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.
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