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American Prometheus Audiobook

American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer

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Publisher's Summary

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.

What the Critics Say

"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)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.2 (1390 )
5 star
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Overall
4.3 (949 )
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Story
4.0 (936 )
5 star
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3 star
 (152)
2 star
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1 star
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Performance
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  •  
    Allen H. Kelson Lincolnwood, IL United States 04-26-14
    Allen H. Kelson Lincolnwood, IL United States 04-26-14
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    "A first-rate history, tarnished by poor production"
    What made the experience of listening to American Prometheus the most enjoyable?

    The tale of Oppenheimer displays America's politically and socially unique strengths and weaknesses - acceptance; bigotry; hypocrisy; corrupt, greedy, insincere, and ignorant politicians - in lively, entirely plausible detail.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    J. Robert Oppenheimer, at once brilliant but flustered under pressure; socially accepting and simultaneously aloof and haughty; globally farsighted but unable to perceive his own self-inflicted immediate personal peril.


    What three words best describe Jeff Cummings’s voice?

    Dispassionate but captivating


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

    Elevated to great heights by the country he loved, only to be shunned by it from it by the bigoted and corrupt forces who came to control it.


    Any additional comments?

    Terrible patching-in of acoustically different bits of sentences or sections make it seem as if in some places parts were carelessly changed in ways that disrupt thought. Some characters' names are mispronounced until hours later when the correct pronunciation is pointed out but left unchanged in earlier misreadings. Some major sections have barely a second a second or two's pause from the previous one - a sign of thoughtless or careless production that makes the section break seem less meaningful than a chapter pause.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Adam bunbury, Australia 03-12-14
    Adam bunbury, Australia 03-12-14
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "so long too info heavy heavy"
    Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

    Only if you like heavy bios


    Would you be willing to try another book from Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin ? Why or why not?

    Maybe


    Would you listen to another book narrated by Jeff Cummings?

    Nah


    Did American Prometheus inspire you to do anything?

    Make a big bomb.. Not really


    Any additional comments?

    Only if you like heavy bios
    Got 15 hours in And still talking about his early years with girlfriend

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Susan Gainesville, FL, United States 02-28-14
    Susan Gainesville, FL, United States 02-28-14 Member Since 2009
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    "poor quality performance"
    Would you try another book from Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin and/or Jeff Cummings?

    This is an outstanding biography of a fascinating historical figure. But the narrator can't seem to pronounce foreign words (there are a lot of them; Oppenheimer was a cosmopolitan guy who spoke multiple languages), and there are awkward patches in the audio where pronunciations obviously had to be fixed. It's annoying.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Blue Man USA 02-23-14
    Blue Man USA 02-23-14 Member Since 2013
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    "Great Book, Terrible Audio Production"
    How did the narrator detract from the book?

    The audio recording was broken, often changing from one "recording session" to another mid-sentence. The quality was very poor and distracted from the overall enjoyment of the book.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Beth M. New Orleans, LA 02-22-14
    Beth M. New Orleans, LA 02-22-14 Member Since 2016
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    12
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    "Poor production quality"
    How could the performance have been better?

    This is my ninth book on Audible and is the only one with anything more than a couple of technical glitches. I lost count on the number of times the quality of the narration noticeably changed, as if it was re-recorded or dubbed over. It's very distracting and disappointing.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jim In Texas! Austin, TX, United States 09-16-13
    Jim In Texas! Austin, TX, United States 09-16-13 Member Since 2009

    I'm just a big kid.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "An excellent biography of a fascinating man"
    What did you love best about American Prometheus?

    The deep look into the life and personality of Dr Oppenheimer.


    What other book might you compare American Prometheus to and why?

    A great compliment to this book is Richard Rhodes 'The Making of the Atomic Bomb'. This is the seminal book on the development of the atomic bomb. Unlike this book, the Rhodes book covers not only the personalities of the people involved, it does a good job of explaining the physics as well as the people.


    Any additional comments?

    I could only rate this book as a four stars, because of the author's continuing insistence that Japan was 'on the verge of surrender', or 'was virtually surrendered'.

    Only once does the author support this claim, by quoting a MAGIC diplomatic communication that discussed the possibility. Of course, surrender was up to the military, not the diplomats.

    Google "The Atomic Bomb and the End of World War II - A Collection of Primary Sources" and read :"Document 73: "Magic" – Diplomatic Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, No. 1236 – August 13, 1945, Top Secret UltraSource: Record Group 457, Records of the National Security Agency/Central Security Service, "Magic" Diplomatic Summaries 1942-1945, box 18:

    "That important elements in the Japanese Army were unwilling to surrender is evident from intercepted messages dated 12 and 13 August. Willingness to accept the “destruction of the Army and Navy” rather than surrender inspired the military coup that unfolded and failed during the night of 14 August."

    Even after Nagasaki the Japanese military wanted to continue the war.


    I'm sure the allied POW's who were being worked to death in the mines didn't perceive their Japanese slave-masters as 'virtually surrendering'.


    I'm sure the thousands of Korean women who had been kidnapped and forced to become sex slaves didn't perceive their Japanese slave-masters as 'virtually surrendering'.


    I'm sure the Chinese people who were being massacred on a daily basis didn't perceive their Japanese occupiers as 'virtually surrendering'.

    I'm sure the lucky GI's who were not among the 65,000 allied casualties suffered in the process of capturing one half of Okinawa, an island about a mile wide and 60 miles long didn't perceive their Japanese opponets as 'virtually surrendering'..


    Certainly the 100,000 Japanese soldiers killed on Okinawa never 'virtually surrendered'.

    What I perceived in the author's nonsensical claim that Japan was 'on the verge of surrender' prior to use of the atomic bomb to be racism.

    It's clear that to the author the civilian white people being killed by the Nazis were much more important than the insignificant orientals and allied military people who were being killed in huge numbers every day by the Japanese.

    This book is well worth reading, but readers should be aware of the author's unfortunate and erroneous repetition of the myth of Japan's 'virtual surrender'.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Andrew S Downingtown, PA, United States 07-25-13
    Andrew S Downingtown, PA, United States 07-25-13 Member Since 2011

    I know enough to know, I don't know all I want to know...

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Is history repeating itself?"
    What made the experience of listening to American Prometheus the most enjoyable?

    Learning about life of Oppenheimer. I have always 'known' about Oppenheimer via my Physics background, but I had no idea where he came from, and what 'really' happen to him .


    Did Jeff Cummings do a good job differentiating all the characters? How?

    The voice of Mr. Cummings during most of the narration was fine. My only real problem with this book, was the editing... There were far too many edits, and they did NOT blend well, and after a while, it was rather distracting.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    The Witch-Hunt, and that is were there seem to be many comparisons to what is going on in current times.


    Any additional comments?

    To me, learning about Oppenheimer's background from his youth to his death was fascinating!

    Having a background in Physics, it was amazing to think of the conversations he had with his Friends! Wow!

    To be a bug on the wall for those meetings would have be an incredible!

    Oh wait.. that did happen...

    This is a definite MUST listen if you have any interest in this Time period or early 20th Century Physics.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    S. 07-16-13
    S. 07-16-13 Member Since 2007
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    "Very Thorogh -"

    Indeed an editor would have helped but it is still worth the read. While the first 1/3 is far too detailed with unimportant data, the last 2/3 is detailed with interesting although not critical data.

    The performance is at best a "C", but the quality of the recording is very poor; I'd say a D-. When they splice in corrections both the volume and tone change dramatically, which in some .parts is very distracting.

    Overall - if you like history it is worth the read.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    J. Taylor 03-25-13
    J. Taylor 03-25-13

    JET INC

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    "Great listen"

    The book is filled with information of the fascinating and detailed life of J. Robert Oppenheimer. The book was for the most part balanced. I did find the authors going off on details about supporting character lives that did not seem to tie strongly into Dr. Oppenheimer's life. Overall a long but worthwhile book about a amazing person living in an equally interesting time in world history.

    I did rate the performance a bit lower than I typically do. The reader was very engaging and articulate. My issue was with the audio quality. It would randomly vary for a few sentences as if they were recorded at a separate time or place and then inserted into the audio track. I would go back over the section to make sure it was not my player, but the audio issue would repeat at the exact spot. It is not major, but I seemed to be sensitive to the variations. I would not avoid the book based on this minor issue.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    CosmicRay Hudson Valley, NY United States 03-11-13
    CosmicRay Hudson Valley, NY United States 03-11-13

    CosmicRay

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    "Interesting story, lots of details"
    What did you love best about American Prometheus?

    I liked the lot of details in the most interesting parts. I did not like the lots of details in the less interesting parts.the story remained interesting even after the building of the atomic bomb. The whole post WW2 development of the nuclear bomb industry is laid clear. On one side Oppenheimer was a genius, but was very naive


    Any additional comments?

    Narrators voice had an 'intellectual' tone. Good match for the subject matter, but a bit dry for a loooooong story

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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