Einstein and Oppenheimer: The Meaning of Genius

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Overview

Albert Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer, two iconic scientists of the twentieth century, belonged to different generations, with the boundary marked by the advent of quantum mechanics. By exploring how these men differed-in their worldview, in their work, and in their day-this book provides powerful insights into the lives of two critical figures and into the scientific culture of their times.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Very recently, there have been excellent biographies of Einstein (Walter Isaacson's Einstein) and Oppenheimer (Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin's American Prometheus). So, what new information can be found in this combined treatment? The question posed in Schweber's preface is intriguing: "How did Einstein and Oppenheimer try to remain relevant after they had made their singular contributions?" After experiencing their greatest achievements, both men had sometimes exalted, sometimes tumultuous careers. Both were parts of a scientific and political community uniquely engaged in the beginning of the Cold War nuclear arms race. Schweber (history of ideas, Brandeis Univ.) examines selective parts of their later careers (for example, Einstein's role in the founding of Brandeis University, Oppenheimer's work with the interdisciplinary Institute of Advanced Studies) and portrays them as key figures in their sociopolitical times, who wore their iconic credentials with great pride-and maybe sometimes hubris. This book is more about the times than it is about these historic figures, and as such it provides insight and perspective but not so much discovery or conclusiveness. For larger academic libraries with collection strengths in the history of science.
—Gregg Sapp

Seed
You'd be forgiven for thinking there is little we don't know already about Einstein and Oppenheimer. Yet this book plots the lives of the 20th century's most charismatic physicists to a greater end than biography. Focusing on the cultural milieus in which they thrived, Schweber investigates Einstein and Oppenheimer's very different manifestations of genius--one solitary, one social. Schweber's depth of analysis, particularly in describing both scientists' affinities for Buddhist thought, insists that there is much more to learn about each.
New York Sun

The real interest of Mr. Schweber's account—and what makes his dual biography unusual—is the emphasis he places not on Einstein's or Oppenheimer's scientific achievements, which have been often enough described, but on their later careers, when both found themselves, for different reasons, strangely sidelined.
— Eric Ormsby

Times Higher Education Supplement

Schweber has set himself quite a task in seeking to add to our understanding [of Einstein and Oppenheimer]. By my reckoning he has succeeded, not so much by uncovering significant new material as by reflecting wisely and eloquently on Einstein's and Oppenheimer's politics, their relationships with their colleagues, and their contributions to science.
— Lawrence Black

American Scientist

Have we not heard enough of these two men? Yet Silvan S. Schweber shows us in his new book, Einstein and Oppenheimer, that there is still more to say. What we know about these two giants of physics largely concerns their genius—their formidable mental powers—but this focus tends to foreground the individual at the expense of intellectual and scientific context. Schweber's aim is ambitious: to capture another quality that he calls the greatness of Einstein and Oppenheimer—to show how their actions altered humanity's "ideas concerning what human beings can be or do." We know much about the genius of these two men, Schweber implies, but little of their greatness.
— Robert P. Crease

Physics World

In a brief review, it is not possible to do full justice to Schweber's probing book, which merits careful reading.
— Michael W. Friedlander

The Guardian

In six illuminating essays focusing on the later years of these fascinating figures, Schweber shows that no scientist—however great—is an island.
— P.D. Smith

David C. Cassidy
With sensitivity and masterful insight Schweber explores aspects of the lives, thought and personalities of Einstein and Oppenheimer—their philosophical and ethical positions, and their ethnic and cultural commitments—as well as their uneasy interaction with each other, their differing views on the unification of physics, and even the role of Buddhist detachment in their thinking. The end result is a book that offers new perspectives on how both scientists responded to the transformations in physics and its relationship with public and political developments brought about by the opening of the atomic age.
New York Sun - Eric Ormsby
The real interest of Mr. Schweber's account--and what makes his dual biography unusual--is the emphasis he places not on Einstein's or Oppenheimer's scientific achievements, which have been often enough described, but on their later careers, when both found themselves, for different reasons, strangely sidelined.
Times Higher Education Supplement - Lawrence Black
Schweber has set himself quite a task in seeking to add to our understanding [of Einstein and Oppenheimer]. By my reckoning he has succeeded, not so much by uncovering significant new material as by reflecting wisely and eloquently on Einstein's and Oppenheimer's politics, their relationships with their colleagues, and their contributions to science.
American Scientist - Robert P. Crease
Have we not heard enough of these two men? Yet Silvan S. Schweber shows us in his new book, Einstein and Oppenheimer, that there is still more to say. What we know about these two giants of physics largely concerns their genius--their formidable mental powers--but this focus tends to foreground the individual at the expense of intellectual and scientific context. Schweber's aim is ambitious: to capture another quality that he calls the greatness of Einstein and Oppenheimer--to show how their actions altered humanity's "ideas concerning what human beings can be or do." We know much about the genius of these two men, Schweber implies, but little of their greatness.
Physics World - Michael W. Friedlander
In a brief review, it is not possible to do full justice to Schweber's probing book, which merits careful reading.
The Guardian - P.D. Smith
In six illuminating essays focusing on the later years of these fascinating figures, Schweber shows that no scientist--however great--is an island.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674028289
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2008
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Silvan S. Schweber is Associate, Department of the History of Science at Harvard University and Professor of Physics and Richard Koret Professor in the History of Ideas, Emeritus, at Brandeis University.
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Table of Contents

Preface ix

Introduction 1

1 Albert Einstein and Nuclear Weapons 33

Einstein and the Atomic Bomb 42

After Hiroshima and Nagasaki 62

Einstein on World Government 74

Hydrogen Bombs 81

Individual versus Collective Stands 87

The Einstein-Russell Manifesto 91

Epilogue 96

2 Albert Einstein and the Founding of Brandeis University lot 101

Israel Goldstein 106

Rabbinic Connections 109

The Harold Laski Episode 118

Denouement 122

Epilogue 133

3 J. Robert Oppenheimer: Proteus Unbound 136

The Early Years 138

Becoming a Physicist: Oppenheimer and His School 144

Los Alamos 156

The Postwar Years 165

Hydrogen Bombs 177

Epilogue 188

4 J. Robert Oppenheimer and American Pragmatism 195

The Director's Fund 204

Philosophy 212

Harvard Overseer 216

The William James Lectures 223

Epilogue 238

5 Einstein, Oppenheimer, and the Extension of Physics 239

Unification 239

Einstein and Unification 243

The MIT Centennial Celebration 246

A Bird's-Eye View of General Relativity, 1915-1960 255

Epilogue 262

6 Einstein, Oppenheimer, and the Meaning of Community 265

The Einstein-Oppenheimer Interaction 265

Eulogies and Memorial Speeches 275

Roots and Tradition 282

Philosophy 299

Epilogue 304

Some Concluding Remarks 309

Appendix: The Russell-Einstein Manifesto 317

Notes 321

Bibliography 379

Acknowledgments 401

Index 405

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