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American Prometheus: The Triumph & Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer
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American Prometheus: The Triumph & Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer

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4.16 of 5 stars 4.16  ·  rating details  ·  6,118 ratings  ·  457 reviews
American Prometheus is the 1st full biography of J. Rbt Oppenheimer, "father of the atomic bomb," the charismatic physicist who led the effort to capture the sun's fire for his country in time of war. Immediately after Hiroshima, he became the most famous scientist of his generation-one of the iconic figures of the 20th century, an embodiment of modern man confronting the ...more
Hardcover, 736 pages
Published May 1st 2005 by Alfred A. Knopf (NY) (first published 2005)
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Cassy
Let’s do the numbers.

599 pages of text
256 books read for research
44 articles and dissertations consulted
41 manuscript collections pillaged
10 government document collections accessed
1 Pulitzer Prize
6 newspapers/magazines named it best book of the year
19 quality blurbs
41 listed abbreviations
20 page-long index
83 pages of notes
112 people interviewed (several more than once)
2 authors
25 years in the making
38 days to read across 3 cities
23 corners folded by this girl to mark something fascinating

To d
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Jackie "the Librarian"
This is a very thorough book in some respects, and yet it is so narrow in scope I almost want to run out and read another Oppenheimer biography, and some histories that cover the same time period to get the personal details and background history the authors assumed you knew in THIS book. Almost.

Sure, I'm familiar with the basic details of WWII, the McCarthy Era, and the atomic bomb, but if I wasn't this book wouldn't have helped much. Instead, the authors follow J. Robert Oppenheimer's life in
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Matt
J. Robert Oppenheimer is called "the father of the atomic bomb," which is a shorthand way of saying that we know he did something important as the scientific director of the Manhattan Project, but we just aren't sure what that was. What I mean is that Oppenheimer never made a great discovery or proposed a great theory. He wasn't Rutherford explaining the atom's nucleus. He wasn't Bohr, modeling the atom. He wasn't Lawrence, inventing the cyclotron to smash atoms. And he wasn't Fermi, developing ...more
Chrissie
I am in the middle of moving from one country to another, so I just do not have the time to write a decent review of this excellent, marvelous book! Please, if you are at all interested in either history or amazing people grab this book soon. On closing this book the reader truly understand the atmosphere that swallowed up America during the era of McCarthyism and the Cold War. The reader comes to understand Oppenheimer - his creativity, his imagination and his failings too. The list of the latt ...more
Brian
“I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” Such are the lines attributed to Oppenheimer (quoting from his own translation of the Bhagavad Gita) upon viewing the explosion of the first atomic weapon. Even with such a foreboding sentiment, however, pages later Oppenheimer is not only approving the use of the bomb against Japan, he is actually involved of the selection of the targets, and displays no qualms about what he is doing. He would only find out years later that Japan had been days or we ...more
Conrad
This book disappointed me on a few counts. First of all, its authors opted never to allow chronology to get in the way of a good story. There are all too many sentences that go something like this: "The conversation Oppie had with Chevalier that night would become very important twelve years later when, while testifying before HUAC..." etcetera. Only in the book, the spoilers are even more portentous.

I would have preferred more physics and less politics. The authors, on the other hand, wanted a
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Aaron Million
From a literary standpoint, this book was a true pleasure to read. A thorough biography of the brilliant but flawed physicist. Yet, from the view of being an American, I found it revolting. Oppenheimer, despite his propensity to be arrogant to the wrong people at the wrong times, deserved a far, far better fate than what ultimately came his way.

Sherwin and Bird tell a fabulous story. At almost 600 pages, I feel like they have exhaustively covered all of Oppenheimer's life, yet not a single page
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Ray
At the risk of getting slammed with lots of negative votes on this review, can I offer a mild note of objection?

First of all, I agree with most of the previous reviws. This is well-written, thoroughly researched, the most detailed ever produced on Op., etc. But I am unconvinced by the authors' take on the Communist issue. Nobody much is talking about this because its been a given for 40 years that McCarthy and crew were nuts or evil or both -- but... the new evidence from the Russian archives a
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Adam Ford
As good a biography as I have read in years. A very well researched book where the author is wise enough to tell the reader when there is ambiguity in the record and smart enough to quote the actors a lot allowing the reader to make up their own mind about the events. This book deserved to win a Pulitzer Prize.

A few thoughts:

1. He was one weird dude as a kid and into his 20s. Very unstable, trying to poison one of his lab supervisors at Cambridge and once tried to strangle a friend. Very very u
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John and Kris
As I fell asleep last night I couldn’t shake Dr. Edward Teller from my mind, is this normal?

Teller, the brilliant and attention seeking physicist that pushed hard for nuclear weapons advancements all while kicking anyone that disagreed under the bus by labeling them a communist, is known as the Father of the Hydrogen Bomb.

Yesterday, I watched a couple of interviews with the late Teller and he was backpedalling from his early fanatical push for more and more technologically advanced weapons by pr
...more
Sue
What a story!

For those of my generation, the story is almost like reading our own history. For younger persons, it's a history that may shock them. Our near past is a complicated affair.

Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin have pieced together details, including transcripts from the FBI and many other sources, in such a way that reading (or listening, in my case, to the audio version) this story is like reading a novel.

If I were to have one complaint about the story, it would be that some details are r
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Ben
Co-written by a Carleton alum, won the Pulitzer prize in 2008(?). I didn't know much about Oppenheimer before reading the book other than that he helped create the atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project. He was a great physicist, but even more than that a great communicator and facilitator.

Like "Team of Rivals," which I just read, "American Prometheus" is a great biography in that it doesn't just illuminate the life of a man, but also the times in which he lived. Sure, I learned about the
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MG
An impressive book about an impressive and tremendously complex and brilliant man. That said, it comes up a bit short on the science and the scientific explanations, something I would have enjoyed. That he was reading Baudelaire while nervously awaiting the detonation of the first atomic blast near Los Alamos is the kind of stuff I relish. I will probably read more about Oppenheimer. Surprisingly, despite the fact that the book is over 700 pages, I agree with one reviewer that there is so much m ...more
Anthoney
Have forward to reading this book for quite a long time. Have been fascinated by Oppenheimer, and the book seemed to be a good biography of him. It is satisfactory but not as exceptional as i expected it to be. I was hoping it would be a good mix of science and politics, but ultimately leaned more towards politics and it's machinations, expectedly so.

While the writing on politics and the 'Inquisition' to revoke Oppenheimer's security clearance reads like a good thriller, the reasons that led to
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Genia Lukin
To be honest, I had serious trouble rating this book, and I have similar trouble reviewing it.

If I were rating it entirely by a subjective scale, it would probably receive a one-star rating from me, a rating which I am loathe to give, because I am not at all certain it is deserved.

This book might be absolutely amazing and staggeringly interesting for someone who is genuinely curious about the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer or about the Left-Right politics in America and its relations to the Commu
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Jan-Maat
It was an interesting read and an interesting life though during the course of it I realised that Oppenheimer didn't appeal to me at all as a person.

The background is interesting, particularly the role of Communism in the USA during the Popular Front period of opposition to Fascism before WWII and how that then panned out in the 1950s. Oppenheimer's younger brother ended up effectively in a form of internal exile unable to work at all purely as a result of this.

Oppenheimer emerges as a competiti
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Nick DD
I was extremely excited when I finally pulled this book off the self to read after literally years of it collecting dust. I am a social studies teacher with a background in the Cold War and was at the bookstore the day this book was released in order to add it to my collection. Unfortunately, this book was not what I expected. Although I sporadically enjoyed a few chapters or sections, most of the book felt a bit repetitive. When I first heard that I book would be written about J. Robert Oppenhe ...more
Julie
I liked this book for so many reasons. I have a lay person's fascination with physics and this book opened a window into the mind of one of those rare individuals able to master this most modern of sciences. I enjoyed the descriptions of the back-and-forth that went on between the great physics minds of the day, including such superluminaries as Bohr and Einstein. The process of coordinating the work of the secret team that developed the atomic bomb was also interesting, although I wish the book ...more
Jee Koh
This is a thoroughly researched, rigorously argued biography about this one-time controversial titan of American history. The biographers, a newspaper editor and a history professor, focused on the politics of the Life. I wish there were more about the science. The prose is actually serviceable, but surrounding as it does the eloquent words of Oppenheimer himself, the lover of Baudelaire and the Bhavagad Gita, it looks as wooden as the frame around an oil painting. My favorite quote by Oppenheim ...more
David
This is a long and comprehensive (and Pulitzer-winning) biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the brilliant physicist best known for leading the team that developed the atomic bomb. There were many fascinating insights in this book, but I think an abridged version might have satisfied me; it seemed to go on forever (over 26.5 hours in audio). I enjoyed descriptions of Oppenheimer's childhood and early life, studies of physics, interactions with great scientists like Enrico Fermi and Albert Einstei ...more
Laura
Fine, complete, and engaging biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who was the midwife (for lack of a better term, but it's really an accurate one) of the atomic bomb. Oppenheimer was a fascinating fellow -- a charismatic polymath who was not only a physicist but a very decent poet (giving new meaning to "Physics for Poets," I guess, or something) as well as being well-versed in just about every other topic. The book is also frank, as a good biography must be, about Oppenheimer's fau ...more
Jimmy Tarlau
A very through biography of the 'father' of the atom bomb. It follows his career from being a brilliant young student to his activities as the administrator of the Manhattan Project and his tenure on the Atomic Energy Commission. It goes into great detail (a little too much for me) of the hearings that lead to his downfall because of his association with leftists when he was a professor at Berkeley. He was in many ways the poster boy for what McCarthyism could do to destroy the reputation of peo ...more
Rory
Tidbits of interesting facts here, there, and everywhere but not put together in an easy to follow way and seemed to repeat. Like someone did a lot of research and wrote it all down then crammed it in a book - puzzle in a box you, the reader, needs to put together yourself. I'm more of a draw me a picture kind of reader - take the puzzle out of the box and put it together for me. If you've ever saw an old re-run of the TV Series "Dragnet", that's what the narration reminded me of - Sgt. Joe Frid ...more
Luke Coffey
If there was ever a biography that every American should read, this is it. Bird and Sherwin's remarkable account of Oppenheimer, and the extraordinary narrative of his life, is truly deserving of the Pulitzer it holds. Oppenheimer was, unarguably, one of the pivotal figures in our nation, and the world's, history. His story is one intrinsically American. From his youthful days spent capturing the American spirit on horse back in New Mexico, to the tragedy of his persecution under the dark baggag ...more
Kevin Shoesmith
One reader reviewed this biography as being narrow in scope. And then she went on to write a 2,000-word review recounting every major facet of the book. Ironic. It wasn't compelling enough a review to read completely, frankly, but the first paragraphs told me she'd consumed a very fine whisky and then criticised it for not being crunchy enough.

This is one of the most exhaustive, comprehensive biographies I've read, if not the most. Its detail is painstakingly etched out as Oppenheimer's life and
...more
Micah
Great biography. Really enjoyed it. Will be looking for a hardbound copy for my library.
Mike Gowan
This biography reads like a novel. It is the story of a man's life, but the man is a genius and the things that he did and the events he played such an important role in are so dramatic that it almost seems like fiction.

However, I am convinced that it is not fiction. Oppenheimer directed the Manhattan project, which resulted in the development and deployment of the atomic bomb. The use of this weapon in war is scary because it raises the possibility that it will be used in another war. Everyone
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Bobbi
This was a difficult book to get through but totally rewarding. A fascinating story of Robert Oppenheimer the man, and the times in which he lived. It was so much more than a biography because of Oppenheimer's major role in world events of the times. Reading this book requires a serious commitment of time; don't expect to get through it in a day or two. Anyone interested in US history during the 20th century should read this.
Bob Mckinstry
An interesting contrasting story to "Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman." The story of a brilliant man known as the Father of the A-Bomb who gets caught up in the Red Scare. All the characters are there from the world of quantum physics, the Manhattan Project, academics and politics. You learn a lot about the US from the 30s to the 50s while you learn about a fascinating man.
Stephen Terrell
This is a stunning book, worthy of the Pulitzer Prize that it won. It tackles the enigmatic personality of one of the great minds of the 20th Century. But it goes far beyond the fascinating story of J.Robert Oppenheimer's life, and those around him.

In many ways it tells the history of America at mid-century. It explores the intellectuals who experimented with communism as a solution to millions of unemployed in the 1930; the abuses of the FBI, wiretapping without warrant and without regard to l
...more
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Kai Bird is an American Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist, best known for his biographies of political figures. He has also won the National Book Critics Circle Award for biography, the Duff Cooper Prize, a Woodrow Wilson Center Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He is a Contributing Editor of The Nation magazine.

Bird was born in 1951. His father was a U.S. Foreign Service officer
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“tea was served every afternoon between three and four in the Common Room on the main floor of Fuld Hall. “Tea is where we explain to each other,” Oppenheimer once said, “what we don’t understand.” 0 likes
“house at Otowi Bridge.” 0 likes
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