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Inside The Centre: The Life of J. Robert Oppenheimer Hardcover – 15 Nov 2012
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"An extraordinarily rich biography, superbly researched and written with impressive clarity." (The Times)
"You don't need to know your quantum physics to be gripped by Monk's doorstop study of the momentous life of J Robert Oppenheimer… Monk serves his subject well by sparing us neither the worst nor the best in him." (Ed Caesar Sunday Times)
"Superlative." (Boyd Tonkin Independent)
"[A] fine biography... Oppenheimer has already been served well by biographers. However, Monk here takes the scholarship to a new level." (BBC History Magazine)
A story of discovery, secrecy, impossible choices and unimaginable destruction: Robert Oppenheimer, his life and the first atomic bomb.See all Product description
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For me the prinicipal initial attraction was to find out more about the Manhattan Project and his role in it.
However, the book is so much more than that. For example, much of the early part of the book is spent on Oppenheimer's sense of alienation due to his Jewishness. I knew about his attempt at murder while at Cambridge and am left none the wiser about this event, surprisingly so given the exhaustive treatment of other aspects of his life. It seems to be something for which no rational explanation is possible.
A major focus of the book is on the events of 1954 and what is described as his humiliation following removal of his security clearance. The brief conversation with his friend and colleague Chevalier is at the core of this. I found the break in the narrative in the middle of the book dealing with subsequent security matters too much and confess to skipping page after page in eagerness to find out about the progress at Los Alamos. Oppenheimer's untruthful account of the conversation with Chevalier is portrayed as every bit as mysterious as the poisoned apple incident but I think can be rationalised thus: 1. he should have reported it right away but did not to protect his friend. 2. When later asked about it he still wanted to protect Chevalier and saw the necessity of alerting the security services about the Russian agent Eltenton. 3. He got trapped in his own web of deceit by embellishing the story.
This view of events which explains what is otherwise weird and bewildering does not seem to be considered in this book which I find surprising. If it is included in the pages I skipped then I am extremely embarrassed!
It is an odd thing that such a brilliant man of independent mind should be susceptible to things characteristic of the age like his ultimately fatal addiction to smoking and the then fashionable espousal of left wing politics.
Maybe the best compliment I can pay the author is my eagerness to find out more about the man and his time.
What I really like about this book: the author puts over in easy understandable lingo, how the bomb works; if you like physic's, this is the book for you.
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