J. Robert Oppenheimer: A Life


The late Abraham Pais wrote the definitive biography of Albert Einstein, "Subtle is the Lord," which won an American Book Award. As a distinguished physicist and Einstein's colleague, Pais combined a sophisticated understanding of physics with first-hand knowledge of this notoriously private individual, offering rare insights into both. It is his unique double perspective that makes his work so valuable.
Now Abraham Pais offers an illuminating portrait of another eminent ...
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Oxford, England 2006 Hard cover New in fine dust jacket. dj has very minor shelf wear from storage Glued binding. Paper over boards. With dust jacket. 353 p. Contains: ... Illustrations. Audience: General/trade. Read more Show Less

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J. Robert Oppenheimer: A Life

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The late Abraham Pais wrote the definitive biography of Albert Einstein, "Subtle is the Lord," which won an American Book Award. As a distinguished physicist and Einstein's colleague, Pais combined a sophisticated understanding of physics with first-hand knowledge of this notoriously private individual, offering rare insights into both. It is his unique double perspective that makes his work so valuable.
Now Abraham Pais offers an illuminating portrait of another eminent colleague, 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 putting American physics on the map. Pais paints a revealing portrait of Oppenheimer's life in Los Alamos, where in twenty remarkable, feverish months, under his inspired leadership, the first atomic bomb was designed and built, a success that made Oppenheimer America's most famous scientist. Pais, who was his next-door neighbor for many years, describes Oppenheimer's long tenure as Director of the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton, but also shows how Oppenheimer's intensity and arrogance won him powerful enemies, who would ultimately make him one of the principal victims of the Red Scare of the 1950s.
Told with compassion and deep insight, J. Robert Oppenheimer is the most comprehensive biography of the great physicist available. It is Abraham Pais's final work, completed after his death by Robert P. Crease, an acclaimed historian of science in his own right.
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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: 9780195166736
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 4/1/2006
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.30 (h) x 1.50 (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

Foreword   Ida Nicolaisen     xiii
Preface   Robert P. Crease     xvii
Introduction   Abraham Pais     xix
First Encounters     1
Background: Early Years     4
University Studies     8
Postdoctoral Studies     14
Harvard     14
Caltech     14
Leiden     15
Zurich     17
The California Professor as Teacher     20
The California Professor as Researcher     24
More on QED     24
Cosmic Rays     26
Electron-Positron Theory     28
Nuclear Physics     29
Shower Theory     29
Mesons     30
Astrophysics and Cosmology     31
Oppenheimer's Opinion of His Own Teaching and Research in California     33
Personal Life in the 1930s     34
"The Shatterer of Worlds"     39
In Which Oppenheimer Enters the World Stage     45
An Atomic Scientist's Credo     49
The Institute Prior to Oppenheimer's Arrival     59
The Flexner Years     69
The Aydelotte Years     73
In Which Oppenheimer Is ElectedDirector of the Institute and Chairman of the General Advisory Committee     77
Oppenheimer's Early Years as Institute Director     86
Oppenheimer and the World of Physics: 1946-1954     96
"The Great Charismatic Figure"     96
Building Up Physics at the Institute     102
F. J. Dyson     103
C. N. Yang     104
T. D. Lee     105
Of Some Who Came and Some Who Went     106
Hideki Yukawa     106
Sin-itiro Tomonaga     106
David Joseph Bohm     107
John von Neumann     108
Oswald Veblen     109
Oppenheimer as Leader of Conferences     110
Shelter Island, June 1947     110
Pocono, March/April 1948     114
Solvay, September/October 1948     116
Old Stone, April 1949     117
Rochester I, December 1950     117
Rochester II (January) and III (December) 1952     118
IBM, April 1953     119
A Book Review, October 1953     121
Japan, September 1953     121
Rochester IV, January 1954     122
Further on Oppenheimer the Man     123
Los Alamos Vignettes     123
Robert Wilson     123
Hans Bethe     125
Edward Teller     126
Enrico Fermi     129
Richard Feynman     130
Luis Alvarez     130
Robert Serber     130
Niels Bohr     131
Young Wives' Tales     134
Elsie McMillan     134
Bernice Brode     134
Robert Oppenheimer     136
More Personal Recollections     139
Atomic Politics in the Early Postwar Years     144
1945-1946     144
October 3, 1945     144
August 1, 1946     144
October 1946     145
December 1946     145
The Acheson-Lilienthal Plan     146
The Baruch Plan     151
1946 as the Highest Point of Oppenheimer's Political Contributions     155
Oppenheimer's Public Expressions on Atomic Policy: 1947-1948     157
Of the First Serious Enemies and of the First Russian A-Bomb     163
In Which the First Clouds Appear     163
The First Soviet A-Bomb     166
Of the Superbomb and of Spy Stories     168
Varia: 1947-1949     168
Shall the United States Develop the Super?      171
Emil Klaus Julius Fuchs et al.     177
The New Super     183
The Teller-Ulam Invention     183
Oppenheimer's Views on the Super     187
Oppenheimer's Participation in Panels: 1950-1953     188
The Long Range Objectives Panel     188
Project Gabriel     189
Project Charles     189
Project Vista     189
Project Lincoln     190
1952: Oppenheimer Leaves the General Advisory Committee     191
Atomic Politics in the Early 1950s     193
The Doctrine of Massive Retaliation     193
Operation Candor     194
The Opening Salvos of the Attackers     196
May 1953     197
June 5, 1953     198
June 20, 1953     198
July 3, 1953     198
July 7, 1953     198
July 1953     198
August 1953     198
August 20, 1953     198
November 12, 1953     198
November 1953     201
November-December 1953     201
In Which the Excrement Hits the Ventilator     202
The Oppenheimer-Strauss Meeting, December 1953     202
Eisenhower Erects a "Blank Wall"      204
Preparations for the Hearings     208
Oppenheimer and McCarthy     212
In Which the News of the Hearings Is Made Public     214
How Einstein and I First Heard     214
First Newspaper Comments     216
Supplemental Material   Robert P. Crease
"Open Book": The Hearing in the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer     227
The Hearing: April 12-May 6, 1954     232
Findings, Appeal, Decision: May 17-June 29     250
No Final Judgment     259
First Judgments     259
Post-Mortems     264
Cultural Judgments     265
The Sense of Tragedy     268
Insider in Exile     272
Institute Director     273
Science Impresario     278
Speaker and Author     285
St. John     292
Rehabilitation and Retirement     295
Cloaked Mountain Peak     300
Notes     311
Principal Sources Used     335
Index     337
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