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Memoirs: A Twentieth-Century Journey in Science and Politics Paperback – October 15, 2002

4.9 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

One of the great scientists of the 20th century recounts a brilliant life spanning 10 decades in his simply titled autobiography, Memoirs. Edward Teller came to the United States from Hungary in 1935 and found a place for himself at the thorny intersection of science and politics: he was deeply involved in the decision to build a hydrogen bomb during the Second World War as well as the push for missile defenses during the 1980s. His most controversial act may have been his small role in the ordeal of J. Robert Oppenheimer, who lost security clearance due to suspicious affiliations with Communist organizations. Teller says he disagreed with many of his colleague's views, but did not consider him a traitor. He also expresses remorse that his own congressional testimony was used against Oppenheimer: "I proved not only that stupidity is a general human property but that I possessed a full share of it." The bulk of Memoirs concentrates on events during the 1940s and 1950s, though Teller's influence on President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative receives plenty of attention too. --John Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Teller's isn't a household name today, but in the 1950s he was dubbed "the father of the hydrogen bomb." Born in Hungary in 1908, Teller was educated in Germany, where he worked with some of the century's great scientists prior to the Nazi takeover. After arriving in the United States in 1935, he collaborated with other distinguished ‚migr‚s, such as Enrico Fermi and fellow Hungarian John von Neumann; he was one of the first scientists dispatched to Los Alamos, where he worked on the theoretical aspects of atom bomb design. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki came troubling years: Teller encountered great opposition to future nuclear research from the scientific community and found former friends unwilling to shake his hand after he testified against J. Robert Oppenheimer in Oppenheimer's 1954 security review. Later, Teller went on to establish the Lawrence Livermore Laboratories as a center for ground-breaking research in many fields, and in the late 1950s became a scientific consultant to Nelson Rockefeller. As is often the case with memoirs, time is relative: the years in the book's last half move much more quickly than those in the first. This is unfortunate, since Teller's work on safe proliferation of nuclear energy, the so-called Stars Wars defense system and the early detection of earth-crossing objects is almost as important as his work during the first part of his career. While waiting for a future biographer to give the latter years their proper due, readers can enjoy these panoramic and beautifully written recollections of one of the great scientific, if controversial, figures of all time.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Twentieth Century Journey in Science and Politics
  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (October 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0738207780
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738207780
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,710,842 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Richard F. Weyand on December 2, 2001
Format: Hardcover
In the interests of full disclosure, I will note from the first that I am Edward Teller's son-in-law, and something of a fan. I am also a physicist, however, trained in Urbana, and my views on Dr. Teller and the controversies surrounding him antedate my meeting him (and his daughter) by over a decade.
It being the first review of Teller's book on amazon.com, I read F. Sweet's review with some interest. I especially liked the material he 'added' to the book. The story about communist soldiers urinating in Teller's mother's favorite potted palm is a great story, but it isn't in the book. As far as I know it simply isn't true. Neither does Teller recount how his anti-communism began during the brief communist government period in his native Hungary when he was a child.
Indeed, on pages 181-183 of the book, Teller goes into some detail about how his feelings toward communism developed, which was surprising to me for how *late* it occurred. Some quotations from these pages are of interest:
'I had ambivalent feelings about the experiment going on in Russia.' [This about 1930]
'My first indication that something about the communist world was peculiar came in 1931 [at age 23].'
'But I still had not made up my mind. Charles Critchfield, one of our graduate students at George Washington, remembers that as late as 1937 I believed that the experiment in Russia might be the answer to that nation's political and economic problems.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It is unfortunate that several reviews of this book in leading newspapers have belittled the man who is Edward Teller, as well as his career. Such reviews tell more about the reviewer than they do about Teller's memoirs, which are absolutely fascinating.
Edward Teller had the good fortune to be right where major work in physics was taking place throughout his career. When the hotbed of physics research was in Hungary, he was in Hungary; when it was in Germany, he was in Germany; when it was in England, he was in England, and when it finally moved to America, so did Edward Teller.
A man who is obviously passionate about applying scientific knowledge to solve problems, Teller decided long ago that consequences are for politicians to handle, scientists should only be concerned with furthering mankind's knowledge to the best of their ability.
This, Teller has done in remarkable fashion, and his memoirs allow you to tag along for the ride as he and others perform the mental gymnastics necessary to unlock the secrets of the atom. Far from being a dry technical treatise, however, Teller and Shoolery are surprisingly good at detailing the personalities behind the people, including those of Neils Bohr, J. Robert Oppenheimer (whose first name is Julius, we discover in the book), Enrico Fermi, Lev Landau and others whom most of us have only read about in passing when we were in school. We are also permitted to glimpse more than a few touching moments with his late wife Mici and his son, which reveal the depth of his affection.
He also delves into the political proclivities of his associates, a surprising number of which had socialist and communist tendencies. An appendix gives relevant portions of his testimony during the Congressional investigation into Robert Oppenheimer.
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Format: Paperback
If you have an interest in the history of science
and technology, and in the scientific personalities who
carried out the revolution in physics in the first
half of the 20th century, you will be captivated
by this book.
I picked it up because of my interest in
the history of physics, and because Teller has
held such a central role in the transformation
from small science to Big Science.
Hans Bethe, with whom Teller had some difficulties
during the Manhattan Project, reviewed the book
very positively in Physics Today. I was prepared
to continue to dislike Teller, because of his testimony
in the Oppenheimer hearings and his advocacy of Star
Wars, but he nevertheless quickly won me over.
Teller comes across, in his own account, as a
collegial, cooperative, driven man, who cared
greatly about both his scientific and technical work
and his relations with his colleagues.
After Teller's 1954 testimony at the Oppenheimer
security clearance hearing, Teller was vilified.
Here, he gets to explain why he testified as he
did, and how it was just one of several very
stupid things that he did in his career. (The
stupid thing in this case was to neglect to
explain that his uncertainty about Oppenheimer's
clearance was due to a transcript he was shown
about Oppenheimer's fabricated story
that implicated his friend Chevalier, and
not to Oppenheimer's opposition to development
of the H-bomb, which was widely shared among
physics academics.)
Teller makes an effort to explain the scientific
challenges in his work, such as in the early
days of quantum mechanics when he worked on
molecular dynamics.
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