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

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

Author: Kai Bird, Martin J. Sherwin
Publisher: Vintage Books
Copyright: 2005
Pages: 725
Cover Price: $ 20.00

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American Prometheus is the first full-scale biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atomic bomb, the brilliant, charismatic physicist who led the effort to capture the awesome fire of the sun 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 twentieth century, the embodiment of modern man confronting the consequences of scientific progress

He was the author of a radical proposal to place international controls over atomic materials - an idea that is still relevant today. He opposed the development of the hydrogen bomb and criticized the Air Force's plans to fight an infinitely dangerous nuclear war. In the now almost-forgotten hysteria of the early 1950s, his ideas were anathema to powerful advocates of a massive nuclear buildup, and, in response, Atomic Energy Commission chairman Lewis Strauss, Superbomb advocate Edward Teller and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover worked behind the scenes to have a hearing board find that Oppenheimer could not be trusted with America's nuclear secrets.

American Prometheus is an evocation of America at mid-century, a new and compelling portrait of a brilliant, ambitious, complex and flawed man profoundly connected to its major events - the Depression, World War II and the Cold War. It is at once biography and history, and essential to our understanding of our recent past - and of our choices for the future.

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Background Information

J. Robert Oppenheimer was the chief scientific adminstrator during the Manhattan Project and later the victim of suspicions against all those with politically questionable friends. The first and next-to-last use of atomic weapons in warfare was the dropping of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, in August 1945. The hydrogen bomb, utilizing the energy of atomic fusion rather than fission, is vastly more powerful than the bombs dropped on Japan at the end of the second World War. Edward Teller was a fervent advocate of the hydrogen bomb development after World War II and later was equally strong in favor of nuclear power. J. Edgar Hoover was the first director of the FBI and remained in the post for the rest of his life, acquiring enormous and possibly corrupt power. The Cold War was the worldwide conflict between the western democracies and Communist states, particularly the USSR.