Oppenheimer : Portrait of an Enigma

3.62 (86 ratings by Goodreads)
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J. Robert Oppenheimer was a puzzle to everyone. The nuclear physicist most responsible for the creation of the atomic bomb, he was a genius both scientifically and otherwise. His standards were impossibly high. He read widely in many languages, wrote poetry, and did superb science. Yet in Jeremy Bernstein's intensely interesting biographical memoir, Oppenheimer emerges as a man unsure of his identity and captive to an element of self-destructiveness in his makeup. Oppenheimer is the long-awaited book that many people feel Mr. Bernstein was almost born to write. As a former colleague of Oppenheimer's, he has composed a book that is both personal and historical, bringing the reader close to the life and workings of an extraordinary and controversial man. Oppenheimer once told the author that during the now-famous hearing in which he lost his security clearance-one of the most spectacular attacks of the McCarthy era-he felt it was happening to someone else. His lawyer at the hearing, after being with Oppenheimer day in and day out for several months, said he did not know him in any real sense at all. Yet everyone in the scientific community and in government agreed that without Oppenheimer's totally remarkable leadership at Los Alamos, the atomic bomb would not have happened, and the Second World War would have ended very differently. Filled with revealing insights and details that set the historical record straight, Oppenheimer is that rare quantity: a vastly entertaining study of one of the most important and enigmatic scientists of the atomic age. Illustrated with black-and-white photographs.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 238 pages
  • 169 x 220 x 22mm | 445g
  • Chicago, United States
  • English
  • New.
  • 1566635691
  • 9781566635691
  • 2,928,242

Review quote

Bernstein, himself a theoretical physicist, has profiled scientists for The New Yorker for nearly three decades.... His memoir, which elucidates difficult scientific problems in the clearest English, is a must-read for anyone interested in the power of science and the state. * Toronto Globe and Mail * It brims with new stories and scientific explanations, making it an ideal layman's introduction to this elusive and conflicted 20th-century giant. -- William Lanouette * Issues In Science and Technology * Jeremy Bernstein, combining the grace of a New Yorker writer with the insight of a theoretical physicist, draws a fine and fascinating portrait of the man who gave us the atomic bomb. -- Arthur Schlesinger Jr. Having had the advantage of shrewdly observing Oppenheimer at close range, Jeremy Bernstein combines in this gripping biography his expertise in physics and history of science with his talent as a master storyteller. -- Gerald Holton, Harvard University Jeremy Bernstein has written an engrossing portrait of the life and contributions of J. Robert Oppenheimer-providing keen insights into his complex personality and, in clear language, his impressive contributions to physics and to the development of the atomic bomb. -- Athan Theoharis, author of From the Secret Files of J. Edgar Hoover Fascinating...a splendid addition.... It reads exceedingly well from beginning to end. I was particularly impressed with his analysis of Oppenheimer's security hearing.... Every part of the book contains new and fascinating insights into Oppenheimer's life and work and the people with whom he was associated. -- Roger H. Stuewer, Tate Laboratory of Physics, University of Minnesota What makes this little book worthwhile is its personal view of the conflicted genius. A fine introduction to an ever-fascinating man. -- Bill Ott * Booklist * A revealing, involving, highly recommended biographical survey. * Bookwatch * His memoir, which elucudates difficult scientific problems is in the clearest English, is a must-read for anyone interested in the power of science and the state. -- Chris Scott * Toronto Globe and Mail * Oppenheimer: A Portrait of an Enigma is full of amusing and enlightening anecdotes and asides that illuminate both Oppenheimer's personality and the milieu in which he lived. If the book has a moral, it is that even a genius can be too clever. * Washington Sunday Times * Bernstein's engaging and revealing profile is a reminder of the events that so colored and charged Opeenheimer's life. -- Stanley I. Kutler * Los Angeles Times * Berstein has written a book that manages to be both insightful and maddening. -- Sandra G. Boodman * The Review of Higher Education * Both personal and historical. * Nuclear News * Bernstein sets forth the fascinating story of Oppenheimer's controversial life successfully and smoothly. Highly readable. * Buffalo Jewish Review * If anyone can shed light on the enigma that is Robert Oppenheimer it is Jeremy Bernstein.... A superb piece of work... essential reading. * The Spectator * Jeremy Bernstein is as good a writer as you can find among scientists.... A splendid, brief biography...a page turner. * Physics Today * It is a good introduction to Oppenheimer for neophytes and a nostalgic read for those familiar with his life. * Journal of Military History * Berstein...knew Oppenheimer, knows physics, and writes with verve and wit.... His book sparkles... -- Jonathan Beard * New Scientist * Bernstein does a convincing job of discovering the oddball nature of this nuclear genius. -- John Pate * El Paso Times * This one is essential. * Kliatt * An excellent introduction. -- Thomas Powers * New York Review * This portrait of the enigmatic physicist...includes several interesting anecdotes that are not well known. -- George E. Webb, Department of History, Tennessee Technological University * Journal of the West *
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About Jeremy Bernstein

For nearly three decades Jeremy Bernstein wrote profiles of scientists for the New Yorker. Many were prize-winners, and his book Einstein was nominated for the National Book Award. But he hesitated to write about Oppenheimer until now. Mr. Bernstein, a theoretical physicist best known for his nonscientific work, has also written The Dawning of the Raj and The Merely Personal as well as Hitler's Uranium Club; Three Degrees Above Zero; and Cranks, Quarks, and the Cosmos. He lives in New York City and Aspen, Colorado.
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Rating details

86 ratings
3.62 out of 5 stars
5 17% (15)
4 36% (31)
3 40% (34)
2 6% (5)
1 1% (1)
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