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Tuxedo Park : A Wall Street Tycoon and the Secret Palace of Science That Changed the Course of World War II Hardcover – May 9, 2002

4.3 out of 5 stars 215 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

This must have been an extremely difficult book to write. Its subject, Alfred Loomis, never gave interviews during his lifetime and destroyed all his papers before his death. "Few men of Loomis' prominence and achievement have gone to greater lengths to foil history," writes author Jennet Conant. Had he not done these things, his name would be better known--and this probably wouldn't be the first biography about him. So who was Alfred Loomis? "He was too complex to categorize--financier, philanthropist, society figure, physicist, inventor, amateur, dilettante--a contradiction in terms," writes Conant. Loomis established a private laboratory in New York and hired scientists whose work in the 1930s wound up making possible both the radar and the atomic bomb. These developments were essential to Allied victory in the Second World War. Conant is perhaps the only person who could have pierced Loomis's obsessive secrecy and written this book; she grew up with Loomis's children and other members of his family. Her grandfather, Harvard president James Bryant Conant, was one of Loomis's scientists. Tuxedo Park is an important book about the development of military technology in the United States; admirers of The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes and similar titles won't want to miss it. --John Miller

From Publishers Weekly

Alfred Lee Loomis (1887-1975) made his fortune in the 1920s by investing in public utilities, but science was his first love. In 1928, he established a premier research facility in Tuxedo Park, N.Y., that attracted such brilliant minds as Einstein, Bohr and Fermi and became instrumental in the Allies' WWII victory. Conant, a magazine writer, draws on studies, family papers and interviews with Loomis's friends, family and colleagues (she's a relative of two scientists who worked with Loomis) to trace the story of the tycoon's professional and social life (the latter fairly racy). At the Tuxedo Park lab, Loomis attracted top-flight scientists who experimented with sound, time measurement and brain waves. During WWII, he established a laboratory at MIT (the "rad lab") where radar was developed. He also served as a conduit between civilian scientists and Roosevelt's military establishment. Although he lost some of his top people to the Manhattan Project, the "rad lab" was a major contributor to the allies' defense. In his well-publicized personal life, Loomis angered family members by trying to have his emotionally unstable wife institutionalized while he pursued an affair with another woman. Through Conant's spare, unobtrusive prose and well-paced storytelling, Loomis emerges as a contradictory man who craved scientific accomplishment and influence, but rarely took credit for himself. Those interested in science or WWII history will appreciate this well-researched bio.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (May 9, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684872870
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684872872
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (215 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #419,381 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on June 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Unless you are interested in the history of physics, I will bet you never before heard of Alfred Loomis. And I bet you will not be able to forget him, once you have read _Tuxedo Park: A Wall Street Tycoon and the Secret Palace of Science that Changed the Course of World War II_ (Simon and Schuster) by Jennet Conant. World War II, more than any preceding conflict, was won by scientific and technological superiority, and one of the allies' successes was radar. There was no more daring or inventive mind on the project than that of Alfred Loomis, and we can hope that this remarkable book redeems him from obscurity.
Loomis was groomed for WASP success. He went to Yale, and to law school at Harvard, and then on to Wall Street where he made a fortune. He displayed "a high-powered intellect that could cut through a maze of difficulty with dazzling speed." He was a chess prodigy, a brilliant solver of puzzles, and a keen magician. He and a partner took over a failing bond firm, and started specializing in utilities. They realized the volatility of the 1920s market, and were among the few to make money during the crash and after it. He had one idea in finance after another, and he was dazzlingly successful. But he wasn't interested in making money. He was interested in science. He bought a rambling Tudor mansion in Tuxedo Park, the estate in which he lived, and turned it into a crackerjack private lab, where he did first-rate experiments in timekeeping, ultrasound, biology, and encephalography. Einstein called it "a palace of science." Loomis not only dabbled brilliantly in many fields, he allowed plenty of the greats to come use his lab, and set up conferences for them all to be together. When someone had a good idea but no money to pursue it, Loomis granted the money.
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Format: Hardcover
I went to the World Book Encyclopedia to look for information about Alfred Lee Loomis. There was none. I wondered as I read this wonderful, well researched biography if maybe I was being led to believe that Loomis was the author's invention and that he was not as important an historical figure as he appeared to be. When I read the testimonials of those individuals who wrote about him or who the author interviewed, I readily became convinced that I was reading the story of a legend who was so private about his accomplishments that he had been forgotten. That is, until Jennet Conant completed this fascinating historical account that kept me spellbound through the last words of the epilogue, biography, and acknowledgements. Although Loomis did not literally invent radar or the atomic bomb, it was his scientific and patriotic interest that helped mold the events that led to their development. As a physician, I was fascinated by his development of the clinical application of the electroencephalogram as well as ultrasonography, each of which is currently well utilized in modern medical diagnostics. Among other scientific associations, the "L" in Loran is directly associated with the "L" in Loomis as the development of Loran was essentially his idea. And all this from an amateur physicist who by training was a Harvard educated attorney and investment banker. I will not discuss here where the name "Tuxedo Park" originates since the story will tell you the intricacies of life in the elite gated community that few until now have associated with such original and illustrious scientific discoveries. Anyone with a penchant for history that so touched all of our lives will also be spellbound by this superbly written account of a man, his associates, and the events that just may have led to the preservation of American and western world democracy.
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Format: Hardcover
With her biography of Alfred Lee Loomis through her book, "Tuxedo Park", Jennet Conant has given those interested the best view yet of this extraordinary man. I have read many books regarding Wall Street when Mr. Loomis was a player, and many other books on the exchange of information between Great Britain and The United States during World War II, specifically on radar and atomic weapons. The name Loomis is a vague one at best, happily Ms. Conant has remedied this gap in the historical record and delivers a great deal of knowledge about the man and his talents.
Exceptional would be an appropriate word to describe this man. A major financier on Wall Street, he not only was unhurt by the crash of 1929 he benefited from it. While enjoying after dinner conversation he could also play multiple games of chess with his back to the boards, carrying on both the conversation and the multiple games in his mind's eye alone. Clearly a man with a formidable intellect, it is not altogether shocking that after making a huge fortune on Wall Street, he walked away from it and the boards he served on to pursue other interests, interests that would have a major impact on the outcome of the Second World War.
A capitalist to his core, when the need arose for development of important scientific research he routinely would take the money from his own pocket. Over the years this amounted to huge sums of money, and much was spent long before there was the urgency of war. He encouraged and financed the best minds in physics, literally feeding and housing them in a house turned private laboratory in one of the country's wealthiest enclaves Tuxedo Park. Write down any name from Einstein to Fermi to a host of Nobel winners and they all spent time at his homes on many occasions.
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