"[Monk] writes well and provides a convincing portrait of Oppie’s success and his ambivalence after the bombs were dropped on Japan. Monk gives equally detailed coverage of the postwar years of Oppenheimer’s national celebrity, followed by a gathering storm over his past and his questioning of the H-bomb ... Monk’s biography is judicious, comprehensive and reliable, and bids fair to become one of the two most important lives of Oppenheimer. It certainly puts science back squarely in the middle of that life."—Washington Post
“It's not just brilliant, original and the best biography of Oppenheimer to date, it's epic. Also totally gripping and immensely satisfying. I didn't want it to end! I've read so much about Oppenheimer, but this is the first time I felt I understood why what happened to him happened.”
—Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind and Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius
“The inspired philosophical biographer of Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell now turns his attention to the nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer and the profound human dilemmas of American science and the atomic bomb. This is an eagerly awaited and important book which will explore new boundaries in the writing of biography itself.”
—Richard Holmes, author of The Age of Wonder
"In this deeply humanizing biography, Monk invites readers to contemplate the unexpected evil—and good—in the man known as the "father of the A-bomb." ... Monk delves deeper than any predecessor into Oppenheimer's inner life ... perceptive and detailed, this portrait illuminates a potent but complex mind."
—Booklist, starred review
"A highly detailed examination of the life and times of Robert Oppenheimer ... Monk does full justice to Oppenheimer's irreplaceable contribution to the development of nuclear energy during and after World War II ... A top-notch biography."
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Ray Monk’s Robert Oppenheimer does what nothing so far written on the enigmatic physicist has attempted: integrating into a seamless whole a profound inquiry into the formative influences on Oppenheimer’s character, a definitive account of his complex role in the development of the atomic bomb and a penetrating analysis of the philosophical implications of the new physics. It is not just a great biography but a powerful work of art.”
—John Gray, New Statesman
“A triumph of historical investigation … It is the most personal and sensitive biography of Oppenheimer so far published; the man himself rises from the pages, a figure worthy at times of reverence, but often of contempt. We can now understand why some colleagues and students revered him and why those outside his chosen circle often despised him. He could be warm, funny, kind, charming and supportive, yet his cruelty was legendary and his ego immense. Oppenheimer’s great weakness was his addiction to power, which perhaps explains his flexible morality.”
—Gerard DeGroot, The Telegraph
“A tour de force … [it] will establish itself as the definitive biography.”
—Lisa Jardine, Financial Times
"[Monk’s] 800 pages of deep research and lucid prose constitute a masterclass in how biography, done well, gets us closer to the mindset of an age than any other kind of inquiry."
—Kathryn Hughes, Guardian
“An extraordinarily rich biography, superbly researched and written with impressive clarity. It is a considerable achievement of scholarship.”
—Graham Farmelo, The Times
Monk (philosophy, Univ. of Southampton; Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius) sets out to write an "internal" biography of Robert Oppenheimer, one that gives the man's psychological and emotional complexities their due, a difficult task with a subject who was so private. The author also establishes that his goal is to do greater justice to Oppenheimer's physics, placing both Oppenheimer's science and his participation in the public sphere in their historical context. For the most part, Monk succeeds. Drawing on Oppenheimer's own papers and the works of others, he explores the scientist's early life and education, his abilities as a facilitator and motivator of other scientists, and his controversial time at Los Alamos National Laboratory and its aftermath. Yet physics and the development of the atom bomb are Monk's primary focus, with his explanations of these topics accessible and clear. Oppenheimer himself remains elusive, as he has in previous biographies. Those who seek to understand the man more fully might try his Letters and Recollections, edited by Alice Kimball Smith and Charles Weiner. VERDICT As it's likely Oppenheimer will remain an enigma, this title is recommended for anyone interested in the man and his contributions to physics and to the development of the atom bomb.—Jon Bodnar, Emory Univ. Lib., Atlanta
A highly detailed examination of the life and times of Robert Oppenheimer (1904–1967), the man who ushered in the Atomic Age and played a leading role in putting American science on the map. Monk (Philosophy/Southampton Univ.; Bertrand Russell: The Ghost of Madness, 1921–1970, 2001, etc.) does full justice to Oppenheimer's irreplaceable contribution to the development of nuclear energy during and after World War II. The author also addresses his less well-known contributions to nuclear physics, including "a method that is used even now for understanding the physical processes that occur in the interiors of stars." Born to an affluent Jewish family, Oppenheimer had a privileged upbringing (private schools, Harvard University and extensive study abroad), yet he faced a rising tide of anti-Semitism even in America. Among many examples, Monk quotes a reference by George Birkhoff, Harvard's most eminent mathematician, supporting his application: "He is Jewish but I should consider him a very fine type of man." In 1927, Oppenheimer co-authored a paper on quantum chemistry with the leading quantum physicist, Max Born, but in Europe, he faced anti-American prejudice among scientists such as Paul Dirac. Monk explains that experiences such as these prompted Oppenheimer to accept a joint teaching position in California, at Berkeley and Caltech, where he devoted himself to establishing "a world center of theoretical physics in the U.S." The Spanish Civil War drew Oppenheimer into left-wing politics (and surveillance by the FBI), but he also had a distinguished career during WWII as head of the Manhattan Project and after, when he played a key role in shaping American nuclear policy. In 1954, renewal of his security clearance was denied, a miscarriage of justice that President John F. Kennedy reversed by awarding him the prestigious Fermi Prize. A top-notch biography of Oppenheimer to sit alongside Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin's American Prometheus (2006).