The untold story of an eccentric Wall Street tycoon and the circle of scientific geniuses he assembled before World War II to develop the science for radar and the atomic bomb. Together they changed the course of history.
Legendary financier, philanthropist, and society figure Alfred Lee Loomis gathered the most visionary scientific minds of the twentieth century—Albert Einstein, Werner Heisenberg, Niels Bohr, Enrico Fermi, and others—at his state-of-the-art laboratory in Tuxedo Park, New York, in the late 1930s. He established a top-secret defense laboratory at MIT and personally bankrolled pioneering research into new, high-powered radar detection systems that helped defeat the German Air Force and U-boats. With Ernest Lawrence, the Nobel Prize–winning physicist, he pushed Franklin Delano Roosevelt to fund research in nuclear fission, which led to the development of the atomic bomb.
Jennet Conant, the granddaughter of James Bryant Conant, one of the leading scientific advisers of World War II, enjoyed unprecedented access to Loomis’ papers, as well as to people intimately involved in his life and work. She pierces through Loomis’ obsessive secrecy and illuminates his role in assuring the Allied victory.
Alfred Lee Loomis (1887 1975) made his fortune in the 1920s by investing in public utilities, but science was his first love. In 1928, he established a premier research facility in Tuxedo Park, N.Y., that attracted such brilliant minds as Einstein, Bohr and Fermi and became instrumental in the Allies' WWII victory. Conant, a magazine writer, draws on studies, family papers and interviews with Loomis's friends, family and colleagues (she's a relative of two scientists who worked with Loomis) to trace the story of the tycoon's professional and social life (the latter fairly racy). At the Tuxedo Park lab, Loomis attracted top-flight scientists who experimented with sound, time measurement and brain waves. During WWII, he established a laboratory at MIT (the "rad lab") where radar was developed. He also served as a conduit between civilian scientists and Roosevelt's military establishment. Although he lost some of his top people to the Manhattan Project, the "rad lab" was a major contributor to the allies' defense. In his well-publicized personal life, Loomis angered family members by trying to have his emotionally unstable wife institutionalized while he pursued an affair with another woman. Through Conant's spare, unobtrusive prose and well-paced storytelling, Loomis emerges as a contradictory man who craved scientific accomplishment and influence, but rarely took credit for himself. Those interested in science or WWII history will appreciate this well-researched bio.