Edward Teller: The Real Dr. Strangelove

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Overview

One Nobel Prize-winning physicist called Edward Teller, "A great man of vast imagination...[one of the] most thoughtful statesmen of science." Another called him, "A danger to all that is important...It would have been a better world without [him]." That both opinions about Teller were commonly held and equally true is one of the enduring mysteries about the man dubbed "the father of the H-bomb." In the story of Teller's life and career, told here in greater depth and detail than ever before, Peter Goodchild unravels the complex web of harsh early experiences, character flaws, and personal and professional frustrations that lay behind the paradox of "the real Dr. Strangelove."

Goodchild's biography draws on interviews with more than fifty of Teller's colleagues and friends. Their voices echo through the book, expressing admiration and contempt, affection and hatred, as we observe Teller's involvement in every stage of building the atomic bomb, and his subsequent pursuit of causes that drew the world deeper into the Cold War--alienating many of his scientific colleagues even as he provided the intellectual lead for politicians, the military, and presidents as they shaped Western policy. Goodchild interviewed Teller himself at the end of his life, and what emerges from this interview, as well as from Teller's Memoirs and recently unearthed correspondence, is a clearer view of the contradictions and controversies that riddled the man's life. Most of all, though, this absorbing biography rescues Edward Teller from the caricatures that have served to describe him until now. In their place, Goodchild shows us one of the most powerful scientists of the twentieth century in all his enigmatic humanity.

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Editorial Reviews

Scotland on Sunday

Peter Goodchild demonstrates in this sensitive and fascinating biography, Teller's danger arose from the fact that he was both a brilliant scientist and a skilled political manipulator - but unfortunately also a man of limited wisdom. It would be easy to ridicule [Teller], but Goodchild, to his credit, resists shallow scorn. Teller emerges as a complicated individual whose actions were always logical, if rather warped. He becomes rather more frightening than I had ever previously imagined, for it is no longer possible to dismiss him as a madman.
— Gerard J. DeGroot

Choice

An excellent biography of a great physicist-politician and an interesting account of most of the science and politics involved with nuclear weapons.
— R. L. Stearns

Scotland on Sunday - Gerard J. Degroot
Peter Goodchild demonstrates in this sensitive and fascinating biography, Teller's danger arose from the fact that he was both a brilliant scientist and a skilled political manipulator - but unfortunately also a man of limited wisdom. It would be easy to ridicule [Teller], but Goodchild, to his credit, resists shallow scorn. Teller emerges as a complicated individual whose actions were always logical, if rather warped. He becomes rather more frightening than I had ever previously imagined, for it is no longer possible to dismiss him as a madman.
Choice - R. L. Stearns
An excellent biography of a great physicist-politician and an interesting account of most of the science and politics involved with nuclear weapons.
Publishers Weekly
Edward Teller, the "Father of the H-bomb," emerges in this readable biography as a brilliant, insecure, sometimes paranoid figure with a significant and decidedly ambiguous historical legacy. Born in Hungary, Teller (1908-2003) absorbed a lifelong hatred of tyranny and a deep distrust of Soviet communism one factor motivating his obsessive and successful advocacy of the hydrogen bomb during the early years of the Cold War. Other powerful forces in Teller's life were limitless scientific curiosity and intense personal ambition: he resented being passed up for the job of theoretical director of the Manhattan Project, and much of his later hunger for political power may have been a reaction to that disappointment. Teller used his influence to block efforts at negotiating a test ban treaty by presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy and fed the Red Scare atmosphere of the '50s; he was the only colleague of J. Robert Oppenheimer's to denounce him as a security threat, a move that endeared Teller to right-wingers in Congress while dividing the scientific community. Teller's final political triumph was winning the support of the Reagan administration for "Star Wars." Goodchild, a BBC television producer and author of a biography of Oppenheimer, offers a detailed, studiously balanced portrait drawn from archives and interviews with Teller himself and many who knew (and loved or loathed) him. Photos not seen by PW. (Oct.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Teller, who died last year at age 95, was world famous as the "father of the hydrogen bomb," a witness against J. Robert Oppenheimer in the latter's security hearing, and, finally, an ardent promoter of the Cold War arms race. Hated and shunned by many prominent physicists after the Oppenheimer affair, Teller had some supporters in the scientific community, and he acquired many allies in the political and military communities for his long string of weapons proposals. Goodchild, a BBC television producer and author of a 1980 biography of Oppenheimer, studied a wide range of primary and secondary sources and interviewed many people on both sides of the controversies that swirled around Teller. The result is a remarkably well-balanced study of a notoriously prickly and opinionated person. As previous biographies (Stanley Blumberg and Louis Panos's Edward Teller; Teller's own Memoirs) were criticized for whitewashing their subject, this is strongly recommended for both academic and public libraries of all sizes. Jack W. Weigel, Ann Arbor, MI Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674016699
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 785,896
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.46 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Goodchild is an award-winning television producer and the former head of both Science and Features and Drama at the BBC. His production of Oppenheimer won a British Academy Award and spawned an acclaimed biography.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Glossary of Characters

Acknowledgements

1. Introduction

2. War, Revolution, Peace and Maths

3. In the Company of Gods

4. Twilight of a Golden Age

5. America the Beautiful

6. The Hungarian Conspiracy Skirmishes

7. Maverick on the Mesa

8. The Little Toe of the Ghost

9. The Legacy of Hiroshima

10. Wilderness Years

11. The Taking of Washington

12. Unholy Alliances

13. A 'Simple, Great and Stupid' Mistake

14. Technically So Sweet

15. Mike

16. 'Soled' to the Californians

17. Bravo

18. The Hearing

19. Aftermath

20. 'Almost like Ivory Soap'

21. A Matter of Detection

22. Plowshare

23. Confounding Camelot

24. Struggling Uphill

25. Bringing up the Props

26. Excalibur

27. Reykjavik

28. Brilliant Pebbles

Epilogue

Appendix 1: The New Physics: the Path that Led to Quantum Mechanics

Appendix 2: Basic Information on the History of Fission

Appendix 3: The Sketch for the 'Super' that Evolved During the Berkeley Conference, Summer 1942

Notes and References

Select Bibliography

Index

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