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Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb Paperback – December 1, 1994


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press (December 1, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226468887
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226468884
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,061,257 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The shadows that have obscured physicist Szilard (1898-1964) have, ironically, been cast by the monuments of the atomic age his work catalyzed: the Cold War, nuclear power and such icons as Robert Oppenheimer. In this comprehensive study, science writer Lanouette and Silard, the subject's brother, cast welcome light on the physicist's career and character. The Hungarian-born Szilard was at the epicenter of the Manhattan Project--indeed, he patented the first reactor design with Enrico Fermi--but his concern over the destructive uses of atomic power (and a degree of personal eccentricity) isolated him from the celebrity (and Nobel prizes) that came to other founding fathers of quantum physics. Though the authors' fine brushstrokes--such as their record of what the physicist and his brother ate for dinner one night in 1923--sometimes overwhelm their portrait of Szilard himself, readers will find Szilard to be a "curious and human character" whose engagement with his work and its consequences was so profound that it can make other figures of the era seem hollow. Photos not seen by PW .
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

The latest in a spate of Manhattan Project biographies, this reverent, admiring, and overly long study draws extensively on Szilard's own papers and the memories of his brother, Bela Silard. Szilard's most prominent accomplishments as a scientist were somewhat opaque; they remain so even after reading this book. Szilard was the first to predict the possibility of a controlled nuclear chain reaction, fundamental to making an atomic bomb. He also instigated--and drafted for his friend Einstein--the famous letter alerting FDR to the possibility of nuclear weapons from which the Manhattan Project arose. Szilard seems a strange man indeed: Unable to focus his energies or thoughts on any one project for more than a moment, he led a gypsy scholar life in which he lobbied for jobs and academic appointments and then turned them down or abandoned them; started thousands of research projects but never finished one; drafted scientific papers but never got around to publishing them; and courted a woman for 30 years before marrying her but never lived with her. Szilard had many friends in high places, but it is never clear exactly what they saw in him. Instead, his enigmatic personality remains tightly wrapped, even in this biography.
- Mark L. Shelton, Athens, Ohio
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 27, 1997
Format: Paperback
Leo Szilard's life is traced from his early childhood in Budapest, Hungary through his student days in Berlin; and the development of the first atomic reactor and bomb. Dealing openly with Szilard's ambitions, obsessions, and fears the book delves into the intriguing details of his intensely adventurous life. For example, the very day in 1933 Adolf Hitler became Chancellor, Szilard caught the last train out of Germany; saving his worldly possessions and himself from the hands of the Nazis. Szilard's pluck is revealed when in England, not having access to a laboratory, he borrows equipment and performs perhaps the first nuclear physics chain reaction experiments in his hotel room! Throughout the details of his evolving atomic theories and practical inventions is woven his love life. Because of his genius, vision, and high human values, Szilard is always regarded with suspicion; especially by the American military bureaucracy. Indeed, General Grove who oversees the United States atomic bomb project has it in for Szilard; and even tries to get him deported as an undesireable alien. This is the story of the man who not only ushered in atomic power into the 20th Century but maintained his individuality while doing so. A somewhat sad love story is woven through the fascinating history of Szilard's atomic power. Many classic photographs of Szilard at important and personal events accompany the very well organized text. Although not a literary masterpiece, this book is a biographical masterpiece and should be read by scholars and romantics alike
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 30, 2001
Format: Paperback
Anyone interested in Szilard, early 20th Century World History, the A-Bomb, or all of the above will find this book hard to put down. This biography is comprehensive, well-researched and properly kind to its subject. Dr. Szilard probably will never get enough credit for his genius and all his great ideas and achievements, but this book does him justice. He seems to come alive in this book, always several steps ahead of everyone else.
American culture's emphasis on individualism often ignores the more collaborative contributions such as Dr. Szilard's. An original, he both created and collaborated, and this book tells his story.
At times, I thought the author might have been over-stating some of Dr. Szilard's accompishments, but the story is otherwise well-done, and frankly, Dr. Szilard deserves a little promotion, so I didn't mind.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Raymond Gray on May 23, 2003
Format: Hardcover
"Never destroy what you cannot create" was one of Leo Szliard's codes of conduct. Books about unsung heros' of the scientific age are almost like novels. Nevertheless, great men seem to rise above dry biography if they had some esoteric ways. We have all read stacks of magazines and books about Albert Einstein to probe into all the details of what made him tick (in relative time, of course). Leo Szliard was a mental gypsy from the old world who saw the new world before most of the other "famous" thinkers of the 20th Century even opened their eyes. A must read for a knowledge foundation in enjoying the lifestyles of the Wise and Unusual.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 29, 1995
Format: Hardcover
Leo is one of my ultimate heros, and Bill Lanouette has
done what is in my mind, the perfect popular bio of a rocket
scientist. Knowing Leo's peripitatic life style, I can
only imagine the horrific amount of time and cunning it
took the author to get his research. Few books I go back
to more often, just for pure pleasure. And I met Leo when
I was but a wee sprout. Please. Don't miss this one.
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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful By M. Macala on May 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
OK if you want to learn something about Szilard, but pretty boring. Took me 6 months to get through it ...
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