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Brotherhood of the Bomb: The Tangled Lives…

Brotherhood of the Bomb: The Tangled Lives and Loyalties of Robert…

by Gregg Herken

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Herken's volume has both strengths and weaknesses. He is better on drawing out the drama in developing an ultimate weapon, the complexity of forces between the government, academia, the individual characteristics of the primary initiators, and the relationships between the creators. He seems to reliably chronicle the relationship between the tangled lives of the creators. On the other hand, he does not seem able to tease out the seemingly contradictory position that leftists created the most destructive weapon in humankind.

How did Oppenheimer become a leftist? Herken chronicles his activities, he demonstrates the disagreements among his staff, the more radical nature of his brother's leftism, but Herken leaves unexplained Oppenheimer's biographical details that may indicate why the Oppenheimer's developed confirmed radical notions. According to Herken, Oppenheimer experienced pangs of conscience following the Hiroshima and Nagasaki blasts, but Oppenheimer had already associated with, and attended Communist Party functions. Herken fails to explain the tangled relationship between the pre-blast Oppenheimer and his subsequent brand of leftist pacifism. And, Oppenheimer's brother Frank early on was a confirmed radical but we do not find out what occurred in the Oppenheimer family home that resulted in both Robert's and Frank's variety of leftism. The most we left with are inadequate explanations arising from the Oppenheimer's younger development as a product of the Ethical culture in their home and adult friendships with Communist sympathizers, particularly with Haakon Chevalier.

The strongest evidence against Oppenheimer, which led to the decision to deny him a security clearance, is the "Chevalier incident." Chevalier seems to have done no more than approach Oppenheimer on the behalf of sympathizers against the Franco regime in Spain. Although Oppenheimer associated with and knew Communists he did little more than discuss, or lend a sympathetic ear to those inclined to oppose Fascism during the pre-War period. Herken fails to successfully elucidate these crucial aspects of Oppenheimer's life work and political development. It reads rather dryly as a recitation of facts as opposed to a clearly written exposition of Oppenheimer, Lawrence, and Teller.
  gmicksmith | Jun 14, 2009 |
Interesting read but little material that hadn't been covered elsewhere. ( )
  piefuchs | Nov 12, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 080506589X, Paperback)

It would be difficult to identify three American scientists whose work had a greater effect on world politics than Robert Oppenheimer, Ernest Lawrence, and Edward Teller. This exhaustive account of how they worked together (and competed against each other) on the development of the atomic and hydrogen bombs is more a story of people than science. Author Gregg Herken of the Smithsonian Institution informs us, for instance, of Oppenheimer's "riotous parties" in the 1930s, in which latecomers would see "the top physicists of their generation, drunk and crouched on all fours, playing a version of tiddly-winks on the geometric patterns of Oppenheimer's Navajo rug." Despite a few light touches, Brotherhood of the Bomb is no breezy profile of three great minds. Instead, it is a serious look at invention, rivalry, and betrayal. One of the central episodes involves Oppenheimer's too-cozy relationship with radical-left politics--he carelessly associated with Communists, even though he occupied one of the most sensitive jobs in the U.S. government during the cold war--and Teller's momentous decision to testify against him. This event is one of the most controversial in the annals of American science, and Herken tells it straight, with barely a word of editorial comment. Fans of Richard Rhodes will enjoy this triple biography, as will anybody with an interest in science, politics, and top-secret security clearances. --John J. Miller

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:45 -0400)

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"If science is the story of the twentieth century, no drama is more compelling than that of "the Bomb" and its creators. But the tale of human conflict that connects the three scientists most responsible for the nuclear age - Robert Oppenheimer, Ernest Lawrence, and Edward Teller - was until now known only in broad outline.". "Ten years in the research and writing, Gregg Herken's account is based on private papers, interviews with Manhattan Project survivors, and recently released documents and coded intercepts obtained from FBI and KGB archives and other sources around the world. One of Brotherhood of the Bomb's surprises is the complex game of spy versus counterspy that surrounded the bomb's building and later dominated the Cold War. Yet, armies of U.S. security agents were unable to prevent the bomb's secrets from being passed to the Russians (sometimes by their American helpers). At the book's center is the question of loyalty - to science, to country, to family - and the wrenching choices that had to be made when such allegiances came into conflict."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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