In 1922, the teenage son of a Jewish immigrant ventured from Manhattan to New Mexico for his health. It was the first of many trips to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, a western retreat where J. Robert Oppenheimer would eventually hold pathbreaking discussions with world-renowned scientists about atomic physics. Oppenheimer came to feel at home in the American West, and while extensive studies have been made of the man, this is the first book to explicitly link him with the region. J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Cold War, and the Atomic West explores how the West influenced Oppenheimer as a scientist and as a personand the role he played in influencing it.
Jon Hunner’s concise account of Oppenheimer’s life and the emergence of an Atomic West distills a vast literature for students and general readers. In this brisk, engaging biography, the author recounts how Oppenheimer helped locate the atomic weapons research lab at Los Alamos, New Mexico, and helped establish leading physics departments at the University of California–Berkeley and Caltech. By taking part in moving atomic physics west of the Mississippi, Oppenheimer bolstered the establishment of research labs, uranium mines, nuclear reactors, and more, bringing talented peopleand billions of dollars in federal contractsto the region.
Interwoven into this atomic tale are insights into the physicist’s troubled growing-up years, his marriage and family life, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Oppenheimer’s eventual downfall. After the first atomic bomb burst over the New Mexican desert in 1945 and as the Cold War developed, the American myth of the Wild West expanded to encompass atomic sheriffs saving the world for democracyeven as powerful opponents began questioning Oppenheimer’s place in that story. Against the backdrop of the physicist’s life twining with the region’s history, Hunner explores the promise and peril of the Atomic Age.
About the Author
Jon Hunner, Professor of History and Public History Director at New Mexico State University, is author of Inventing Los Alamos: The Growth of an Atomic Community.