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Oh Pure and Radiant Heart

3.67  ·  Rating Details ·  511 Ratings  ·  106 Reviews
Oh Pure and Radiant Heart plucks the three scientists who were key to the invention of the atom bomb—Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard and Enrico Fermi—as they watch history's first mushroom cloud rise over the desert on July 16th, 1945...and places them down in modern-day Santa Fe. One by one, the scientists are spotted by a shy librarian who becomes convinced of their authenticit ...more
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published June 6th 2005 by Soft Skull Press (first published January 1st 2005)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Jul 13, 2007 medi rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
couldn't finish it, alas. Just so much internal dialogue of the poetic big-deep-thoughts-about-life sort so frequently, I tired of it quickly.
Sep 26, 2007 Sierra rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
This book is so curious; it feels a little bit like a Kurt Vonnegut or Tom Robbins novel, but the diction is higher and the philosophizing more rampant. I can only conclude that Lydia Millet is so smart it hurts, because she can create scenes of intense intimacy and introspection (see the interiority of Ann and her thinking about her relationship with her husband Ben) and also of near-epic sideshowness (see the novel's climax, which involves miraculously resurrected A-bomb scientists, an army of ...more
Sep 10, 2007 Christina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
this book is so lovely, the writing is delicious. it also includes lots of facts about US nuclear testing past and present - truly horrifying stuff.
Sep 30, 2007 Betsy rated it it was amazing
What would happen if Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi and Leo Szilard, the primary physicists from the Manhattan Project returned to contemporary America to discover the repercussions of their creation--the atomic bomb? The author doesn’t delve into the logistics of their resurrections, as inevitably it doesn’t really matter. What’s interesting is the idea of them having to face what they’ve done, the emotions they go through, the effects of nuclear testing on innocent civilians and how nuclear ...more
Oct 22, 2007 Liz rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
so, is it ok to review a book I didn't finish? well, I'm going to do it anyway. this book has such great potential. the premise is brilliant and the narrative is simply poetic at most points. it's just too long, and filled with too many sanctimonious segues about nuclear war. maybe someday I'll finish it, or perhaps read an abridged version.
Jake Thomas
There is a really, truly fantastic book here. There's also a mediocre book here. There are also a few other books here, and hence the issue: too much. A fourth of this book or more could have been scrapped and not missed at all, which is a shame because what would have been saved would have made for an astounding piece of fiction. What could have easily been an overly gimmicky book centered around three of the scientists largely responsible for the atomic bomb being magically transported into mo ...more
Jul 26, 2008 Debbie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
A bizarre and beautifully written novel involving time traveling physicists and the development of nuclear weapons.
Feb 17, 2009 Alison rated it it was amazing
i didn't expect to like this book as much as how the dead dream, but i was held completely enthralled throughout...
Apr 15, 2009 Lauren rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ok. So this book gets three stars from me because of two reasons. At times I completely hated it, but at others I loved it. So three stars seems fair. I honestly didn't think I was going to be able to finish this book, it was like A Clockwork Orange for me, the only book I ever put down without finishing. But I was bored and I read-on and finally I was able to find ways to like it. I picked up this book with a totally different idea of what it was about, I'm not sure where I got that idea about ...more
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May 17, 2009 Debbie rated it it was amazing
I found this book by serendipity and what a wonderful find it was! My attention was grabbed by the striking cover and the blurb alluding to time travel, but inside I found an engrossing, beautifully written, funny, alarming and thought provoking read.

Lydia Millet writes a scenario involving three of the physicists most closely associated with the development of the atomic bomb. At the moment of the very first test explosion of the Trinity bomb in the New Mexico desert, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Le
Oh Pure and Radiant Heart is a difficult book to review. I was not drawn in at the beginning--it felt like it took her a little too long to get to the beginning of the story, like Millet was trying to set up the characters rather than let the reader develop an understanding of them through the plot. Once the plot kicked in, though, I was enthralled by the physicists (reincarnated? time-traveling? who knows...) and the people who flock to them in search of hope or, in the case of one group, somet ...more
MJ Nicholls
Dec 07, 2009 MJ Nicholls rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels, merkins, distaff
I know nothing about nuclear weapons or 1940s scientists, so I approached this book seeking an education. I was going to write “and boy, did I get one” here, but that would be so cringeworthy, I might as well sign up for the fucking Terry Wogan Appreciation Society.

So, Lydia Millet. Her novel opens with our homey protagonists, Ann and Ben. Ann is a librarian who thinks deep things about her boring life and is far too clever to work as a sheepish librarian. Ben is a put-upon gardener working for
Jan 22, 2011 Tim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
I loved the premise. The three men responsible for the atom bomb are transported from the trinity site to modern day New Mexico. Learning about them and exploring their reactions to how their lives played out made for good reading. I found myself really caring about the characters. The only exception was Leo Szilard, who came across as a caricature.

I really liked it at the beginning, but it overstayed its welcome. As others have said, it could have been a really good 200 page novel. Instead, it
Darrell Reimer
Someone from Booklist has read Lydia Millet's Oh Pure And Radiant Heart and encourages would-be readers to “think Twain, Vonnegut, Murakami, and DeLillo.” Since I enjoyed the novel enough to finish it, I think I'm qualified to amend that list.

Twain: do not think Twain. Not even for a second. You're thinking “Twain” right now, and I'm telling you: no. Stop. Twain loved nothing more than, as the British punks say, “taking the piss.” Millet probably began her novel with the intention of taking the
Stacy Holmstedt
A book represents an investment in time. A 530-page novel is a lot of time for a slower reader like me, so I don't like finishing a long story with a sigh and a feeling of confused dissatisfaction. I've wanted to read this book for years and it started off captivatingly -- a librarian experiences a traumatic event, and suddenly starts seeing long-dead nuclear scientists roaming her hometown. Great premise. But then, the characters travel to Japan (using fake IDs) and the story sputters out. Pens ...more
Nov 01, 2011 Robin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cont-fiction
It has been a long time (Proust?) since I have savored the language of a novel to this degree. Not that it is on that level, but parts of it are gorgeous. Kind of more like a Marilynne Robinson novel. A quiet, meditative novel about nuclear physicists traveling through time from the 1950s to the 2000s and inspiring a cult and possibly the apocalypse.

Yes – that’s quite a tall order. And Millet pulls it off. And I am no science fiction fan. This is NOT your typical science fiction. In fact, it doe
I picked this up at a used book store on a visit to San Diego last year and just finished it yesterday. I REALLY wanted to like this book, but there was just too much introspective dialog. I could relate to Anne a bit with her insasate need to want to follow these scientist bc of the banal life she was leading in New Mexico. It was ultimately about her searching for purpose and perhaps adventure. She wanted to feel needed and part of something bigger than herself and her nucluer exsistance. I un ...more
Donovan Richards
In Appreciation of Beauty

Radiohead introduced the computer age with the masterpiece of a record, OK Computer. It balanced pop accessibility with complicated song structures and intricate production. The hit single, “Karma Police” defines everything about this record. It starts off as a beautiful, artistic piece of music; it strategically ends with the music falling apart. The point being, our identity becomes unhinged the more we let the computer run our lives. If we let, we might spiral out of
Matthew Peck
Dec 22, 2012 Matthew Peck rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
'Oh Pure and Radiant Heart' is a meditation on the irreversible changes to our world after the invention of the first atomic bomb. It's told in the form of a wacky road-trip story about Oppenheimer, Fermi, and Szilard spontaneously finding themselves transported from the spring of 1945 to the 21st century, having 'split off' from their other selves that lived through history and died. It's a credit to Lydia Millet's style that she can tell such a bizarre tale in a stately, dreamlike fashion, rat ...more
Aug 03, 2012 Stephanie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: writers, lovers of powerful fiction
Recommended to Stephanie by: the wonderful Telaina
Lydia Millet's book is one of the best I've read in the past year. It's beautifully written, smart, filled with the sense of the impermanence of existence, the frailty of our species, the beautiful foolishness of our attempts to tamper with Nature. It will make you think differently; it might make you weep. It has some amazingly beautiful lines and observations. The plot becomes fantastical at the end; you have to be willing to go on the journey with Millet, but it's a hell of a ride. Thanks, Te ...more
Sep 15, 2012 Sistermagpie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
I wouldn't say I actively disliked this book as a book, but halfway through I realized that whenever I got on the train to rain my spirits would sink knowing that I had only this book to read. The character I identified with most was the main character's husband, Ben, who spent a lot of time vaguely irritated at having to follow people around for vague reasons. The premise of three mid-20th century nuclear scientists appearing in 2003 sounded a bit troubling to me from the start (it just sounded ...more
Nov 17, 2012 Raventongue rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: Almost nobody.
Mother. Fucking. What. The first part of this novel was a solid 3.5 or 4 stars. It completely changes tone at what feels like exactly halfway through and becomes essentially a different book with vaguely related characters. Oh Pure and Radiant Heart segues over to bad fanfiction of itself. I resent myself for having continued to read it.(spoilers past this point)

What rocked about the first part:
Enrico frickin' Fermi. The bit where he goes, "There were secret police in Italy too. You don't scare
Perez Malone
May 19, 2013 Perez Malone rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
I loved the premise. The three men responsible for the atom bomb are transported from the trinity site to modern day New Mexico. Learning about them and exploring their reactions to how their lives played out made for good reading. I found myself really caring about the characters. The only exception was Leo Szilard, who came across as a caricature.

I really liked it at the beginning, but it overstayed its welcome. As others have said, it could have been a really good 200 page novel. Instead, it
May 28, 2014 Daryl rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I had never heard of Millet until recently, when I read that she was really great. So I picked up her acclaimed longish novel and sort of hated it from the beginning. It was a little hard to get into from the beginning. Once the premise began to unfold, I found it pretty appealing, but I didn't love the way she structured the book or her manner of writing.

The book is often a bit preachy, which I suppose is ok, but I felt like it could be done better. Often I thought the book felt like a mashup o
Justin Evans
Jul 15, 2014 Justin Evans rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
novels this ambitious (nuclear science + military-industrial complex + American religion), fascinating, imaginative (Oppenheimer, Fermi and Szilard come back from the dead!), and funny (great satire of the sun belt rich) don't come along all that often. They should be read when they do.

But, as everyone who has read this book has pointed out, OPRH could have been cut by a quarter without really losing much of anything. The problem is: which quarter do you cut?

* Some readers could do with a grea
Jon Frankel
Jan 30, 2015 Jon Frankel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lydia Millet’s gorgeous, tragic, Oh Pure and Radiant Heart begins with a dream, or a reverie: Ann has a vision of Robert Oppenheimer, kneeling in the desert and watching the first Trinity test. She awakens disturbed, unsure if what she dreamed was real. And so does Robert Oppenheimer, in present day Santa Fe. Soon the other two join him. Szilard, who was in Chicago on the day of the Trinity test, must travel to do so. What follows is the story of their encounter with our world and Ann’s, and her ...more
Todd Stockslager
Jun 09, 2015 Todd Stockslager rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I'm torn. The first 150 pages of this book is just about the best modern fiction crafting I've read, with perfectly tuned phrases on nearly every page. Then the last 330 pages take a direction with the odd plotting that, while well-written, just doesn't work for me.

Part of the problem is how to resolve what must be one of the more imaginative but bizarre plot setups in modern fiction: Leo Szilard, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Enrico Fermi, three of the main scientists responsible for America's ato
Bored to Death book club
For every book we read during the book club, one of our book club members will write a review. This way anyone who couldn't be there, can still join in with the fun! Our second review is ofOh Pure and Radiant Heart by Lydia Millet written by irene overbeeke.

(warning: this is not a review with a lot of depth, there’s no looking for several layers or drafts. It’s just a simple short impression of my primary thoughts on the book.)

The book starts with what seems to be a perfect marriage. Ann and Ben
Lauran Lansdon
Apr 15, 2016 Lauran Lansdon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I loved this book and it's so appropriately and beautifully titled as the book is about blind unquestioning devotion of love, science and religion. It's a very interesting premise - several scientist who were involved in the development of the atom bomb are transported from the Trinity test to current day (the author never really explained how this happened but I didn't really care as the book had so much more to offer than this technicality) only to realize the results of their efforts (blind d ...more
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Lydia Millet is the author of the novels Sweet Lamb of Heaven , Mermaids in Paradise , Ghost Lights (a New York Times Notable Book), Magnificence (finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize) and other books. Her story collection Love in Infant Monkeys was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. She lives outside Tucson, Arizona.
More about Lydia Millet...

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“It is not learning we need at all. Individuals need learning but the culture needs something else, the pulse of light on the sea, the warm urge of huddling together to keep out the cold. We need empathy, we need the eyes that still can weep.” 30 likes
“Beneath the violet pillar, in the vacuum before the roar of the cloud, there came a soft sound that might have been heard by those who listened closely: the gentle sigh of an idea unbound.” 8 likes
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