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For nearly three decades Jeremy Bernstein wrote profiles of scientists for the New Yorker. Many were prizeDwinners, and his book Einstein was nominated for the National Book Award. But he hesitated to write about Oppenheimer until now. Mr. Bernstein, a theoretical physicist best known for his nonscientific work, has also written The Dawning of the Raj and The Merely Personal as well as Hitler's Uranium Club; Three Degrees Above Zero; and Cranks, Quarks, and the Cosmos. He lives in New York City and Aspen, Colorado.
This is not the most comprehensive biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-67), but Bernstein (Einstein) doesn't intend it as such. Instead, it is a personal account of the time that the author spent with Oppenheimer during his two years at the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ. Oppenheimer is an impossible person to fit neatly into any single category; many believe that without him, the atomic bomb would have never been built, yet he lost his security clearance in 1954 during the height of McCarthyism. Indeed, Bernstein dedicates substantial coverage to his "trial," letting readers see much of what happened from Oppenheimer's perspective. Preceding chapters discuss his early life, time in California, and Los Alamos, with no intended focus on his scientific achievements. Recommended for academic libraries that need additional studies of Oppenheimer.-James Olson, Northeastern Illinois Univ., Chicago Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
In his preface to this portrait, Bernstein (Cranks, Quarks, and the Cosmos, etc.) is up front with his intentions; "I make no pretense of trying to write a `definitive' biography of Oppenheimer." Bernstein, a physicist who was a staff writer at the New Yorker for 39 years, is known for his profiles of top scientists, and this book is best understood as an extended magazine profile rather than an exhaustive portrait of the controversial J. Robert Oppenheimer. The author hits all the high (and low) points of Oppenheimer's life, from his role as director of the Los Alamos team that developed the atomic bomb to his struggles with the government during the McCarthy era, but we never really understand what made the physicist tick. Throughout, our view of Oppenheimer is firmly rooted in Bernstein's perspective, fleshed out in part through personal anecdotes of the rare occasions that their paths crossed. Though an interesting window into the physics community through the 20th century, the result is a relatively shallow biography that holds its subject at arm's length, filled with awe and the kind of whispered stories that graduate students pass back and forth about the paramount figures in their field. Bernstein's characterization of this as the New Yorker profile he never wrote may indicate its audience-curious general readers, not those steeped in science history. 7 b&w photos not seen by PW. (Apr. 2) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Bernstein, himself a theoretical physicist, has profiled scientists for The New Yorker for nearly three decades.... His memoir, which elucidates difficult scientific problems in the clearest English, is a must-read for anyone interested in the power of science and the state. * Toronto Globe and Mail * It brims with new stories and scientific explanations, making it an ideal layman's introduction to this elusive and conflicted 20th-century giant. -- William Lanouette * Issues In Science and Technology * Jeremy Bernstein, combining the grace of a New Yorker writer with the insight of a theoretical physicist, draws a fine and fascinating portrait of the man who gave us the atomic bomb. -- Arthur Schlesinger Jr. Having had the advantage of shrewdly observing Oppenheimer at close range, Jeremy Bernstein combines in this gripping biography his expertise in physics and history of science with his talent as a master storyteller. -- Gerald Holton, Harvard University Jeremy Bernstein has written an engrossing portrait of the life and contributions of J. Robert Oppenheimer-providing keen insights into his complex personality and, in clear language, his impressive contributions to physics and to the development of the atomic bomb. -- Athan Theoharis, author of From the Secret Files of J. Edgar Hoover Fascinating...a splendid addition.... It reads exceedingly well from beginning to end. I was particularly impressed with his analysis of Oppenheimer's security hearing.... Every part of the book contains new and fascinating insights into Oppenheimer's life and work and the people with whom he was associated. -- Roger H. Stuewer, Tate Laboratory of Physics, University of Minnesota What makes this little book worthwhile is its personal view of the conflicted genius. A fine introduction to an ever-fascinating man. -- Bill Ott * Booklist * A revealing, involving, highly recommended biographical survey. * Bookwatch * His memoir, which elucudates difficult scientific problems is in the clearest English, is a must-read for anyone interested in the power of science and the state. -- Chris Scott * Toronto Globe and Mail * Oppenheimer: A Portrait of an Enigma is full of amusing and enlightening anecdotes and asides that illuminate both Oppenheimer's personality and the milieu in which he lived. If the book has a moral, it is that even a genius can be too clever. * Washington Sunday Times * Bernstein's engaging and revealing profile is a reminder of the events that so colored and charged Opeenheimer's life. -- Stanley I. Kutler * Los Angeles Times * Berstein has written a book that manages to be both insightful and maddening. -- Sandra G. Boodman * The Review of Higher Education * Both personal and historical. * Nuclear News * Bernstein sets forth the fascinating story of Oppenheimer's controversial life successfully and smoothly. Highly readable. * Buffalo Jewish Review * If anyone can shed light on the enigma that is Robert Oppenheimer it is Jeremy Bernstein.... A superb piece of work... essential reading. * The Spectator * Jeremy Bernstein is as good a writer as you can find among scientists.... A splendid, brief biography...a page turner. * Physics Today * It is a good introduction to Oppenheimer for neophytes and a nostalgic read for those familiar with his life. * Journal of Military History * Berstein...knew Oppenheimer, knows physics, and writes with verve and wit.... His book sparkles... -- Jonathan Beard * New Scientist * Bernstein does a convincing job of discovering the oddball nature of this nuclear genius. -- John Pate * El Paso Times * This one is essential. * Kliatt * An excellent introduction. -- Thomas Powers * New York Review * This portrait of the enigmatic physicist...includes several interesting anecdotes that are not well known. -- George E. Webb, Department of History, Tennessee Technological University * Journal of the West *