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American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer (2005)

de Kai Bird, Martin J. Sherwin

Outros autores: Alfred Eisenstaedt (Cover photograph)

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2,589465,757 (4.28)84
Biography & Autobiography. History. Nonfiction. HTML:THE INSPIRATION FOR THE MAJOR MOTION PICTURE OPPENHEIMER ? "A riveting account of one of history??s most essential and paradoxical figures.???Christopher Nolan, Director
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER ? PULITZER PRIZE WINNER ? The definitive biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer, one of the iconic figures of the twentieth century, a brilliant physicist who led the effort to build the atomic bomb for his country in a time of war, and who later found himself confronting the moral consequences of scientific progress.
In this magisterial, acclaimed biography twenty-five years in the making, Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin capture Oppenheimer??s life and times, from his early career to his central role in the Cold War. This is biography and history at its finest, riveting and deeply informative.
??A masterful account of Oppenheimer??s rise and fall, set in the context of the turbulent decades of America??s own transformation. It is a tour de force.? ??Los Angeles Times Book Review
??A work of voluminous scholarship and lucid insight, unifying its multifaceted portrait with a keen grasp of Oppenheimer??s essential nature.... It succeeds in deeply fathoming his most damaging, self-contradictory
… (mais)
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Who looks for some scientific popularisation will be disappointed. There is virtually no physics here, except for a historical take of what brought Oppenheimer where he was - at the head of the atomic bomb project - in the early Fourties. The great achievement of this biography lies rather in the exploration of the implications of Oppenheimer's triumphs and defeats for society at large.

'One scientist had been excommunicated, but all scientists were now on notice that there could be serious consequences for those who challenged State policies' (Chapter 37)

Indeed, a lot of pages and effort are spent in the effort to document Bird's stance on what Oppenheimer's farce Security Clearance confirmation hearing meant for the role of the scientist in Twentieth Century's American society: are people of knowledge supposed to limit their contribution to technical support of the current State policy, or do they have the right - and responsibility - to help determine what uses of their work are legitimate or not? Also, should a Nation only trust politically orthodox experts, or should they welcome contributions from a wide range of points of view, and respect the right of their citizens to hold - or have held in the past - extreme and discordant views and still take part to the active political and intellectual life of their Country? Finally, is strict security or a politic of "candour" with the public and with foreign powers more effective in avoiding war and destruction? Bird concludes that, whatever the answers to these questions, Oppenheimer's ordeal was the final indictment of Roosevelt's liberal America by McCarthist politics of extreme conservatism, and that it brought with it the fall of the 'messianic scientist' from the pedestal where WWII's had put them, largely through Oppenheimer's team achievements at Los Alamos. I am not sure whether Los Alamos was an achievement at all, or whether it was Oppenheimer who quasi-singlehandedly brought all this to life, but the case is made convinvingly. I will need to read more on the subject, and to hear different opinions.
Interestingly enough, the great shift in the image of the Scientist in 1950s' America, largely due to the publication of the conclusions of Oppenheimer's confirmation board (at least this is what the book states), resonates with good ol' Geddafi's Green Book, where he argues that, as members of a profession don't meddle into the way in which other professions go about their business, so journalists and scientists should not be allowed to meddle into the way politicians and the Government go about THEIR business.
I leave the conclusions to y'all, about this one.
The same approach is to be found in the treatment of the Los Alamos project: the focus is on the political power balance, and on the accurately documented shift between the real reasons for the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan, and the propaganda. Bird chillingly reminds us of how Japan was actively looking for surrender in the weeks that preceded Hirosima's and Nagasaki's bombings, and of how the new U.S.A. administration was more interested in flexing with the Russians - who were still America's allies - than in pondering the legitimacy of using on Japanese civilians a bomb that had been hurriedly built to stop the Nazis from using it first. The confusion and disarray in which this shift - from stopping the Nazis, to bombing random civilians in a defeated country - threw Los Alamos' scientific community is a sight to behold; not to mention Oppenheimer's ambiguities, contradictions and weaknesses. It is a historical fact that he looked at the bombings with malcelated pride and nostalgia for all the rest of his life, while trying to come to terms with his responsibilities as Father of the Bomb; and we are left wondering how much ambition and vanity, rather than a sense of responsibility and guilt, were involved in shaping Oppenheimer's positions and campaigns for his continued involvement in deciding atomic policy after the war.
Quite transparently, the whole narration of Oppenheimer's life builds up from his very infancy towards the climax of the confirmation hearing, an ominous shadow hanging over a luminous life path. In doing so, Bird manages to highlight at the same time Oppenheimer's personal fragility and strength in both his public and private lives; the way he managed to adapt many of his deep character shortcomings to circumstances, while never really freeing himself of them, or of his deep insecurities and vanity; and his brilliance with its vast reach and similarly vast limits. He paints the portrait of a person who was nearly superhuman and yet endearing, relatable, vaguely deranged and infuriating at the same time - as we all are, when looked at by extremely close. ( )
1 vote Elanna76 | May 2, 2024 |
A behemoth of a biography -- and the backstory of how it was written is almost as compelling of the story itself. One of the few instances where the seeing the film actually helps visualize the action in the book, but there's so so so much more to the tale. A very satisfying read. ( )
  mblxv | Mar 26, 2024 |
I finished this just in time for the Oscars. It’s the basis of the best picture winner “Oppenheimer” & I loved seeing the way the book was adapted to become a film. This is a long in-depth biography, but he was a complicated man. It was also a perfect nonfiction read for New Mexico. The authors did an excellent job diving into the history of the making of the atomic bomb and Oppenheimer’s role in the saga. I wouldn’t read it again but it was good. ( )
  bookworm12 | Mar 11, 2024 |
I don't understand the value of exonerating the lesser communist accusations of a mass murderer. I don't care if he walked into the Kremlin and handed over the blueprints on a plate. I care that he knew it would be used on civilians and repeatedly said he didn't regret working on it afterwards. This is the most thoroughly researched book I've ever read, with a book-length bibliography & cited sources at the end. But it seems to have elevated the mystique of what I can only classify as a genocidist. To their credit, there are copious citations of why the bomb wasn't required to end the war, and everyone knew it. But most focuses on the communism. Not sure how to rate this book.
  lneukirch | Feb 4, 2024 |
A true work of art. Bird and Sherwin take on the monumental task of understanding the life and times of easily the most important man in his century. Not one character who enters the fray here is overlooked, not in their own personal history or how theirs affected the man's.

The book is not overly scientific and still manages to educate on the topic of quantum theory. It's also quite a history of the lurches in scientific understanding over time, and the men behind them.

But the most wildly interesting component of the narrative is the politics: Oppenheimer's, the country's, and the world's. Not many of us will have our individual ethics challenged so severely as did Oppenheimer. But the cautionary tale still rings loudly for personal ethics as a driving force in life, and the consequences for making a stand; or the consequences for not making a stand when necessary. Oppenheimer falls on both ends of that spectrum, as a testament to the complexity of his character.

The book is deeply personal, and doesn't read at all like a cold, dry history. This should be mandatory reading for everyone in school. Sadly, this is a story not everyone wants told. Forget Barbie - case the time to start reading this book.

Highly Recommended!!!!!
5 bones!!!!! ( )
  blackdogbooks | Dec 3, 2023 |
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Bird, Kaiautor principaltodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Sherwin, Martin J.autor principaltodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Eisenstaedt, AlfredCover photographautor secundáriotodas as ediçõesconfirmado
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Modern Prometheans have raided Mount Olympus again and have brought back for man the very thunderbolts of Zeus.
-- Scientific Monthly
September 1945
Prometheus stole fire and gave it to men. But when Zeus learned of it, he ordered Hephaestus to mail his body to Mount Caucasus. On it Prometheus was nailed and kept bound for many years. Every day an eagle swooped on him and devoured the lobes of his liver, which grew by night.

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Robert Oppenheimer's life -- his career, his reputation, even his sense of self-worth -- suddenly spun out of control four days before Christmas in 1953.
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Biography & Autobiography. History. Nonfiction. HTML:THE INSPIRATION FOR THE MAJOR MOTION PICTURE OPPENHEIMER ? "A riveting account of one of history??s most essential and paradoxical figures.???Christopher Nolan, Director
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER ? PULITZER PRIZE WINNER ? The definitive biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer, one of the iconic figures of the twentieth century, a brilliant physicist who led the effort to build the atomic bomb for his country in a time of war, and who later found himself confronting the moral consequences of scientific progress.
In this magisterial, acclaimed biography twenty-five years in the making, Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin capture Oppenheimer??s life and times, from his early career to his central role in the Cold War. This is biography and history at its finest, riveting and deeply informative.
??A masterful account of Oppenheimer??s rise and fall, set in the context of the turbulent decades of America??s own transformation. It is a tour de force.? ??Los Angeles Times Book Review
??A work of voluminous scholarship and lucid insight, unifying its multifaceted portrait with a keen grasp of Oppenheimer??s essential nature.... It succeeds in deeply fathoming his most damaging, self-contradictory

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