Jonathan Yardley The Washington Post Remarkable...the story of a genuinely extraordinary man [told] uncommonly well.
Kurt Vonnegut A brilliant account of the all but vanished reputation of an amateur physicist who became a friend and peer of the greatest scientists of his time.
Timothy Ferris Jennet Conant's Tuxedo Park illuminates an important but little-known chapter in American science, and does it with a deft, knowing touch that brings it to life.
The Washington Post Book World The story of how radar made its passage from the drawing board into the cockpits of Allied fighter planes is incredibly dramatic, and Jennet Conant tells it uncommonly well.
The Wall Street Journal Understanding just how America wins wars is a pressing task these days, which makes the story of Alfred Loomis especially timely and instructive....[His] remarkable story is being told now only thanks to Ms. Conant, a journalist who combines a graceful writing style with her own family connections to his secretive life.
Alfred Loomis was one of the wealthiest men in America during the 1930's. A scientist himself, his funding of a secret group of scientists in the Tuxedo Park suburb of New York City led to the development of such advances as radar and nuclear weaponry. Not much has been known about the mysterious Mr. Loomis -- until now, with the publication of Jennet Conant's insightful biography of the elusive figure.
In the prewar years, Alfred Lee Loomis was one of the most powerful men on Wall Street. But he was also a crucial, if heretofore unsung, figure in the evolution of experimental physics in America. In this brisk, entertaining biography, Loomis emerges as "the last of the great amateurs," a gentleman scientist in the mold of Benjamin Franklin, with a quintessentially American interest in practical, rather than merely theoretical, work. Both patron and player, he turned his massive Tuxedo Park home into a kind of Yaddo for scientists, while also helping to develop a host of inventions, including the atom-smashing cyclotron. Once the Second World War began, he became a central figure, along with his friends Vannevar Bush and Ernest Lawrence, in the orchestration of American science's contribution to the war effort. Conant shows how Loomis, as the head of the M.I.T. Radiation Laboratory, dexterously governed "a scientific republic" of physicists who ended up making major contributions to anti-submarine warfare, radar, and the accuracy of night bombing. Her group portrait offers a healthy reminder of how much good science depends on community and collaboration, not solitary genius.
Alfred Lee Loomis (1887-1975) made his fortune in the 1920s by investing in public utilities, but science was his first love. In 1928, he established a premier research facility in Tuxedo Park, N.Y., that attracted such brilliant minds as Einstein, Bohr and Fermi and became instrumental in the Allies' WWII victory. Conant, a magazine writer, draws on studies, family papers and interviews with Loomis's friends, family and colleagues (she's a relative of two scientists who worked with Loomis) to trace the story of the tycoon's professional and social life (the latter fairly racy). At the Tuxedo Park lab, Loomis attracted top-flight scientists who experimented with sound, time measurement and brain waves. During WWII, he established a laboratory at MIT (the "rad lab") where radar was developed. He also served as a conduit between civilian scientists and Roosevelt's military establishment. Although he lost some of his top people to the Manhattan Project, the "rad lab" was a major contributor to the allies' defense. In his well-publicized personal life, Loomis angered family members by trying to have his emotionally unstable wife institutionalized while he pursued an affair with another woman. Through Conant's spare, unobtrusive prose and well-paced storytelling, Loomis emerges as a contradictory man who craved scientific accomplishment and influence, but rarely took credit for himself. Those interested in science or WWII history will appreciate this well-researched bio. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
More than a vivid biography of Alfred Lee Loomis, this is a bright and intelligent portrait of a season of science in America that changed history. Conant, who has been a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, Esquire, and GQ, follows Loomis, a son of privilege, through his several incarnations as lawyer, financier, and scientist. Using his immense wealth, Loomis, one of the few tycoons to survive the Great Depression intact, founded his own private laboratory in Tower House, his mansion within the exclusive New York enclave of Tuxedo Park. Here, he and the many scientific worthies he attracted conducted brainwave research as well as the seminal microwave studies that led to the development of radar systems crucial to Allied victory in World War II. Conant is so good at capturing the high-spirited, freewheeling methodology brought to bear on the many critical research projects that one sometimes forgets that the precocious upstarts behind the method were greatly responsible for saving the world from fascism. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries. Michael F. Russo, Louisiana State Univ. Libs., Baton Rouge Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
An examination of the remarkable role of the shadowy but powerful "amateur physicist" whose intellect and energy spurred critical scientific research that shortened and helped win WWII. The author cites the association of Alfred Lee Loomis with her grandfather James Conant (president of Harvard for 20 years) to underscore her fascination with what, in the absence of extensive personal records, sometimes reads like fiction. Shrewd enough as a young investment banker to convert the bulk of his investments into a pile of cash on the brink of the Depression, Loomis got only richer as Wall Street foundered. He had all anyone could want in cars, yachts, and island hideaways (Hilton Head), so he funded his principal avocation: scientific investigation. The physics laboratory he had built into his mansion in the gilt-edged community of Tuxedo Park, New York, matched almost anything industry or academia could offer. At first, the scientific community called him an "eccentric dabbler," but soon figures like Bohr, Fermi, Einstein, and Ernest Lawrence were cajoled into visits to Tuxedo Park, finding their host to be a serious thinker and accomplished experimenter who could also pour bathtub gin with a steady hand on the butler's night off. Fascinated by physical phenomena, Loomis had investigated everything from ultrasonics to brain waves as the world moved toward war in 1940. Realizing early on that R&D would be critical to Allied success, he parlayed his influence, charm, and connections (Secretary of War Henry Stimson was a cousin) into a key management role in the refinement of super-secret radar technology and, later, into championing the nuclear fission projects that led to the first atomicbomb. Following a scandalous divorce, Loomis lived out his life in relative obscurity, hastened into oblivion by the intense desire for privacy that had always kept him out of the limelight Remarkable and remarkably told, as if F. Scott Fitzgerald had penned Batman.