Herken stresses that this triumvirate of scientific geniuses provided the expertise and leadership needed to sustain the incredibly complex activities that led to the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The unique feature of this study is the author's exploration of the personal ambitions and political convictions that split apart three of the most influential physicists of the twentieth century. The Lawrence-Teller-Oppenheimer rift is a story often told, but Herken's prodigious use of recently declassified documents (many available for perusal at www. offers a fresh perspective on the entire subculture of scientists doomed by circumstance to become engineers of "megadeath." Brotherhood is one of the most important books to come out of America's nuclear era since Richard Rhodes's massive The Making of the Atomic Bomb. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries. Jim Doyle, Sara Hightower Regional Lib., Rome, GA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805065893
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/1/2003
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 684,096
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.03 (d)

Meet the Author

Gregg Herken is a curator and historian at the Smithsonian Institution and has taught at Oberlin, Caltech, and Yale. He is the author of The Winning Weapon, Counsels of War , and Cardinal Choices and received a MacArthur grant for Brotherhood of the Bomb. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia.
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 14, 2003

    You ever go to one of those lectures...

    Did you ever go to one of those lectures in which the professor gives you lots of interesting information and enough material to solve your homework problems but doesn't tie it all together or really justify the important formulae? The Brotherhood of the Bomb is like that. It is an interesting read (for the most part) but misses on the hows and whys. How did Lawrence's cyclotron really work? Why was Oppenheimer the best choice to lead the Manhattan Project? Brotherhood of the Bomb is best when it focuses on the relationships between the principals: Oppenheimer, Lawrence, Teller, Bethe, Szilard, Fermi, etc. Sometimes, though, it becomes hard to follow who's whom without a scorecard. (None is provided.) The author does a great job with the life and stuggles of Edward Teller but gets too little into why he became a pariah among his fellow physicists. The author seems to make no judgement on this. Yet he does judge E.O. Lawrence on several occasions, and too harshly at that. The author does a good service in telling this story. He describes a lot well (except for technical matters -- his cursory treatment of the neutron bomb, for example, is misleading and offhanded) but explains too little. The author is not a physicist: it shows, sometimes for good and sometimes for ill.

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