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Robert Oppenheimer: A Life Inside the Center…
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Robert Oppenheimer: A Life Inside the Center (original: 2012; edição: 2014)

de Ray Monk (Autor)

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2033103,181 (4.05)1
An exploration of the enigma of Robert Oppenheimer's life and personality and his contributions to the revolution in twentieth-century physics.
Membro:CFlinn
Título:Robert Oppenheimer: A Life Inside the Center
Autores:Ray Monk (Autor)
Informação:Anchor (2014), 880 pages
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Robert Oppenheimer: Inside the Centre de Ray Monk (2012)

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I’ve been torn about how to rate and review Ray Monk’s biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer. I learned a great deal from it, including the evolution of modern physics and details of Oppenheimer’s hearing that lead to his security clearance being stripped. It also led me down the path to think about the bigger picture: education, morality and justice. However, there was a definite tabloid journalism feel whenever Monk ventured beyond the physical sciences. Passing along innuendo and making unsubstantiated guesses at what other people thought really bothered me. And while Monk started me down the path to thinking about the bigger things, he never really sounded the klaxon himself. If I hadn’t brought a background to the table, I think I would have been lost.

Oppenheimer as an individual intrigued me. I relished his Renaissance approach to life. He wasn’t just a physicist, but he studied languages, read poetry and fiction, followed philosophy and religion and politics. One of his mentors at the University of Utrecht played the cello. Today’s focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and the downplaying and defunding of music and liberal arts threatens our humanity.

I think a classical education is important to understanding the world about us. Throughout history, humanity’s technology has alway outstripped its advances in morality. Without an appreciation for what differentiates us from machines, e.g. our art, literature, music, and so forth, we can never humanely use the tools we create. This is especially true of the weapons we make. Oppenheimer was called a traitor or subversive for even thinking that the Hydrogen bomb was only a weapon of genocide, something that had no military value except to create massive death. The original atom bomb paled in comparison. But free thought, speech and association, cherished on paper by the US, were all but missing in practice.

Monk also taught me a great deal about universities in the early 20th century. Many graduate students and professors could move about relatively freely, spending a year here, a few years there, especially when they were young and sough after. Oppenheimer helped create an American school of physics, gathering great minds from Europe and mentoring new homegrown talent who then spread across the nation’s universities. Within a generation, US-born and educated physicists were making groundbreaking discoveries. Oppenheimer also worked with his students, co-authoring papers and including them in cutting edge research.

But, Monk noted anti-Communist which hunts that got people fired and kept others from getting hired or receiving tenure. Happily, my alma mater, the University of Rochester, stood up against one such anticommunist witch hunt in 1949. Instead of heeding public calls and firing an assistant professor who had been accused of communist sympathies, they promoted him. Monk notes that the University displayed "a moral steadfastness that was all too rare during these troubled times" (p. 557).

Monk certainly covered a lot of material in 695 pages, plus 72 pages of notes and 22 pages of bibliography. He included a lot but it sometimes reminded me of reading Wikipedia. Monk would tell me a little about X, then switch to Y, then Z, back to X and maybe off to R for a little bit. He would always close the loop and finish all his open thought threads, but I felt like I was mentally bouncing all over the place at times. This was more prominent in the first three parts of the book. The final part, which covered his life after the end of World War II until his death, seemed more focused. I wonder if this was his core part of the book that he then grew into the larger opus.

I wish he delved deeper into Oppenheimer’s wife and children, who are mentioned only in passing and often in a derogatory manner without substantiation or elucidation. Also, he should have had a stronger critique of the red scare and its impact. I applaud Monk for unveiling the way the scare itself was used by unscrupulous people to wage their personal feuds at the expensive of others. But he never really talked about how circumscribed American rights were at this time.

In the end, I gave the book three stars and would say that it s a good history of physics and a solid jumping off point on Oppenheimer. Many have recommended Kai Bird & Martin Sherwin’s biography, American Prometheus: The Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer. These two books, along with Hans Bethe’s essays The Road from Los Alamos and Jay Feldman’s Manufacturing Hysteria: A History of Scapegoating, Surveillance, and Secrecy in Modern America might be a great way to further study on Oppenheimer and these times. ( )
  drew_asson | Dec 3, 2020 |
The biography to read if you want to understand Oppenheimer as a
scientist. Excellent background on how he was shaped by the events
and people around him. ( )
  Steve_Walker | Sep 13, 2020 |
An interesting read but not as good as [b:American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer|80571|American Prometheus The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer|Kai Bird|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348493895s/80571.jpg|1932215] by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin ( )
  KarenDuff | Jun 1, 2016 |
Exibindo 3 de 3
Oppenheimer was above all a good soldier. That is why he worked so well with General Groves, and that is why Groves trusted him. I have a vivid memory of the ice-cold February day in 1967 when we held a memorial service for Oppenheimer at Princeton. Because of the extreme cold, attendance at the service was sparse. But General Groves, old and frail, came all the way from his home to pay his respects to his friend.
 
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J. Robert Oppenheimer, his friend Isidor Rabi once remarked, was 'a man who was put together of many bright shining splinters', who 'never got to be an integrated personality'.
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An exploration of the enigma of Robert Oppenheimer's life and personality and his contributions to the revolution in twentieth-century physics.

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