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He paints a revealing portrait of Oppenheimer's life in Los Alamos, where in twenty remarkable, feverish months, and under his inspired guidance, the first atomic bomb was designed and built, a success that made Oppenheimer America's most famous scientist. Pais describes Oppenheimer's long tenure as Director of the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton, where the two men worked together closely.


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He shows not only Oppenheimer's brilliance and leadership, but also how his displays of intensity and arrogance won him powerful enemies. The late Abraham Pais, author of the award winning biography of Albert Einstein, Subtle is the Lord , here offers an illuminating portrait of another of his eminent colleagues, J.

Robert Oppenheimer, one of the most charismatic and enigmatic figures of modern physics. Pais introduces us to a precocious youth who sped through Harvard in three years, made signal contributions to quantum mechanics while in his twenties, and was instrumental in the growth of American physics in the decade before the Second World War, almost single-handedly bringing it to a state of prominence. He shows not only Oppenheimer's brilliance and leadership, but also how his displays of intensity and arrogance won him powerful enemies, ones who would ultimately make him one of the principal victims of the Red Scare of the s.

Crease, an acclaimed historian of science in his own right.

Inside the Centre: The Life of J Robert Oppenheimer by Ray Monk – review

Told with compassion and deep insight, it is the most comprehensive biography of the great physicist available. Anyone seeking an insider's portrait of this enigmatic man will find it indispensable. The California Professor as Researcher: Personal Life in the s 9. The Shatter of Worlds An Atomic Scientist's Credo The Institute Prior to Oppenheimer's Arrival: Oppenheimer's Early Years as Institute Director Monk's biography privileges the physics and neglects the family — and maybe Oppie did that too.

Monk takes up Oppenheimer after having produced two of the greatest philosophical biographies of recent years. The towering achievement was a life of Wittgenstein and the other was a less sympathetic, but still extraordinary, two-volume study of Bertrand Russell.

The Manhattan Project

These biographies were philosophical not just because they were accounts of philosophers' lives and works but also because, as Monk has elsewhere reflected, biography can itself be a genre of philosophy. Wittgenstein wrote about "the kind of understanding that consists in seeing connections," the way you see "family resemblances" in a group portrait of related people, or the way you might come to just see a unified personality in an individual's disparate deeds and thoughts. Biography, in this mode, is the sort of non-theoretic knowing that Wittgenstein described and commended.

Seeing Oppenheimer whole is as hard as it gets. Rabi thought the key was that Oppenheimer constantly worked to convince himself and others that he wasn't really Jewish: One is a less than whole-hearted suggestion that Hindu spirituality and metaphysics were serious bases for both scientific work and moral postures; another is a well-made case for the depth and pervasiveness of Oppenheimer's patriotism, his "deep, and sometimes fierce, devotion to his country" — a patriotism which saw America as the unique place where Jews could be free, which informed Oppie's attachment to communism conceived as a pure form of American egalitarianism, and which may have underpinned his ambivalent love-affair with the military.

Monk's master-story, however, has Oppenheimer striving always to move from the margins of any enterprise in which he was engaged towards somewhere "inside the centre". But that's the least persuasive strand in this otherwise superb biography: Oppie once offered some advice to his younger brother who, he thought, had overestimated "the inconstancy and incoherence of personal life": Science and nature books Nobel prizes Science prizes Second world war reviews.

Order by newest oldest recommendations. Show 25 25 50 All. Threads collapsed expanded unthreaded. While in Berkeley in , his girlfriend Jean Tatlock of Stanford introduced him to communist party and her left-wing friends in San Francisco which led the way for great deal of trouble during McCarthy era. In , Oppenheimer appeared before the house committee on un-American activities HUAC and answered some tough questions about his brother and left-wing friends. The Security Board's hearing in on Oppenheimer's security clearance was traumatic when they revoked his clearance.

This was a sad time in his life, since he emerged from the war as an American hero, and the War department called him "a man of boundless energy, rare common sense, and possessing tremendous organizational abilities. The quickness with which the Soviets had produced the bomb had many people to believe that American physicists may have given secretive information to Soviets. Klaus Fuchs was the first suspect who was convicted for his crime. A security officer falsely accused Oppenheimer was responsible for passing on secrets to Soviets. This did not sit well with McCarthy and Hoover who disliked him strongly.

J. Robert Oppenheimer: A Life by Abraham Pais

Oppenheimer delivered brilliant summaries as a keynote speaker. He explained complex physical problems, turned unforgettable phrases, attracted reporters, and idolaters.

He was half-legendry; he was loathed and feared for the brutal way he treated people. He was highly respected and cordially disliked. Oppenheimer was also notorious in getting math wrong although his physics was always sound. Oppenheimer implicitly predicted the existence of positions just about the time Dirac explicitly stated that. His contributions included; Born-Oppenheimer approximation, Oppenheimer-Phillips effect and physics of black holes.

During his tenure as the director of prestigious Institute of advanced Study at Princeton, he showed leadership for the advancement of physics by assembling the right people just like he did at Los Alamos laboratory. He concentrated mainly on young physicists. He hired Freeman Dyson and C.

J. Robert Oppenheimer: Life and Work

Oppenheimer was more interested in Hindu philosophy since early s and spent more time studying Vedanta and Vedic literature than his study of stellar structures at Pauli's Institute at Zurich. In his letters to his brother Frank, he expresses his interest in studying Sanskrit and Hindu philosophy. In some respects Oppenheimer was over educated in those fields which lie outside physics, especially religion and Hinduism in particular.


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Oppenheimer himself translated the following hymn from Vedic literature just two days before the first testing of atomic bomb at Trinity site near Alamogordo in New Mexico. One is from Gita One form "I am become death, the shatterer of the worlds" is most common. William Laurence, a New York Times reporter who interviewed Oppenheimer was the first one to hear this quote, and latter quoted by Robert Junk in his book. According to Vedanta, death is an illusion, even though the body perishes but the soul is eternal.


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It appears that Oppenheimer was more focused on the duty to act and not the results of the action, which is another important message of Gita. You can hear the video recording of Oppenheimer reciting this verse on YouTube. Robert Oppenheimer was among the most brilliant and divisive of men. Sep 19, Perhaad Mistry rated it it was amazing Shelves: Brilliantly written piece of work by Pais. It doesnt concentrate too much on the Los Alamos time and instead sheds more light on the security hearing and his directorship at the IAS.

The nicest characteristic of this book is the amounts of quotes and opinions of other notable physicists like Bohr, Rabi and Fermi.