American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin is a gripping biography that delves deep into the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer who was considered as one of the most complex figures of 20th century. Oppenheimer was instrumental in developing the atomic bomb during World War II. He was the scientific director of Manhattan Project.
This book will take the readers on a stunning journey through the life of Oppenheimer. It starts with his early days in New York City and covers all his achievements in physics and at least his involvement in Manhattan Project. The authors Bird and Sherwin have painted Oppenheimer’s vivid portrait, showcasing his intelligence as physicist. The book showed the emotional struggles that he faced due huge responsibility for creating world’s most destructive weapon.
Throughout the book, readers will get a glimpse of the various phases of Oppenheimer’s life. The initial chapters of the book explore the upbringing as well as education in physics. These chapters also emphasize on his relationships with his family and mentors and also his extraordinary ability to grasp complex scientific concepts. It also covers Oppenheimer’s time that he spent in Europe, where he interacted with some of the famous physicists like Werner Heisenberg and Neil Bohr, ultimately earning praises as leading theoretical physicist.
As WWII reveals, the focus shifts to Oppenheimer’s role in the Manhattan Project and his work at secretive Los Alamos laboratory. The authors provide fascinating insights into how Oppenheimer managed scientific endeavor and provide a glimpse of life in Los Almos. The book culminates with the struggles of Oppenheimer in the aftermath of war, becoming a target of McCarthyism and witnessing the rising nuclear arm race which affected his relationship with US Government.
Throughout the book, Oppenheimer has emerged as enigmatic and conflicted character. He has a very high IQ rumored to be more than 200 and his unconventional behavior often confused his friends. Though at times he appeared very distant and arrogant but he also displayed his soft and sensitive side especially about the destructive potential of the atomic bombs that he created.
All in all, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer is a very gripping book that offers compelling as well as insightful glimpse into Oppenheimer’s life through complexities of science and politics. It is a must-read for everyone who is interested in human side of scientific genius and deep impact of the scientific discoveries on the society.