Pulitzer Prize, Biography/Autobiography, 2006
National Book Critics Circle Award, Biography, 2006
J. Robert Oppenheimer is one of the iconic figures of the 20th century, a brilliant physicist who led the effort to build the atomic bomb for his country in a time of war and who later found himself confronting the moral consequences of scientific progress.
When he proposed international controls over atomic materials, opposed the development of the hydrogen bomb, and criticized plans for a nuclear war, his ideas were anathema to powerful advocates of a massive nuclear buildup during the anti-Communist hysteria of the early 1950s. They declared that Oppenheimer could not be trusted with America's nuclear secrets.
In this magisterial biography, 25 years in the making, the authors capture Oppenheimer's life and times, from his early career to his central role in the Cold War.
©2005 Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin; (P)2007 Blackstone Audio Inc.
"The definitive biography...Oppenheimer's life doesn't influence us. It haunts us." (Newsweek)
"[A] profoundly fascinating, richly complex, and ineffably sad American life.... Bird and Sherwin are without peer...in capturing the humanity of the man." (Booklist)
"A work of voluminous scholarship and lucid insight, unifying its multifaceted portrait with a keen grasp of Oppenheimer's essential nature.... It succeeds in deeply fathoming his most damaging, self-contradictory behavior." (New York Times)
This is a lovingly written and sympathetic book about a troubled genius. The narration could be better: there are annoying changes of vocal tone at some points and I wondered whether some parts had been re-recorded. Some parts are over-long. But that didn't spoil the book for me. The insights into the early developments of nuclear physics are fascinating, as is the depiction of the race (as the men doing the job saw it) to build the atomic bomb. The detailed look at the unfair treatment of Oppenheimer during the communist hysteria of the fifties is brilliantly done. The part describing his leadership of the Los Alamos laboratory is the best thing I've read about the development of the bomb.
The -in some ways sad-story of Oppenheimer's personal and family life is well told, but in the end he remains enigmatic. I was left with the impression that the humble and human aspects of his character won in the end over the arrogant side of his personality. The book takes some getting into: putting yourself in Oppenheimer's shoes is maybe impossible given the unique ingredients of his character.
Most: the science
Least: the unimportant background info
Unacceptable hacked together audio sessions
Audible should pull this title until it can be done better
Say something about yourself!
The recording was bad and the reader was too. This ruined an otherwise acurate account of one of the most conflicted and misunderstood personalities of the 20th Century. The book needs to be re-recorded.
If this review was helpful, please le me know. Cheers.
Information about the "necessity" of dropping the bomb that no history book ever explained.
Lectures of Richard Fyenman
There were multiple audio problems" A few times it sounded like the same sentence was repeated. Other times the volumne and/or tone of the speaker changed so dramatically as to really detract from the content. The analogy would be a written book where the fonts suddenly change style, size, underlining, etc. to the point it is difficult to read,
Nothing extreme, but constantly hearing new information, insightful information, emotional information...
When an audio book is devided into multiple files why don't the titles show 1/4, 2/4 or something like that. If you select the wrong file it goes to the top of the display. Now you have three more files that identical titles.
The book goes into great detail about J. Robert Oppenheimer work and personal life. Sometimes it could be very dry, but is need to describe what type of person Oppenheimer was and which roll he played when constructing the first atomic bomb.
The book is good, although it was sometimes a little harder to keep track of all the names of all the people involved (over the course of the life of a prominent figure). Some minor repetition of phrases that made me think I had accidentally skipped backwards.
But the editing of the audio made it seem like I was listening to a ransom note. The cuts are often so different in volume and tone, some people might find it jarring.
The other day I was listening to an interview with a popular actor, and he said something like: "I was taught at school to think about the system and challenge it. This is why we go to school." In my opinion, if a school only produces yes-men it has failed. If it teaches us to ask question and build opinions it has achieved its purpose. Robert Oppenheimer is a historic figure, yet close enough to our modern times that his life and work is documented. His rise and fall highlights high and low points of human behavior on all sides. This book encourages the reader to be real and authentic in his actions and persuasions, and to keep asking questions about our motivations. Lengthy at times, but full of historic value.
Very informative and a lot of background. It seems that tangents are taken with characters that detract from the story a bit.
Very good at pronunciation of the various physics names and vernacular .
I live in Seattle. I write code. I listen when I'm out with the dog.
An amazing and important book. I learned so much about the Communist Party in the US pre-WWII and the "Red Scare" post WWII.
Oppenheimer was a complicated man, but no doubt brilliant, patriotic, and important.
It's so crazy to see this figure overlapped with Einstein and Feynman and Bohr, among others.
My favorite bit of the book came towards the end. Oppenheimer on style:
"The problem of doing justice to the implicit, the imponderable, and the unknown is of course not unique in politics. It is always with us in science, it is with us in most trivial of personal affairs, and it is one of the great problems of writing and of all forms of art. The means by which it is solved is sometimes called style. It is style which complements affirmation with limitation and with humility; it is style which makes it possible to act effectively, but not absolutely; it is style which, in the domain of foreign policy, enables us to find harmony between the pursuit of ends essential to us, and the regard for the views, the sensibilities, the aspirations of those to whom the problem may appear in another light; it is style which is the deference that action pays to uncertainty; it is above all style though which power defers to reason."
My only critique is style, ironically. A large amount of the book is quotes from FBI interviews and wiretaps. Lot's of back and forth which made the content, at times, difficult and tedious to follow.
The production quality was jumpy at times. Clearly lots of editing and very obvious cuts. Asides from hiccups, the quality of the performance was top-notch.
Writing reviews is work. Therefore, I need to be really happy or really unhappy with a book to write one.
This is probably a matter of taste, but I am not fond of books that go deeply into the day to day details of famous persons' lives while failing to provide an equivalent amount of detail about the context of the times in which they were living. Perhaps the authors assumed that readers would know a great deal about the 1930s, WW2, and the McCarthy era and were therefore purchasing the book to find where JRO was living, what he was drinking, and who he was befriending (or insulting) during those times. I bought the book because I was curious about the politics of those times (particularly the 50's) and assumed that since Oppenheimer, like Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs, was a person who typified the politics of nuclear power, it would focus on his place within those politics. If you are interested, I'd suggest getting a print version so you can skip a lot.
"Spoilt by a very poor recording"
Imagine you’re reading a great book: perhaps you delight not only in the author’s skill with the pen, but also that of the typographer who has lovingly crafted the spacing, the line breaks and the hyphenation to ensure that the appearance of the type is as appealing as the story itself. Imagine then, that you turn the page only to find a single sentence set, not only in a different typeface, but also larger and poorly spaced. Reading further, you find odd passages here and there, sometimes just a few words, sometimes complete paragraphs that are set completely differently to the rest of the book. That is the visual equivalent of listening to this book, the recording of which is continuously interspersed with re-recorded passages that have a different quality than the original.
Although I’d read complaints about this in other reviews, I never imagined the extent to which it occurs. In almost every case, it’s a sentence that contains a name that’s either foreign or difficult to pronounce. It occurs so often that you can’t help wondering if it wouldn’t have been easier to have simply re-recorded the entire book. It’s jarring and, for me at least, interrupted and spoilt the narrative.
In a book that, thanks to the nature of its content, is riddled with foreign names and complicated words, you’d think that the producer, at least, would have either checked the pronunciations or chosen a narrator a little more au fait with foreign expressions and pronunciation. It’s very sad, because it’s an otherwise fascinating and well written book.
If you have any interest in science, politics, drama, tragedy, philosophy or ethics, this is a must-read.
Only quibble is with the audio quality in some parts of the book but overall a great recording and performance of an outstanding book.
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