SOMETHING INCREDIBLY WONDERFUL HAPPENS by K.C. Cole is 380 pages long. The pages are good quality bright white paper, not beige newspaper-type paper. There are no photographs or diagrams, aside from photos of Mr. Oppenheimer on the front cover and the author (with reflection of Mr. Oppenheimer) on the back cover. Excellent source documentation is found, as the section on footnotes and bibliography is lengthy (pages 328-380).
The book is a biography of Frank Oppenheimer, younger brother of the reknowned Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atomic bomb. The narrative begins with Frank's childhood in New York, where he found an interest in art and flute playing. We learn of his undergraduate years (1930-1933) at Johns Hopkins University, and graduate years at Cal Tech to study physics. We learn of Frank's interest in communism (pages 46-50) and consequent extended scrutiny by the FBI (pages 75-127, 139). In effect, this scrutiny came to an end when Frank finally succeeded in securing a full-time research position at the University of Colorado in 1959 and eventual promotion to full professor in 1964 and attainment of professor emeritus in 1979 (pages 128-147). We learn of Frank's contribution to the atomic bomb effort, where he supervised the refinement of U235 from U238, and calculations of radioactive clouds, which involved working in Pittsburgh, Oak Ridge, and Los Alamos (pages 51-65).
Frank easily obtained a faculty position at the University of Minnesota, where he made discoveries in particle physics with high-altitude experiments using balloons (pages 76-92). But Frank was eventually fired in 1949 and subjected to inquisitions from HUAC and the FBI. Frank went into exile as a rancher in rural Colorado, funded at least in part by selling his family's paintings by Van Gough and Picasso (page 103-116), and eventually gained the trust of his neighbors. Frank took a high school teaching job and acquired a reputation for producing high-quality students. As mentioned above, Frank eventually made his way back to the University (Univ. of Colorado) where this was aided by letters of recommendation from a number of physicists who continue to be "household words," e.g., Hans Bethe and George Gamow (page 130). As it turned out, Frank's interests turned to science teaching, and he received two Guggenheims for funding visits to science museums in Europe (page 141).
Thus, up to this point, the book conctains plenty of INTRIGUE, as the narrative concerns atomic bombs, communists, spies, high-altitude balloons landing in weird places around the world, Picasso and Van Gough paintings, and exile in a remote spot in Colorado.
1968 marked a big turning point for Frank, as he formed a board of directors for initiating a science museum in San Francisco, later called the Exploratorium (page 151). The rest is history. The rest of the book concerns the development and funding of the Exploratorium (page 151-321).
The following concerns the literary style. The reader is provided with amusing or perceptive details that place you right at the side of Mr.Oppenheimer. These details include the "burns from forgotten cigarettes" in Frank's desk (page 9), Frank's habit of "bobbing his head back and forth like Howdy Doody" (page 10), and the notion that "he was like Tom Sawyer in a business suit." (page 10). We learn of Frank's philosophy for setting up the Exploratorium, e.g., "no one flunks a museum" (page 17), and that "He hated how science education promoted the myth of the collective right answer." (page 170). We learn an amusing fact about Frank's graduate years where, eager to make new discoveries, believed that he'd discovered new spectral lines, but that it was actually an artifact due to his eyes failing to focus properly in the dark (page 41). We learn of a difference between Frank (stood at the fringe) and Robert (center of any group) (page 44). The following is still another fun fact that transports the reader to the very moment in history--this is the story that management at Los Alamos placed actors in taverns in Santa Fe to engage in dialogues about "electric rockets" in order to initiate rumors, thereby preventing the townsfolk from suspecting that the project was actually about bombs (page 56).
This book will be of especial interest to: (1) Folks who live in the San Francisco Bay area and have been to the Exploratorium; (2) People interested in older brother Robert Oppenheimer, and wanting a better-rounded view of the Oppenheimer family; and (3) Science museum directors and dedicated science teachers.
If there is any criticism to make, I would have liked to see a reproduction of the Acheson-Lilienthal plan (page 70), perhaps in an Appendix. Also, Chapter Four uses the literary technique of starting out with a reproduction of a letter, perhaps a couple of other chapters should start with the same technique. FIVE STARS.