J. Robert Oppenheimer: And the American Century

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9780131479968: J. Robert Oppenheimer: And the American Century

The unexplored secret of the American Century, the last 100 years of UShistory, is the rise of American science, specifically physics. At the heart of thatstory is J. Robert Oppenheimer, leader of the Manhattan Project that built theatomic bomb. He was a man of contradictions: a scientist who discovered blackholes and then turned his back on cutting edge research; a gentle liberalhumanist responsible for the creation of the first real weapon of massdestruction; a genius who founded "scientific militarism" and then let it destroyhim. His life story embodies the great conflicts of American society, its genius,its weaknesses, and even its essential morality.How did an aesthete man uninterested in the acquisition of power become theleader of American science, the most powerful research community in theworld? And how did he, with all his intellectual and social advantages, lose hispower and become regarded by many as an unfulfilled if not failed scientist.While it is biography of a physicist, it is also a history of the 20th centuryoffering insights into the "scientific militarism" behind events on the worldstage today.

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From the Back Cover:

"David Cassidy has done it again. Employing the insight and skill that made his Heisenberg biography so widely read and honored, Cassidy's new book breaks new ground, by explaining Oppenheimer's rise and fall as an important part of the social, cultural, and political turmoil of America's twentieth-century."

—Gerald Holton, Mallinckrodt Research Professor of Physics and Research Professor of the History of Science, Harvard University

"Cassidy presents a comprehensive and engaging account of the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, a pivotal figure in twentieth-century physics. An excellent work of biography, scientific narrative, and historical perspective. This book is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the deep relationships between science, politics, and culture in the United States."

Fred Adams, University of Michigan, author of Our Living Multiverse and The Five Ages of the Universe

"A most impressive achievement. Cassidy presents an informative, thoughtful, and very readable biography of this important, complex individual. In addition he has succeeded in giving an insightful, convincing account of Oppenheimer's actions by placing his life and work in the context of the scientific militarism that was to provide the United States with some of the means to guarantee its security—a militarism that Oppenheimer helped shape and that eventually crushed him. This book is an important work that sets new standards for scientific biography."

—Silvan S. Schweber, Professor of Physics and Koret Professor of the History of Ideas, Emeritus, Brandeis University, and Senior Research Associate, History of Recent Science and Technology, Dibner Institute, MIT

"A 'must read' for anyone interested in the development of the modern era of 'big science.' Cassidy skillfully brings to us a deep understanding of the character of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the leader of the Manhattan Project and one of the most complex and seemingly contradictory individuals of the twentieth-century."

--Gregory Tarle, Professor of Physics, University of Michigan

J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man who led the Manhattan Project that built the atomic bomb and ended World War II, forged the alliance between science and government that made the American Century possible. David C. Cassidy's much anticipated, richly detailed, magisterial biography is not merely the life story of a brilliant physicist, it tells the hidden story of the political and social forces shaping the world in our time: the rise of American science.

In 1941, before Germany failed to build an atomic weapon, and the United States succeeded, Life published Henry R. Luce's essay "The American Century." It proclaimed that America was not at war simply to defeat the Axis powers. The United States must "exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purpose as we see fit and by such means as we see fit." Cassidy reveals such confidence, and the success of the Manhattan Project itself, were essentially by products of the rise of American science driven by burgeoning industrial prosperity and a kind of national devotion to the pursuit of knowledge. While Cassidy illuminates Oppenheimer's genius for inspiring his students and colleagues to attack and ultimately solve the hardest scientific problems of the age, he also takes the reader to the 1954 Atomic Energy Commission Security review that disgraced Oppenheimer, stripped him of his security clearance for alleged "red ties," and captured headlines across the nation. Documents that have only recently come to light regarding those ties are thoroughly and conclusively examined.

Oppenheimer, the eldest son of an aristocratic Jewish family living on the Upper West Side of New York City, attended the secular, progressive, and elite Ethical Culture School. Cassidy, building his narrative on previously untapped primary documents, shows the importance and character of Oppenheimer's early education. The liberal values he absorbed there ran counter to the culture he found at Harvard, whose president sought to foster a future managerial elite, the rulers of the new American society. These formative contrasts in values explain Oppenheimer's many seeming contradictions. Why did the scientist who correctly theorized black holes turn his back on cutting edge research? How did a gentle liberal humanist become responsible for the creation of the first real weapon of mass destruction? How could a brilliant mind like his virtually found "scientific militarism" and then let it destroy him?

Cassidy opens up a life story that is emblematic of the transformation of America over the last three generations. It offers, as the best history can, an insight into the future technological and moral progress of a nation.


Copyright Pearson Education. All rights reserved.

About the Author:

Dr. David C. Cassidy is a Professor in the Natural Science Program at Hofstra University, and has been Chair of the Section for History and Philosophy of Science of the New York Academy of Sciences. He served for seven years as Associate Editor of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein and has been an editorial consultant for the collected works of Heisenberg, Bohr and Pauli. His book, Uncertainty: The Life and Science of Werner Heisenberg has been widely acclaimed and translated into five foreign languages. He has been awarded the American Institute of Physics Science Writing Award and the Pfizer Award of the History of Science Society. He is also the author of Einstein and our World and wrote the introduction to Scientists at War: The Farm Hall Transcripts edited by J. Bernstein. He lives on Long Island in New York.


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