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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; 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 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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  • Overall

A "Blast" from the Past

Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin have written an outstanding biography in "American Prometheus." It relates the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer from childhood through the Manhattan Project. The book delves into the complexity of this man's personality and motivations. It thoroughly covers his political activism and his professional career. Biography lovers will not be disappointed. The writing is fast paced, the reading is very good, and Oppenheimer comes alive. Perhaps the most valuable contribution the book makes is placing Oppenheimer in political and historic context. The reader learns alot about the era as his life unfolds.

NOTE: My downloaded copy of the book seemed to be edited. The book is still worth the effort, but short portions were apparently re-recorded and inserted into the audio in places. The warmth of the reader(who was excellent by the way) changes abruptly and then jerks back. The pace changes for very brief periods where insertions are made. The volume abruptly changes and then returns. It was a distraction to my ears at least. Don't miss this book if you have an interest, however, for this reason alone.

34 of 34 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

interesting, but recording is not good

The book itself is quite interesting and well worth it. Unfortunately, the audio editing is not good. The cuts are noticeable as the narrator's volume and tone changes, something I have not observed on any other book I've listened to. There was also at least one occasion where a line was repeated because of poor editing. Finally, the narrator mangles foreign words, especially French one, which is quite distracting.

26 of 26 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

An American Tragedy

This is a haunting story of a brilliant man, and what the ugly demagogues of the 50's did to him. It captures the man, his charisma, phenomenal mind, surprising shortcomings, and as well his era with it's endless martinis, cigarettes, political naivite and grey-flannel evil. Truly a compelling "read."

17 of 17 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Interesting Man - Reader not so much...

I found the choppy editing of the audio distracting, and the reader's attempts at foreign pronunciation forced. Sometimes it seemed that the pronunciation was corrected, such as it was, by obviously reinserting the word into the audio stream. In addition, the reader's habit of taking on the voices of the various speakers was not entirely successful.
In the end, it was hard on the ears and I stopped listening after three or four hours. Too bad, since the best was yet to come, I hear.

14 of 14 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

One of the best books I have read

Although a true marathon listen, this was a fascinating trip throug the history of the atomic bomb centered on J. Robert Oppenheimer's life with many intricate and brilliant connections to the political agenda of the times. I learned more from this book than I did in high shool and although it took may weeks to finish, I would read this book again and will also recommend it to others for a very enjoyable, extremely well written, complex book. A true pleasure.

26 of 27 people found this review helpful

  • Overall


Bad editing is my only complaint about this one. Great book, but you can really tell when they re-recorded something or took a break in the recording. Very poorly done and really interupts what is otherwise an outstanding book. I would highly recomend this if you have any interest in Oppie, Physics or civil liberties.

37 of 39 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

well worth the time

This book above all is a full and detailed review of a brilliant man's life, including his successes, failures, weaknesses and strengths. Its volume is necessary because of the immense complexity of Oppenheimer's work and relationships. It reveals that great intellect can lead to heroic deeds (manhattan project) and unfortunate missteps (his marital and familial relationships). Most impressively, the authors take great effort to provide insight into the unfortunate McCarthy era and its effect on individuals and the nation as a whole.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall


The book is a fine description of an extremely unusual man, and it is read with an appropriate level of feeling. The reader, though, should have learned how to pronounce the names of persons and places. A significant number are pronounced incorrectly.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Thorough and Revealing

If you have enough patience for this very thorough biography, then you will be rewarded. By the end, I had come to believe that I had a good grasp of who Oppenheimer was, and what he had contributed to the scientific community. I also really, really hated McCarthyism, and felt that the country had done the man a deservice. I had heard much about the events of the Manhattan Project before hearing this, but I knew very little about the early days of post-war bomb development. I found those details especially rivetting.

15 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

terrific book

beautifully detailed story about a fascinating man and his memorable times.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story
  • Steve
  • 03-21-14

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.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story
  • B. Robin
  • 06-26-16

Phenomenal 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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  • Amazon Customer
  • 09-05-17

Brilliant and enlightening

A comprehensive look at the ambiguous life of one of the great men of modern history whose influence can be felt even today.