Synopses & Reviews
J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man who led the Manhattan Project that built the atomic bomb and ended World War II, forged the alliance between science and government that made the American Century possible. David C. Cassidys much anticipated, richly detailed, magisterial biography is not merely the life story of a brilliant physicist, it tells the hidden story of the political and social forces shaping the world in our time: the rise of American science.
In 1941, before Germany failed to build an atomic weapon, and the United States succeeded, Life published Henry R. Luces essay The American Century. It proclaimed that America was not at war simply to defeat the Axis powers. The United States must exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purpose as we see fit and by such means as we see fit. Cassidy reveals such confidence, and the success of Manhattan Project itself, were essentially by products of the rise of American science driven by burgeoning industrial prosperity and a kind of national devotion to the pursuit of knowledge. While Cassidy illuminates Oppenheimers genius for inspiring his students and colleagues to attack and ultimately solve the hardest scientific problems of the age, he also takes the reader to the 1954 Atomic Energy Commission Security review that disgraced Oppenheimer, stripped him of his security clearance for alleged red ties, and captured headlines across the nation. Documents that have only recently come to light regarding those ties are thoroughly and conclusively examined.
Oppenheimer, the eldest son of an aristocratic Jewish family living on the Upper West Side of New York City, attended the secular, progressive, and elite Ethical Culture School. Cassidy, building his narrative on previously untapped primary documents, shows the importance and character of Oppenheimers early education. The liberal values he absorbed there ran counter to the culture he found at Harvard, whose president sought to foster a future managerial elite, the rulers of the new American society. These formative contrasts in values explain Oppenheimers many seeming contradictions. Why did the scientist who correctly theorized black holes turn his back on cutting edge research? How did a gentle liberal humanist become responsible for the creation of the first real weapon of mass destruction? How could a brilliant mind like his virtually found scientific militarism and then let it destroy him?
In J. Robert Oppenheimer and the American Century, author David C. Cassidy opens up a life story that is emblematic of the transformation of America over the last three generations. It offers, as the best history can, an insight into the future technological and moral progress of a nation.
"With a host of high quality biographies already written about Oppenheimer, one would think there isn't much need for yet another. Hofstra University professor Cassidy (Uncertainty: The Life and Science of Werner Heisenberg) has, however, crafted a book that addresses critical issues about the relationship between science and public policy. While he focuses on Oppenheimer, Cassidy does a superb job of examining how theoretical physics came of age in America during the early part of the 20th century and how many of the country's greatest scientists permitted science to be subsumed by a military-industrial complex more interested in the direct benefits of applied research than in the possible future benefits of pure research. The issue, as Cassidy presents it, is not so much why Oppenheimer and his fellow scientists built the atomic bomb. It is, rather, how they lost control of the next generation of nuclear weapons while being marginalized from critical political discussions about international arms control and how they were turned into technicians by governmental insiders interested in stifling all voices diverging from the dominant political paradigm. Oppenheimer is shown to have been a brilliant, complex and troubled individual whose personal failings helped shape the way science and government have interacted ever since. As Cassidy points out, the similarities between some aspects of current events and the way Oppenheimer's reputation was destroyed in the 1950s are chilling. (Sept.) " Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
Dr. David Cassidy is a Professor in the Natural Science Program at Hofstra University, and has been Chair of the Section for History and Philosophy of Science of the New York Academy of Science. Dr. Cassidy has had an outstanding career as a writer and editor in the history of physics. He served for six years as Associate Editor of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein and has been an editorial consultant for the collected works of Heisenberg, Bohr and Pauli. His book, Uncertainty: The Life and Science of Werner Heisenberg, published in 1991, has been widely acclaimed and has been translated into five foreign languages. He has been awarded the American Institute of Physics Science Writing Award and the Pfizer Award of the History of Science Society, the latter the highest award in the field. He is also the author of Einstein and our World and coauthor of Scientists at War: The Farm Hall Transcripts.