J. Robert Oppenheimer: A Life

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The late Abraham Pais, author of the award winning biography of Albert Einstein, Subtle is the Lord, here offers an illuminating portrait of another of his eminent colleagues, J. Robert Oppenheimer, one of the most charismatic and enigmatic figures of modern physics.
Pais introduces us to a precocious youth who sped through Harvard in three years, made signal contributions to quantum mechanics while in his twenties, and was instrumental in the growth of American physics in the decade before the Second World War, almost single-handedly bringing it to a state of prominence. He paints a revealing portrait of Oppenheimer's life in Los Alamos, where in twenty remarkable, feverish months, and under his inspired guidance, the first atomic bomb was designed and built, a success that made Oppenheimer America's most famous scientist. Pais describes Oppenheimer's long tenure as Director of the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton, where the two men worked together closely. He shows not only Oppenheimer's brilliance and leadership, but also how his displays of intensity and arrogance won him powerful enemies, ones who would ultimately make him one of the principal victims of the Red Scare of the 1950s.
J. Robert Oppenheimer is Abraham Pais's final work, completed after his death by Robert P. Crease, an acclaimed historian of science in his own right. Told with compassion and deep insight, it is the most comprehensive biography of the great physicist available. Anyone seeking an insider's portrait of this enigmatic man will find it indispensable.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An indispensable new look at the ever-enigmatic Oppenheimer."—Booklist (starred review)

"A gripping review of the man who really created the atomic bomb and fought to stop the hydrogen bomb. Read this book and find out why."—"Talk of the Town" (WTVF)

"Abraham Pais, master of the scientific biography, waited 20 years before tackling his enigmatic neighbor and friend at Princeton.... Faithfully supplemented by historian Robert P. Crease, the result is a personal recollection as tormented as the atomic father's own soul."—Seed Magazine

"J. Robert Oppenheimer was an extraordinarily brilliant and complex man. In this book Abraham Pais and Robert Crease take a kaleidoscopic approach to his life, shedding insightful light on the personality and the times of the scientist who played such an important role in the future destiny of mankind."—C. N. Yang

Publishers Weekly
Back in the 1990s, when Pais ("Subtle Is the Lord...") began to seriously consider writing about Oppenheimer, there was no full-scale biography of the scientist who led America's effort to create the atom bomb. But with a surfeit of books about Oppenheimer in the last year, this one comes too late-and suffers greatly in comparison to Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin's more comprehensive and cogent American Prometheus. Though Pais, a physicist as well as a science writer, was a close colleague of Oppenheimer's at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Studies, he is largely incurious about the parts of his subject's life that he didn't observe personally. He does little more than acknowledge the Manhattan Project, for example, noting that it has been covered elsewhere, and dismisses Oppenheimer's wife as despicable with barely any supporting evidence. Some chapters are assembled by lengthy quotes from secondary sources, others by anecdote, some barely developed past outline form; none are particularly engrossing. Pais died before he could write about the political hearings that cost Oppenheimer his security clearance and public reputation. The final chapters covering this period, written by Crease, a historian at Brookhaven National Laboratory and author of The Prism and the Pendulum, are such a marked improvement that one wishes he'd produced a biography on his own. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195327120
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 6/25/2007
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 994,617
  • Product dimensions: 9.00 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Abraham Pais was Detlev W. Bronk Professor Emeritus at The Rockefeller University in New York City. A leading theoretical physicist, he was also an esteemed science writer, the author of 'Subtle is the Lord...' for which he won the American Book Award, Inward Bound: Of Matter and Forces in the Physical World, Niels Bohr's Times, and several other books.

Robert P. Crease is a Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the State University of New York, Stony Brook, and historian at Brookhaven National Laboratory. His most recent book is The Prism and the Pendulum: The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments in Science.

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Table of Contents

Forward, Ida Nicolaisen
Preface, Robert P. Crease
1. First Encounters
2. Background: Early Years
3. University Studies
4. Postdoctural Studies: Harvard-Caltech-Leiden, Zurich
5. the California Professor as Teacher
6. The California Professor as Researcher: More on QED, Cosmic Rays, Electron-Positron Theory, Nuclear Physics, Shower Theory, Mesons, Astrophysics and Cosmology
7. Oppenheimer's Opinion on His own Teaching and Research in California
8. Personal Life in the 1930s
9. The Shatter of Worlds
10. In Which Oppenheimer Enters the World Stage
11. An Atomic Scientist's Credo
12. The Institute Prior to Oppenheimer's Arrival: the Flexnor Years-The Aydellotte Years
13. In Which Oppenheimer is Elected Director of the Institute and Chairman of the General Advisory Committee
14. Oppenheimer's Early Years as Institute Director
15. Oppenheimer and the World of Physics: 1946-1954 "The Great Charismatic Figure"
16. Further on Oppenheimer the Man
17. Atomic Politics in the Early Postwar Years
18. Of the First Serious Enemies and of the First Russian A-Bomb
19. Of the Superbomb and of Spy Stories
20. The New Super
21. Atomic Politics in the Early 1950s
22. In Which the Excrement Hits the Ventilator
23. In Which the News of Hearings Is Made Public
Supplemental Material, Robert Crease
24. "Open Book": The Hearing in the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer
25. No Final Judgement
26. Insider Exile
27. Cloaked Mountain Peak
Principal Sources Used

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