Peace and War is the memoir of one of the key scientists involved in the atomic bomb and the chief research assistant and intimate friend of J. Robert Oppenheimer. A prominent member of the Manhattan Project, Robert Serber was one of a team of scientists who assembled the bombs on Tinian Island for transport to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He was also one of the first Americans to walk among the Japanese ruins after the catastrophe. Serber tells movingly of his wartime experiences at Tinian Island and in Japan, in letters to his wife, Charlotte, herself a key player at Los Alamos and the only female group leader there. These letters depict simply - almost dispassionately - what Serber saw: the rows of iron office safes protruding from the rubble of Hiroshima; the grazing horse whose hair had been scorched on one side by the fireball but was untouched on the other; the B-29s stacked on the runway "like cars coming back to a city on a Sunday night." Serber is also eloquent about the troubles he faced as a result of his refusal to take part in public debate about the morality of his wartime work; how his opposition to rapidly developing the hydrogen bomb earned him the enmity of Edward Teller and others; how he was investigated and his security clearance challenged, several years before Oppenheimer's. Serber also recounts many previously untold stories involving Oppenheimer, Murray Gell-Mann, Ernest O. Lawrence, Edward Teller, and others. This portrait of one of the most important theoretical physicists of the 20th century brings to life the excitement of Oppenheimer's close-knit circle; the controversy of the Manhattan Project; and the thrill of being present at the creation of so many pioneering discoveries, from black holes to quarks.
Immersed in the rise of particle physics in America from lawrence's cyclotron to the Fermi Accelerator Lab, his lectures were called 'Serber Says.' An informed, candid, and telling witness to men, machines and policy, he had a keen ear and a sharp tongue for the droll, and views the decades with an insider's eye. You can hardly know American physics in W.W. II or the Cold War, nor its hopes and burdens right into the present, without weighing what Bob Serber says—not without some poignancy.
Laurie M. Brown
Recounts Serber's fascinating wartime adventures, which included heading the group on the Pacific island of Tinian that assembled the Hiroshima bomb and landing in Japan before the occupation troops to inspect the damage. An excellent raconteur, Serber describes his personal and scientific life frankly, with dry humor and incisive wit. I found the book difficult to put down.
Donald J. Mrozek
Peace and War offers often intriguing perspectives from one who was 'present at the creation' of a revolutionary means of mass destruction yet remained fundamentally devoted to the pursuit of scientific knowledge for its own sake.
Nonphysicists will find parts of this fascinating memoir unintelligible, but that should not be a deterrent. Seber, one of the most important theoretical physicists of this century, was a key member of the Manhattan Project, which developed the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War ll. He was also a close friend of Robert Oppenheimer. His memoir is replete with stories and anecdotes about physics, physicists, and his own personal life, though it is his wartime experiences that will likely generate the most interest here. One of the first people to view the damage caused by the bombs, he describes what he saw in letters to his wife, Charlotte. Serber's style is very matter of fact no matter what he is discussing, and though one wishes he had elaborated on certain aspects of his life and relationships, it is the science of physics that dominates his recollections. Historian Crease provides an excellent introduction, putting Serber and his work into the context of the times. Serber died in June 1997. Highly recommended for science collections.Kate Kelly, Treadwell Lib., Massachusetts General Hosp., Boston
Developed from Serbers' 1994 Pegram lectures of Brookhaven lab on his experiences with Oppenheimer at Los Alamos, Hiroshima after the bomb, Berkeley, and Columbia. Mostly a personal memoir, with a bit of science. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
One of the creators of the atomic bomb recalls its building and its effect both on its targets and on the world at large. Serber (1909-97) grew up in a hotbed of Jewish intellectualism in Philadelphia. The author's reminiscences of his early days include his first car (a Model T Ford), college summer jobs, and his good luck in applying to graduate school at Wisconsin, where he managed to get an assistantship (a rarity in 1930). After meeting Robert Oppenheimer at a physics seminar, he took a position as his assistant; the association with "Oppie" eventually led him to work on the first atomic bomb. (He was the first person Oppenheimer invited to join the Manhattan Project.) Serber offers an insider's perspective, including his belief that Einstein's famous letter to Roosevelt urging research on nuclear fission actually delayed the bomb project nearly a year. He reveals that the concept of the thermonuclear bomb was already on the drawing board by July of 1942, when Edward Teller suggested it in a meeting and everyone promptly turned to the new problem—despite the fact that the atomic bomb had not yet been built. But after the Trinity test, the atom bomb was a reality; Serber was on the team that assembled the bombs dropped on Japan. The book reprints his letters of the time, revealing his belief that he had done what was necessary to end the war; then his accounts of visits to the target cities, to view the destruction firsthand and to measure the blasts' effects. After the war, he fell under the same cloud of suspicion as his mentor Oppenheimer, but managed to clear himself and went on to hold major appointments, including direction of the Brookhaven National Laboratory. Co-authorCrease (The Second Creation, 1986) contributes a preface. An extremely readable memoir by a man who was on the frontiers of physics for half a century.