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The Ruin of J. Robert Oppenheimer: And the Birth of the Modern Arms Raceby Priscilla McMillan
Synopses & Reviews
On April 12, 1954, the nation was astonished to learn that scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer faced charges of violating national security. Why had the charismatic leader of the Manhattan Project — the man who led the team that developed the atomic bomb that ended World War II?been cast into overnight disgrace? In this riveting narrative, bestselling author Priscilla J. McMillan draws on newly declassified U.S. government documents and materials from Russia, as well as in-depth interviews, to present the truth about the downfall of America's most famous scientist.
McMillan re-creates the fraught years from 1949 to 1955 when Oppenheimer and a group of liberal scientists tried to head off the cabal of hard-line air force officials, anti-Communist politicians, and rival scientists — including Edward Teller — who were trying to seize control of U.S. policy and build ever more deadly nuclear weapons. The conspiracy to discredit Oppenheimer, occurring at the height of the McCarthy era and sanctioned by a misinformed President Eisenhower, was a watershed in the cold war, poisoning American politics for decades and creating dangers that haunt us today.
"Harvard historian McMillan (Marina and Lee) focuses on the nine-year span in the late 1940s and early '50s when Oppenheimer, who had spearheaded the development of the atom bomb, was transformed from a hero into an alleged security risk, accused of spying for the Soviets. In light of the outstanding new biography American Prometheus and other recent scholarship on Oppenheimer, this account doesn't transform our perception of the man or the case, but it does fill in background on the anti-Communist agitators inside and outside the federal government, such as Atomic Energy Commission member Lewis Strauss, who conspired to 'destroy Oppenheimer and make ]Edward( Teller the leader of the scientific community' because of the latter's enthusiasm for (and Oppenheimer's doubts about) developing the hydrogen bomb. McMillan makes Teller one of the chief villains, dwelling on his contentious relations with other atomic researchers and underlining her contempt for his role in creating a massive, 'superfluous' nuclear arsenal. The idealistic claim that Oppenheimer could have slowed or prevented the arms race through sheer force of personality is less convincing. Still, this is a damning record of the 'travesty of justice perpetrated through the smear campaign against Oppenheimer." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] readable and concise discussion of the campaign against Oppenheimer, as well as of the kangaroo-court hearing that led to his downfall." San Francisco Chronicle
"What makes The Ruin of J. Robert Oppenheimer such an engaging book is McMillan's remarkable ability to take the reader inside the technical and political aspects of the Atomic Age." Rocky Mountain News
"Her research...tells a well-rounded and discouraging story of vendetta, arrogance and political machinations." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In a groundbreaking book that recasts the history of the Cold War, bestselling author Priscilla J. McMillan exposes, for the first time, the truth behind J. Robert Oppenheime‛s 1954 trial on charges of violating national security. Drawing on newly declassified papers and extensive interviews, McMillan places Oppenheime‛s opposition to development of the hydrogen bomb at the heart of the story¬—opposition that made him the victim of government officials who, conspiring with rival scientist Edward Teller, deceived President Eisenhower and trapped the enigmatic genius who had done more than anyone to build the atomic bomb. A chilling expos√© of the McCarthy-era conspiracy that helped propel the East-West arms race, this is a spellbinding work of history.
About the Author
Priscilla Johnson McMillan is an associate of the Davis Center for Russian Studies at Harvard and the author of the bestselling Marina and Lee. Her articles have appeared in the New York Times, Harper's Magazine, and Scientific American, among other places.
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