Biography, History and Philosophy of Science, Reviews

Review: Thorpe, Oppenheimer

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This week’s edition of Nature has quite a positive review of Charles Thorpe’s new book, Oppenheimer: The Tragic Intellect. Catherine Westphall writes for Nature:

Does the world really need yet another book about J. Robert Oppenheimer? … Amazingly, Charles Thorpe’s Oppenheimer still manages to provide a fascinating new perspective. …
What’s new here is a precise and compelling description of how Oppenheimer’s Los Alamos persona was forged by wartime circumstances and the Los Alamos community. To succeed in its grim mission, Los Alamos needed a certain type of leader, and Oppenheimer nimbly fit himself to the role, becoming the intellectual, moral, and social center of gravity for the constellation of scientific and engineering problem-solving. Thorpe argues that just as Oppenheimer created Los Alamos, so Los Alamos created, or at least reconfigured, Oppenheimer.

Westphall’s review concludes: “Thorpe’s book provides the best perspective yet for understanding Oppenheimer’s Los Alamos years, which were critical, after all, not only to his life but, for better or worse, the history of mankind.”