Synopses & Reviews
In the fall of 1940, as German bombers flew over London and with America not yet at war, a small team of British scientists on orders from Winston Churchill carried out a daring trans-atlantic mission. The British unveiled their most valuable military secret in a clandestine meeting with American nuclear physicists at the Tuxedo Park mansion of a mysterious Wall Street tycoon, Alfred Lee Loomis. Powerful, handsome, and enormously wealthy, Loomis had for years led a double life, spending his days brokering huge deals and his weekends working with the world's leading scientists in his deluxe private laboratory that was hidden in a massive stone castle.
In this dramatic account of a hitherto unexplored but crucial story of the war, Jennet Conant traces one of the world's most extraordinary careers and scientific enterprises. She describes Loomis' phenomenal rise to become one of the Wall Street legends of the go-go twenties. He foresaw the stock market crash of 1929 in time to protect his vast holdings, making a fortune while other bankers were losing their shirts. He rode out the Depression years in high style, and indulged in the hobbies of the fabulously rich. He raced his own America's Cup yacht against the Vanderbilts and Astors, and purchased Hilton Head Island in South Carolina as his private game reserve. Conant writes about the glamour and privilege of his charmed circle as well as Loomis' marriage to a beautiful but depressive wife, whom he sent away for repeated hospitalizations while he pursued a covert affair with his protégé's young wife. His bitter divorce scandalized New York society and drove Loomis into near seclusion in East Hampton.
At the height of his influence on Wall Street, Loomis abruptly retired and devoted himself purely to science. He turned his Tuxedo Park laboratory into the meeting place for the most visionary minds of the twentieth century: Albert Einstein, Werner Heisenberg, James Franck, Niels Bohr, and Enrico Fermi. With England threatened by invasion, he joined Vannevar Bush, Karl Compton, and the author's grandfather, Harvard president James B. Conant, in mobilizing civilian scientists to defeat Nazi Germany, and personally bankrolled pioneering research into the radar detection systems that ultimately changed the course of World War II.
Together with his friend Ernest Lawrence, the Nobel Prize-winning atom smasher, Loomis established a top-secret wartime laboratory at MIT and recruited the most famous names in physics. Through his close ties to his cousin Henry Stimson, who was secretary of war, Loomis was able to push FDR to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to create the advanced radar systems that defeated the German Air Force and deadly U-boats, and then to build the first atomic bomb. One of the greatest scientific generals of World War II, Loomis' legacy exists not only in the development of radar but also in his critical role in speeding the day of victory.
"Alfred Lee Loomis, who lived among the swells in a gated Tuxedo Park, hated FDR, rarely communicated with his wife and three sons, stole his best friend's wife, and with icy disdain helped drive an aide to take his own life. Yet the Allies may not have won World War II without this man whom history forgot. As Jennet Conant's heart-thumping book recounts, Loomis was a public-spirited citizen with the brilliance and ability to galvanize the scientific community to invent first the potent weapon that came to be called radar to spare London from bombs and to destroy U-boats, and later contributed to the making of the atom bomb. Long after you race to the end, this heroic story will linger in memory." Ken Auletta
"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." Timothy Ferris
"No one man won World War II for us, but none exceeded Alfred Loomis' contribution. He was critical to crucial developments, everything from radar to the atomic bomb. He put into victory his genius, his energy and his...Wall Street fortune. Author Jennet Conant put all of her considerable talents into this biography, which is as superb as the subject." Stephen E. Ambrose
About the Author
Jennet Conant's profiles have appeared in Vanity Fair, Esquire, GQ, Newsweek, and The New York Times. She was given unrestricted access to Loomis' and Conant's papers, as well as to previously unpublished letters and documents, and she interviewed Loomis' many family members, friends, and colleagues. She lives in New York City and Sag Harbor with her husband and son.
Table of Contents
MAP OF TUXEDO PARK
1 THE PATRON
2 BRED IN THE BONE
3 THE POWER BROKER
4 PALACE OF SCIENCE
5 CASH ON THE BARREL
6 RESTLESS ENERGY
7 THE BIG MACHINE
8 ECHOES OF WAR
9 PRECIOUS CARGO
10 THE BLITZ
11 MINISTER WITHOUT PORTFOLIO
12 LAST OF THE GREAT AMATEURS
Alfred L. Loomis' Scientific Publications
Author's Note on Sources