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J. Robert Oppenheimer: And the American Century Hardcover – Bargain Price, August 20, 2004

3.8 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

With a host of high quality biographies already written about Oppenheimer, one would think there isn't much need for yet another. Hofstra University professor Cassidy (Uncertainty: The Life and Science of Werner Heisenberg) has, however, crafted a book that addresses critical issues about the relationship between science and public policy. While he focuses on Oppenheimer, Cassidy does a superb job of examining how theoretical physics came of age in America during the early part of the 20th century and how many of the country's greatest scientists permitted science to be subsumed by a military-industrial complex more interested in the direct benefits of applied research than in the possible future benefits of pure research. The issue, as Cassidy presents it, is not so much why Oppenheimer and his fellow scientists built the atomic bomb. It is, rather, how they lost control of the next generation of nuclear weapons while being marginalized from critical political discussions about international arms control and how they were turned into technicians by governmental insiders interested in stifling all voices diverging from the dominant political paradigm. Oppenheimer is shown to have been a brilliant, complex and troubled individual whose personal failings helped shape the way science and government have interacted ever since. As Cassidy points out, the similarities between some aspects of current events and the way Oppenheimer's reputation was destroyed in the 1950s are chilling.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Scientific American

The "American Century" was a concept put forward in 1941 by publisher Henry Luce, who declared that in the years ahead the U.S. 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." The eminent theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, as director of the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb, had much to do with forging the alliance between science and government that contributed greatly to the realization of Luce's concept. Cassidy, professor in the natural sciences program at Hofstra University, covers this ground admirably in his thoughtful biography of Oppenheimer. Telling the story against a background of the events of the time, he takes Oppenheimer from a cosseted childhood through his distinguished career as a scientist and science administrator to disgrace in 1954 when the Atomic Energy Commission withdrew his security clearance after politicized hearings on his loyalty and leftist affiliations. "The Oppenheimer case," Cassidy writes, "cast in stark relief the subservient position imposed on civilian research, especially physics, during the darkest days of the Cold War. It was not primarily about Oppenheimer as an individual but about the existence of free inquiry in a 'garrison state,' and what role a scientific adviser might have within a system of militarized science beyond providing weapons of ever greater destructive power."

Editors of Scientific American --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • ISBN-10: 0131479962
  • ASIN: B000IOF2VU
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6.5 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #11,891,302 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jeffrey Teich on August 17, 2005
Format: Hardcover
How does one trump a tour de force? Not easily. I greatly admired Cassidy's biography of Heisenberg in which he displayed great sensitivity for his subject, his work, and his times, not an easy task for the complex world of early quantum physics held against the backdrop of Germany's self-destruction. I therefore approached Oppenheimer and the American Century with gusto. Unfortunately, Cassidy has a `problem with Oppenheimer which he did not have with Heisenberg; he detests the man. Consequently, his book contains a disoncerting assortment of irritated criticism and faint praise.

Cassidy takes Oppenehimer to task on a number of points: That he was a snob, that he was fickle, that he was aloof, that he was cowardly, and that he failed to realize his potential as a physicist, to name a few. In fact, Oppenheimer only succeeds after he has been skewered at the hands of the Gray committee. He then enters- and only just- Cassidy's hagiography. Moreover, Cassidy holds Oppenheimer to modern academic standards which include a healthy disdain for government in all its manifold guises. For example, while it may be fair to criticize Oppenheimer for not having been more vociferously opposed to the H-bomb, can Cassidy really fault him for having run the Mnahattan project at a time when Hitlerism threatened to engulf the world? Is it fair to assume that the war against Japan could have been won without the A bombs and still have avoided staggering losses?

Cassidy also minimizes the fear generated by Stalin's usurpation of all eastern European governments save Yugoslavia. He has ostensibly forgotten that Stalin was a bona fide madman who had eliminated at least 20 million of his own people.
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Format: Hardcover
The life of J. Robert Oppenheimer is one of great mystery and fascination. His role in the development of the atomic bomb and his subsequent role in shaping America's nuclear policy, as well as his rise and fall during McCarthy has been the subject of countless books. David Cassidy, Hofstra University professor, has written an excellent account of Oppenheimer's life and the development of theoretical physics in America during the early part of the 20th century. The parallelism between the life of Oppenheimer and the rise of American science is an intriguing tale that is captured in this book.

This biography is a detailed and beautifully written work. Cassidy expands beyond the traditional scope of a biography and expertly explores the surrounding environment that shaped Oppenheimer's life. He draws upon previously untapped primary documents, and shows the importance and character of Oppenheimer's early education on the rest of his life. Cassidy examines the conflicts between Oppenheimer's liberal education from the Ethical Culture School and the culture that he found at Harvard. Oppenheimer's time in Europe is also recounted.

The book does not become overly focused on the Manhattan Project, but covers the time on "The Hill" in enough detail to keep the story in context. He instead offers insights to the periods before the war, when Oppenheimer taught at Berkeley and Cal Tech. Oppenheimer's genius and ability to inspire his students is shown, allowing us to gain insight into the man before the events that would be the foundation of his legacy.

The 1954 Atomic Energy Commission security review that disgraced Oppenheimer, and stripped him of his security clearance for alleged "red ties," are explored with the same thoughtful insight. Recent documents and information regarding those events are thoroughly and conclusively discussed.

Oppenheimer: and the American Century is a welcome addition to the history of science. (by atomicarchive.com)
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In 'J. Robert Oppenheimer and the American Century', acclaimed biographer and writer David C. Cassidy (Author of the highly readable 'Uncertainty: The life and science of Werner Heisenberg') spins a riveting and extremely interesting tale which puts this great man in context, in the middle of a century that witnessed great upheavals. In these, he was the observer as well as the participant. The most striking general scientific paradigm of the century, apart from the revolutions that were breathing new life into the fabric of the cosmos and of life, was the beginning of 'big science'. It was also the beginning of the 'American century' as we know it, spurred on by the advent of science and technology, and the fortuitous happenstances that the unfortunate act of war brought upon this country. People like Oppenheimer were right in the middle of this prophetic change. Although this particular subject with specific reference to Oppenheimer has been tackled in a disconnected way in many of his other biographies and books, Cassidy is probably the first one to weave the man and his times together into a coherent and insightful whole. In many ways, Oppenheimer defines the scientific and moral personality at the heart of those times. In a way, 'Science' and 'Morality', both in a general way provide a good description of the time that was the twentieth century.

Growing up in New York, Robert attended the Ethical Culture School, a school whose strikingly moral looking philosophy believed in the inherent importance of ethics and the noble constraints of morality aimed at the betterment of mankind, independent of creed and religion. However, this institution was torn between the dictums of morality and the callings of practicality when war broke out in Europe.
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