Born into a wealthy, secular New York Jewish family, a student of the Ethical Culture School in New York, later educated in theoretical physics at Harvard, Cambridge (UK) and Göttingen (Germany), appointed professor at UC-Berkeley and Caltech, J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967) was on the forefront of the rise of theoretical physics in the United States to world-class status, contributing to the century-altering success of the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb. As the scientific leader of that project, Oppenheimer played a key advisory role in government, helping to forge the post-war military-industrial-scientific alliance that poured huge resources into post-war “big science.” Because of his position, Oppenheimer became for the public the heroic cultural icon of American science, but he also became a target and a tragic victim of the cold-war fear and nuclear war preparations underlying the McCarthy era.
This biographical study focuses on Oppenheimer’s cultural and intellectual rise as a theoretical physicist as well as his role within the trajectory of the nation’s rise to scientific leadership and the post-war forces that confronted American science. This biography is nearly unique in that it includes discussions for general audiences of Oppenheimer’s work and contributions to theoretical physics, including his famous prediction of black holes sixty years before their confirmed discovery.
“Now David Cassidy brings us the best account of Oppenheimer’s life in science with J. Robert Oppenheimer and the American Century.” — T. Powers, New York Review of Books
“Cassidy covers this ground admirably in his thoughtful biography of Oppenheimer.” —Scientific American
“Cassidy’s book...is probably the best single study of Oppenheimer to date.” — B. Bernstein, Physics World
“Cassidy’s biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer is a concise, well-written book about the life of the famous 20th century scientist... A worthwhile read for anyone with an interest in the coming of age of American physics and how the weaknesses and strengths of one of its leaders shaped the relationship between science and the government for decades to come.” — Physics and Society
“This biography is a detailed and beautifully written work. Cassidy expands beyond the traditional scope of a biography and expertly explores the surrounding environment that shaped Oppenheimer’s life.” — Atomic Archive
“This excellent biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer places the eminent physicist in the context of twentieth century America... Cassidy... provides excellent insights into the life and times of this complex man. Unlike many other biographers of Oppenheimer, Cassidy assesses his role as a twentieth century theoretical physicist.” — Alsos Digital Library for Nuclear Issues
“A superbly researched biography... There is no doubt that Cassidy gives us a valuable perspective on Oppenheimer’s life. The author is shy neither of editorializing nor of making judgments about the personalities who appear in the story... These comments are almost unfailingly fair and justified by the evidence.” — Times Higher Education
“Cassidy... has written a book that neither praises Oppenheimer nor buries his reputation but, rather, puts some tarnish upon the icon.” — G. Herken, Science