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.