Einstein and Oppenheimer: The Meaning of Genius

Einstein and Oppenheimer: The Meaning of Genius

by Silvan S. Schweber


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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. In Einstein's and Oppenheimer's philosophical and ethical positions, their views of nuclear weapons, their ethnic and cultural commitments, their opinions on the unification of physics, even the role of Buddhist detachment in their thinking, the book traces the broader issues that have shaped science and the world.

Einstein is invariably seen as a lone and singular genius, while Oppenheimer is generally viewed in a particular scientific, political, and historical context. Silvan Schweber considers the circumstances behind this perception, in Einstein's coherent and consistent self-image, and its relation to his singular vision of the world, and in Oppenheimer's contrasting lack of certainty and related non-belief in a unitary, ultimate theory. Of greater importance, perhaps, is the role that timing and chance seem to have played in the two scientists' contrasting characters and accomplishments--with Einstein's having the advantage of maturing at a propitious time for theoretical physics, when the Newtonian framework was showing weaknesses.

Bringing to light little-examined aspects of these lives, Schweber expands our understanding of two great figures of twentieth-century physics--but also our sense of what such greatness means, in personal, scientific, and cultural terms.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674034525
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 03/30/2010
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 768,288
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Silvan S. Schweber was 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.

Table of Contents

  • 1. Einstein and Nuclear Weapons

    • Introduction
    • Einstein and the Atomic Bomb
    • After Hiroshima and Nagasaki
    • Einstein on World Government
    • Hydrogen Bombs
    • Individual versus Collective Stands
    • The Einstein–Russell Manifesto
    • Epilogue

  • 2. Einstein and the Founding of Brandeis University

    • Introduction
    • Israel Goldstein
    • Rabbinic Connections
    • The Harold Laski Episode
    • Denouement
    • Epilogue

  • 3. J. Robert Oppenheimer: Proteus Unbound

    • Introduction
    • The Early Years
    • Becoming a Physicist: Oppenheimer and His School
    • Los Alamos
    • The Postwar Years
    • Hydrogen Bombs
    • Epilogue

  • 4. J. Robert Oppenheimer and American Pragmatism

    • The Director’s Fund
    • Philosophy
    • Harvard Overseer
    • The William James Lectures

  • 5. Einstein, Oppenheimer, and the Extension of Physics

    • Unification
    • Einstein and Unification
    • The MIT Centennial Celebration.
    • A Bird’s-eye View of General Relativity, 1915–1960

  • 6. Einstein, Oppenheimer, and the Meaning of Community

    • The Einstein–Oppenheimer Interaction
    • Eulogies and Memorial Speeches
    • Roots and Tradition
    • Philosophy
    • Epilogue

  • Some Concluding Remarks
  • Appendix: The Russell–Einstein Manifesto
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Acknowledgments
  • Index

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