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American Prometheus Audiobook
American Prometheus
Written by: 
Kai Bird, Martin J. Sherwin
Narrated by: 
Jeff Cummings
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 (1298 )
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Performance
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  •  
    S. Krug 05-29-12
    S. Krug 05-29-12 Member Since 2012
    ratings
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    22
    3
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    Story
    "Tough to listen too"
    Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

    Very informative and a lot of background. It seems that tangents are taken with characters that detract from the story a bit.


    What do you think your next listen will be?

    Charlene Harris


    What does Jeff Cummings bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    Very good at pronunciation of the various physics names and vernacular .


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    kevmoo United States 05-22-12
    kevmoo United States 05-22-12 Member Since 2015

    I live in Seattle. I write code. I listen when I'm out with the dog.

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    "If you're into science or history, you'll like it."

    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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Patricia 05-08-12
    Patricia 05-08-12

    Writing reviews is work. Therefore, I need to be really happy or really unhappy with a book to write one.

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    "Get the print version"

    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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Roger oakland, CA, United States 04-26-12
    Roger oakland, CA, United States 04-26-12

    Lawyer/law professor , I'm interested in science, history, literature. I can tolerate a bad movie, but not bad writing. I read to learn .

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A great American Hero"

    I thoroughly enjoyed this biography of one of our greatest patriots and scientists in the the 20th century. The tragedy for America was that right wing cowards attacked a man who dared to share his opinions of the need for nuclear restraint and control of the military use of mass destruction weapons. The far right does not want freedom and democracy they are terrified of freedom of expression and people who believe in constitutional government..Robert Oppenheimer was attacked for his ideas and beliefs not because he was a security risk. This book brings back the hysteria of the McCarty era and reminds us that it can happen again when right wing thugs scream communist at anyone who disagrees with them.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    TL Ann Arbor, MI, United States 04-23-12
    TL Ann Arbor, MI, United States 04-23-12 Member Since 2012
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    "Great book - poor recording"

    This is an excellent book! It is very well written, highly informative, and enjoyable. While the narrator is fine, the quality of the recording is one of the worst I've encountered in well over 100 titles. There are changes in volume, tone and voice quality that occur at random throughout the book. These are annoying at best, and in many cases detract significantly from the work. In addition there was at least one occurrence of a section that was repeated and inserted at a random spot later in the text. The recording does not do justice to this fine book.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Todd 42.355N 04-23-12
    Todd 42.355N 04-23-12 Member Since 2012
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    "Great book - poor recording"

    This is an excellent book! It is very well written, highly informative, and enjoyable. While the narrator is fine, the quality of the recording is one of the worst I've encountered in well over 100 titles. There are changes in volume, tone and voice quality that occur at random throughout the book. These are annoying at best, and in many cases detract significantly from the work. In addition there was at least one occurrence of a section that was repeated and inserted at a random spot later in the text. The recording does not do justice to this fine book.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tiana McKinley 04-05-12 Member Since 2014
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    "A fascinating book marred by poor narration and en"

    This is an exquisitely detailed, meticulously researched account of the life of an important scientist. I cannot say enough about the material. The authors are obviously sympathetic to Oppenheimer, but that is probably an unavoidable consequence of the research necessary to do a good job, and when they come across something unpleasant they don't make excuses for him. It's clear why this book won the Pulitzer.

    That said, the narration and production of the book are considerably sub-par. Significant and frequent changes in volume and recording quality make you think that this was done over a weekend with no time for re-takes. Much of the time the narrator is fine, but he struggles with foreign names and is extremely inconsistent in his pronunciation of more technical words.

    The work is so fascinating to me that I was able to make it through, but I can understand that not everyone might be able to do the same. Think about your capacity to deal with poor production before buying.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Michael 03-26-12
    Michael 03-26-12
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    "Visit your local library"
    Any additional comments?

    I would love to have listened to more than the first third or so and will get the heavy version off the shelf to finish it. I'm sure that Jeff Cummings is a wonderful guy, but Oppenheimer deserves more ... gravity, I guess. And some scientific knowledge, so as to pronounce things a little better. And, as others have pointed out (I wish I'd listened), a much better editing job.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Colin United States 02-22-12
    Colin United States 02-22-12
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    "A dissappointment"

    This is at most a lengthy op-ed and nothing of a scholarly biography. The authors clearly have an agenda in writing this book as they hint at in the preface. The entire book is a crafty combination of half-reported quotes, carefully worded opinions, and completely misstated facts all done with the purpose of leading the reader on a mindless journey to the conclusion already chosen for you. It wasn’t until part 5, after enduring many false statements regarding foreign policy as it pertained to the USSR at the time or the military/political decisions to use the atom bomb that I felt compelled to write this review. I shall focus on the inaccuracies in Part 5 as this might be considered the seminal portion of the work. This part focuses on the renewal of JRO’s security clearance (Q clearance) in 1954, and also draws on the earlier consideration of his post-war work speaking out against the National Security Policies in place from 1945-1954. The authors claim this was a “kangaroo court” and that Gray (chairman) did not ensure proper procedures were followed. After review of the AEC’s policy regarding security clearances, it can be noted that the proceedings were in fact carried out according to policy set forth by the AEC, and that it was NOT a legal proceeding. As such, JRO had no right to due process or rules of evidence as suggested by the authors. Instead, the board was to consider JRO’s “character, associations, and loyalty” in determining the “costs to the program” of losing the services of a person (JRO) “against any possible risks involved.” The authors do inform the reader to the extent JRO used his Q Clearance (he was one of the handful of persons at the time fully informed on all atomic programs to the smallest detail) to gain access to important and influential circles within the government and in the making of blanket statements against further development of all forms of atomic energy and weapons in an attempt to sway policy. Keep in mind not many people knew what was or could be with respect to atomic energy due to the secrecy involved at the time. At this time JRO was only serving in an advisory capacity and was not contributing to any scientific work being done by the AEC. Couple all of this with his spotty past politically, socially and during previous security interviews and it should not surprise anyone that the board weighed the pros and cons of continuing to let JRO have access to atomic secrets only to contribute to the cause by trying to sway public policy and concluded it was not a good “cost(s) to the program” to renew his clearance. The authors totally miss this as they guide the readers along a false pretense as to what an AEC security clearance and hearing should entail, and the attempts at discrediting the many witnesses and the board itself in the hopes of establishing JRO as some type of “McCarthyism” martyr. This is only one of many examples of the author’s agenda that permeates the entire work. If you enjoy reading and forming your own conclusions based on evidence from a well written biography you should save your time by reading another book. Let’s leave the op-eds to our Sunday edition of the newspaper.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Pamela New Braunfels, TX, United States 01-30-12
    Pamela New Braunfels, TX, United States 01-30-12 Member Since 2012
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    "Can you say BORING???"

    I listen to audio books everyday while I am walking. This was the most boring book I have ever encountered. I could not even get through the first 3 chapters...

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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