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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.

Critic Reviews

"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 Ratings

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  • Story

Great Story - Awful Sound Engineering

Any additional comments?

Volume of narrator went up and down constantly. There was no volume leveling at all.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Fascinating, if overlong

Fascinating look at the life of the father of the nuclear bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer. The first part of the book was particularly interesting, talking about his early education in Europe, how he got chosen to oversee the Manhattan Project, and then the actual construction of the bomb in New Mexico. That this man very soon realized that nuclear weapons should not belong to any one nation and worked pretty much the rest of his life on regulation of these original WMDs was something I had never known about. The level of paranoia around these disarmament activities and the amount of wiretapping and other surveillance that he and his family were subjected to in the name of anti-communism was astounding. I did feel the end of the book dragged things out too much and got very repetitive and too detailed, but still overall, an important work and I learned a lot from it. (listened to this unabridged. I definitely think if an abridged version is available, that would be preferable).

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Kevin
  • Calgary, Alberta, Canada
  • 07-12-09

Well worth the listen

26+ hours that went by like *that*. I loved this audiobook.

The narration was very good, but as pointed out by others there are many edits where it's clear they've inserted a patched portion of audio. In some points there is a near constant stream of these patched sections and I found it distracting. There is also a fairly boring stretch (for me, at least) that lasts for perhaps 3 hours just prior to Los Alamos, but overall this is well worth the read.

The focus of the book is the anti-communist witch-hunt (and personal vendetta) carried out against Oppenheimer. There is very little technical information about the building of the atomic bomb, but this did not detract from the fascinating story of his life. By the end of the book, when they get to his security hearing for the Automatic Energy Commission (his "trial" for communist connections), I was transfixed and could not shut this thing off. The testimony given in support of Oppenheimer during the trial was in some cases very moving.

It is a balanced and fair portrait, I feel. I knew nothing about Oppenheimer before reading this account, and I now I feel I know him very well indeed both the good and the bad. First rate biography.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

I can't tell how good this is....

It may be one of those books I need to read on paper. This narrator is just awful.
His mispronunciations and outright mistakes make the writers sound stupid, but I can't believe that they are. Whenever he's quoting "important" scientists, he puts on this weird mincing voice, as if fame turns people into drag queens. I wish there was a way to get my credits back on this one. I don't blame the narrator. He'd probably be great with children's books. My question: Why wouldn't the publisher pick an educated, professional narrator for subject matter like this?

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

that was great!

I recommend this book to anyone. I started it for a school project but then not taken away finishing it over the weekend

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Story

Great piece of history

What did you love best about American Prometheus?

Really interesting life this man had. The book was rather long and at time repetitive, but I feel like I learned a lot from listening to it.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
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Good book, strangely read

I thought the overall story with very good. The author relied heavily on primary source documentation without being overbearing.

Unfortunately the reader tried using different voices when somebody was being quoted and the overall audiobook was poorly edited. It's detracts a little bit from the book but overall I would recommend it.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Loved it. Had my attention the whole way through!

Finished it last weekend. loved it I had no idea that he was such an interesting man with a fascinating story to tell. I listened at 1.25 speed and it was great.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Margaret
  • Cincinnati, OH, United States
  • 11-15-13

A Rich Slive of Modern American History

Where does American Prometheus rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

This was among the best non-fiction books I’ve read in quite awhile. I saw modern American historyfrom a unique perspective. , the subject matter was rich, the writing strong, and the long read was well worth the time.<br/><br/>I selected American Prometheus with the expectation that I would learn about the anti-communism scares of the 1950s and how a famous scientist was harmed in a notorious hearing. In other words, I was prepared for a largely political story – a “tisk-tisk, they should not have done that” courtroom drama of a crucified saint.<br/><br/>This book delivered far more than I expected. In the meticulously researched account of Oppenheimer’s 62 years, it portrays a man who was fascinating for his awesome mental horsepower as well as for his numerous oddities and personal flaws. Certainly, this book tells about a man who ultimately was crucified, but there is no saint here. In some important ways, his personal life was tragic, and the book pulls no punches. Several times, I wanted to reach through the ether and tell him to straighten up his life.<br/><br/>My passion for science helped hold my interest. Oppenheimer began his career at the dawn of quantum physics in the 1920s and dealt with a who’s who of famous scientists: Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, Lawrence, and Teller among others. I was fascinated by some behind-the-scenes accounts of these men. Heisenberg’s assignments in Nazi Germany were interpreted by Oppenheimer and others as part of the clues that the Nazis were trying to create an atomic bomb. Einstein had a friendly rivalry with Oppenheimer: they each thought the other was pursuing faulty science. Teller despised Oppenheimer—and a lot of scientists did not like Teller.<br/>

What did you like best about this story?

I was amazed by how much detail is revealed about the process of designing and building the atomic bomb without revealing top-secret information. The authors focus on the many personalities, the strain of racing against the Germans, and the sometimes humorous stories about academic scientists learning to deal with Army secrecy.

How did the narrator detract from the book?

First, as other reviewers have said, the editing of the audio recording was very poor. I would say it was amateurish. Second, the narrator does not seem to listen to himself. I was distracted by his switching from a dispassionate narrator voice to conversational, emotional voices.

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

One tidbit will stick with me always: the name “Trinity” given to the site of the first test bomb is not a Biblical reference as I had thought. Oppenheimer chose the name from an ancient Sanskrit account of three gods, one of whom says “now I am Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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The Tragedy of Science on Trial

If you could sum up American Prometheus in three words, what would they be?

Janus' Atomic Age

What was one of the most memorable moments of American Prometheus?

The moment when Lewis Strauss is preparing to strike Oppenheimer down by effectively putting him on trial without affording him the rights of a trial.

What do you think the narrator could have done better?

There were some very odd switches in the audio. I'm unsure if this was due to the way in which the book was recorded, or done later to make distinct the different characters in the book. Whichever it was it took me out of the story which was bothersome. <br/><br/>The narrator could have done better by creating more distinct voices for the characters without the aid (or mistake) of the odd audio switch.<br/>

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

Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds

Any additional comments?

Initially I was rather down about this book. I had recently listened to a very good Einstein biography and was worried this wouldn't measure up. I was dead wrong. This book reads like a Greek tragedy and is beautifully told in that fashion. I felt fervent annoyance at Oppenheimer's arrogance measured with equal pity for his downfall. <br/><br/>I know nothing of Oppenheimer before I listened to this book. I walk away from it realizing the Crucifixions brought on by the Red Scare and how the facts of a life can be manipulated to mean completely different things in the hands of those looking to destroy you.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful