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Reviewed by:
  • Oppenheimer: Portrait of an Enigma
  • Frank A. Settle
Oppenheimer: Portrait of an Enigma. By Jeremy Bernstein. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2004. ISBN 1-56663-569-1. Photographs. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. 240. $25.00.

This short biography explores the complex personality of physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, using materials and interviews collected by the author since the 1950s. Bernstein, a physicist and historian of the nuclear age, knew Oppenheimer personally as director of the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton during the 1960s. [End Page 278]

Each of the five chapters focuses on a specific period of Oppenheimer's life: his early childhood to the completion of his Ph.D. under Max Born at Göttingen, Germany; his pre-World War II years in California as a professor at Cal Tech and Berkeley; his leadership in the Manhattan Project as director of the Los Alamos Laboratory during the war; the 1954 Atomic Energy Commission hearing that revoked his security clearance; and his last years as director of the Institute for Advanced Study.

The author provides interesting insights into Oppenheimer's personal and professional relationships. Jean Tatlock, a serious girlfriend, Kathryn "Kitty" Puening, his wife, Frank, his brother, and Haakon Chevalier, a university colleague, were major influences in his personal life. Edward Teller, General Leslie Groves, Ernest Lawrence, and Lewis Strauss played key roles in determining the path of his career.

In the final analysis, this biography adds little new factual information but presents intimate glimpses into the life of this conflicted scientist who directed the production of the first nuclear weapons and was later victimized by the anticommunist movement that gripped the United States in the 1950s. It is a good introduction to Oppenheimer for neophytes and a nostalgic read for those familiar with his life.

Frank A. Settle
Washington & Lee University
Lexington, Virginia


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 278-279
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2010
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