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Genius in the Shadows : A Biography of Leo Szilard : The Man Behind the Bomb Hardcover – 1992

4.5 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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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.

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.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 588 pages
  • Publisher: Charles Scribner's Sons; First Edition edition (1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684190117
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684190112
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,620,988 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Paperback
This book by William Lanouette is both enlightening and frustrating, somewhat like Leo Szilard himself. It is highly anecdotal with the first three chapters being almost all anecdotes. The anecdotes in those early chapters are understandable since Lanouette says in the footnotes that most of the episodes in the first three chapters were first drafted or dictated by Bela Silard, Leo's brother (who removed the "z" from their name). Though some of them seem relevant (like Leo's early and intense awareness of danger) and some are not (like details of the family's meals), they are not connected together well to give a sense of the developing person. Lanouette could have done a better job of integrating that material into the overall flow of the book. On the other hand, Leo Szilard's life was one of the most "anecdotal" lives I have ever read about. He could not sit still. For most of his life he moved constantly, often every few weeks (including once when he was asked to move for hygienic reasons), and he could never follow through on ideas that he had. He was incredibly original and in many ways far ahead of his time. But he spouted ideas like a fountain and many of them were completely impractical. In the book one admires the man for his brilliance and originality but the reader also finds him frustrating because he could not (or would not) edit himself and seemed unable to focus on one thing for any length of time. What Szilard thought, he said. That was honest of him but also in a sense selfish. It is not clear why Szilard assumed he was an expert at everything that he talked about. Many enjoyed his honesty as refreshing; many found him irritating and a nuisance.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've read a number of books about the "Bomb" including some about Richard Feynman who has now become my No. 2 hero. Szilard was even more unusual than Feynman, had a completely different personality and I believe was the smartest and most human of all the geniuses.
He was on the same level as Einstein, who was one of his Professors, his Mentor and his good friend.
John Keegan said "America saved the world".
Szilard wanted to save mankind, though the carried the secret of "the Bomb" for years before he finally enlisted his friend Einstein to write Roosevelt. That incidentally started "The Manhattan Engineer District"...the bomb. The key to the Bomb popped out of his subconscious while waiting for a traffic light on a London street corner.
A most sensitive man, perceptive, prescient, he was years ahead of everyone in seeing Hitler as the worlds all time villain. Lived with two suitcases in hotels until late in life, and finally married a life long time friend who was an MD. Szilard was a "Martian". One of the five Budapest "Martians", ( see "Martians of Science"), the first of the five who fled Hitler, came to America, and subsequently changed the world.
I simply can not say enough about the man, would have loved to tag along behind him. A great book by an excellent author. Hargittai quotes Lanouette a number of times in other books on the Martains.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
After seeing the play"Atomic" I wanted to learn more about the amazing scientist. I enjoyed learning about his life and his impact on the atomic bomb. At times it was hard to read with the technical terms and the chronological flow seemed hard to follow.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Very good biography of a brilliant physicist. My only criticism is that sometimes it skips around in time that can cause some confusion. There could be some detail on his physics.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It seems that Leo Szilard has not been given the credit he deserves for his major role in production of the atomic bomb. He has been given even less credit for his urging of peace and disposing of all atomic bombs by all nations. This book details a unique and amazing life of one of the less appreciated but greatest scientists of the last century.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A great biography, we get to know how his creativity and personality was important to the early making of the bomb and better how he previewed the cold war and even how it might end.
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