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Robert Oppenheimer: His Life and Mind (A Life Inside the Center) Hardcover – May 14, 2013


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Product Details

  • Series: A Life Inside the Center
  • Hardcover: 848 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (May 14, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385504071
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385504072
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.7 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #483,879 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Robert Oppenheimer believed that “when we are blind to the evil in ourselves, we dehumanize ourselves.” In this deeply humanizing biography, Monk invites readers to contemplate the unexpected evil—and good—in the man known as “the father of the A-bomb.” Though he acknowledges debts to Bird and Sherwin’s American Prometheus (2005), Thorpe’s Oppenheimer(2006), and Pais’ J. Robert Oppenheimer (2006), Monk delves deeper than any predecessor into Oppenheimer’s inner life, not his historical or political circumstances. By diving deep into that turbid inner life, readers learn that in confessing that as a Manhattan Project scientist, he had “known sin,” Oppenheimer was expressing regret for intellectual pride, not guilt for the deaths at Hiroshima. Sustained probing also exposes the character defects that made Oppenheimer vulnerable to McCarthy-era charges of disloyalty and that later made him a divisive director of the Institute for Advanced Study. Deep in Oppenheimer’s psyche, Monk finds festering frustration at not having attained the stature of Einstein and Bohr. But readers may marvel at such frustration, given Oppenheimer’s immense achievements as a pioneer in probing the heart of atoms and of black holes. Perceptive and detailed, this portrait illuminates a potent but complex mind. --Bryce Christensen

Review

"[Monk] writes well and provides a convincing portrait of Oppie’s success and his ambivalence after the bombs were dropped on Japan. Monk gives equally detailed coverage of the postwar years of Oppenheimer’s national celebrity, followed by a gathering storm over his past and his questioning of the H-bomb ... Monk’s biography is judicious, comprehensive and reliable, and bids fair to become one of the two most important lives of Oppenheimer. It certainly puts science back squarely in the middle of that life."Washington Post

“It's not just brilliant, original and the best biography of Oppenheimer to date, it's epic. Also totally gripping and immensely satisfying. I didn't want it to end! I've read so much about Oppenheimer, but this is the first time I felt I understood why what happened to him happened.”   
Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind and Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius 
 
“The inspired philosophical biographer of Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell now turns his attention to the nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer and the profound human dilemmas of American science and the atomic bomb. This is an eagerly awaited and important book which will explore new boundaries in the writing of biography itself.”
—Richard Holmes, author of The Age of Wonder

"In this deeply humanizing biography, Monk invites readers to contemplate the unexpected evil—and good—in the man known as the "father of the A-bomb." ... Monk delves deeper than any predecessor into Oppenheimer's inner life ... perceptive and detailed, this portrait illuminates a potent but complex mind."  
Booklist, starred review

"A highly detailed examination of the life and times of Robert Oppenheimer ... Monk does full justice to Oppenheimer's irreplaceable contribution to the development of nuclear energy during and after World War II ... A top-notch biography."
Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Ray Monk’s Robert Oppenheimer does what nothing so far written on the enigmatic physicist has attempted: integrating into a seamless whole a profound inquiry into the formative influences on Oppenheimer’s character, a definitive account of his complex role in the development of the atomic bomb and a penetrating analysis of the philosophical implications of the new physics. It is not just a great biography but a powerful work of art.”
John Gray, New Statesman

“A triumph of historical investigation … It is the most personal and sensitive biography of Oppenheimer so far published; the man himself rises from the pages, a figure worthy at times of reverence, but often of contempt. We can now understand why some colleagues and students revered him and why those outside his chosen circle often despised him. He could be warm, funny, kind, charming and supportive, yet his cruelty was legendary and his ego immense. Oppenheimer’s great weakness was his addiction to power, which perhaps explains his flexible morality.”
Gerard DeGroot, The Telegraph

“A tour de force … [it] will establish itself as the definitive biography.”
Lisa Jardine, Financial Times

"[Monk’s] 800 pages of deep research and lucid prose constitute a masterclass in how biography, done well, gets us closer to the mindset of an age than any other kind of inquiry."
Kathryn Hughes, Guardian

“An extraordinarily rich biography, superbly researched and written with impressive clarity. It is a considerable achievement of scholarship.”
Graham Farmelo, The Times

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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I'm reading and studying this book in great detail.
D. Carr
This is a great account of the life and work of R. Oppenheimer.
John E. Banks
A well written biography of this very complex genius.
Michael L. Gilbert

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

82 of 86 people found the following review helpful By Ash Jogalekar VINE VOICE on December 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When news came of this new biography of Robert Oppenheimer, Oppenheimer fans like myself were naturally inclined to ask, "What's new"? In the past decade or so there have been several portraits and biographies of the father of the atomic bomb, with the culmination of these efforts being Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin's Pulitzer Prize-winning volume "American Prometheus". With so many around, do we need another biography?

In this case the answer is a qualified yes. Monk who is the acclaimed biographer of Wittgenstein and Russell has produced a thoughtful and insightful portrait that covers a lot of the same ground as other books but also sheds much clearer insights into Oppenheimer's character and a handful of key events from his life. The UK edition of the book is titled "Inside the Center", both as a reference to Oppenheimer's wish to be at the center of science and policy, as well as an allusion to his own lack of a unifying center. The book is very well-written and presents a judicious balance of detail and broader discussion. The writing is clear and crisp and delivers a solid, authoritative account of the subject matter.

Monk's main goal is to illuminate the central dilemma of Oppenheimer's life; that of identity. His second goal is to pay attention to those aspects of Oppenheimer's science which have been glossed over by other biographers. Oppenheimer was a brilliant, complex individual who excelled at a variety of things, an astonishingly quick thinker and wide-ranging intellectual who was as much at home with Sanskrit and French literature as with theoretical physics. Yet he was a man who kept on searching for a core identity that would hold it all together. Monk looks for the root of this crisis in Oppenheimer's rejection of his German-Jewish background.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By John D. Cofield TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Throughout his life J. Robert Oppenheimer always maintained a certain reserve, preferring to remain at a remove from others even during his periods of greatest eminence. As Ray Monk demonstrates in this superb biography, this distance was both a help and a hindrance to Oppenheimer, allowing him to achieve unprecedented success but causing him to be so distrusted that eventually his career was forced to a premature end.

J. Robert Oppenheimer was born to a wealthy and secularized Jewish family in New York City in 1904. He early achieved academic success at the Ethical Culture School, going on to Harvard and then Cambridge. Although he was not raised in a religious household and felt little connection to his Jewish heritage, that inheritance always caused him to feel himself to be an outsider, even when he became one of the best known and most influential people in the field of physics. During the 1930s Oppenheimer, like so many during the Depression years, was drawn to left wing causes and became a financial supporter, if not an actual member, of the Communist Party. He married more out of duty than love and fathered two children for whom he had little time. During World War II he was the head of the Manhattan Project which developed the atomic bomb. This made him famous and indeed a hero to most Americans in the post war years until his opposition to the developing Cold War and the race to build a hydrogen bomb caused him to become suspect in the eyes of some politicians, most notably Senator Joseph McCarthy. A series of investigations led to Oppenheimer's security clearance being withdrawn in the early 1950s. While he continued to break new ground and encourage others to do likewise, his name seemed forever tainted when he died in 1967.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Ian on April 19, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
If you like autobiography this has it all. History of an extraordinary man, brilliant but with lovely human characteristics. Monk must have immersed himself in research for ages to build up this pen picture. It's a history of German Jewish emmigration to US in 19th century, a young genius growing up and refining his personality, a history of Quantum Mechanics, intellectual left wing leanings in the 1930s and the development of nuclear weapons. A very multi-directional book. One word of warning - be prepared to be taken on an extensive journney on the development of Quantum Theory and the many nobel prize physicists involved.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jerome Lawrence Castle on August 31, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Science affects everyone of us. According to Einstein "The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday events." It is illuminating to learn of Robert Oppenheimer in details that have never been discussed before at such an intimate,serious indepth level. His background in Ethical Culture, his family collection of Van Gogh and other assorted art luminaries. His fine equestrian abilities. HIs battle with keeping an old Packard in bearable running condition.

It's all here. Like trying to fly a kite. You can devour hundreds of pages just getting this unique story airborne, but when it finally glides in the literary sky, it soars. You have a book of beauty that is filled with tears and passion, and disaster and failure. You finally visualize the whole man.

The reader knows J. Robert Oppenheimer like you've never known him or anyone else for that matter. His haberdashery, his bungalow named "Perro Caliente," the floor plan of his parents fine apartment on Riverside Drive. And its all in there, before you even arrive at the likes of a Roy Cohn or Senator Mc Carthy or Edward Teller, and a host of other adversaries.

This monumental book is overflowing with insight. It surpasses the serious biography about Oppie's great contemporary genius, Dirac. The book opens more doors than the great Issacson work on Einstein. You will never get a finer layman's explanation of how the world changed in that dazzling thirty year run from the twenties to the fifties.

There was another world out there in that remarkable century, devoid of Babe Ruth or the Cotton Club or Scott Fitzgerald, or Lucky Luciano, or prohibition. It was a much bigger shocking world, that sadly killed more human beings than all the five gangster families of New York ever killed.
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Robert Oppenheimer: His Life and Mind (A Life Inside the Center)
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