History in Review
J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Cold War, and the Atomic West
By Jon Hunner. (University of Oklahoma Press, Norman: 2009. Pg. 272. 20 B & W Illustrations.) ISBN: 978-0-8061-4046-9.
Reviewed by Auggie Moore - October 26, 2009
J. Robert Oppenheimer was an enigmatic scientist. To some he was a patriot, to others, a traitor. Universally known as 'The Father of the Atomic Bomb,' what all do agree on is that he was a genius and that he was an instrumental player in the advancement of atomic physics and in the development of the atomic bomb. In J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Cold War, and the Atomic West, Jon Hunner has crafted an engaging and readable biography of Oppenheimer. Uniquely, this biography also looks at how Oppenheimer was shaped by the American West, and the impact that he had on the region.
Hunner is a Professor of History, and the Public History Director, at New Mexico State University. He is also the author of Inventing Los Alamos: The Growth of an Atomic Community. His writing is infused with his personal knowledge of the American West and his years of research into the history of the American West and the Atomic Age.
Hunner begins his study in 1904 with Oppenheimer's birth, and highlights Oppenheimer's first encounter with the American West when he went 'west' for his health. His family life, education, and philosophical development are charted, as were his flirtations with the Communist Party. Hunner examines how 'Oppie' was recruited to work on the Manhattan Project and the development of the Atomic bomb. He explores the role that Oppenheimer had in selecting Los Alamos, New Mexico as the home for America's premier Atomic Weapons Research Lab, and his role as director of the lab. As important, Hunner looks at the impact that the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had on Oppenheimer, both in the short term and over the remainder of his career. Oppenheimer's downfall and the many investigations that centered upon him are also covered in detail, as is the impact that he had, as a person and a scientist, on the Cold War and on numerous advancements in theoretical and atomic physics.
This book is sure to interest both scholars and general readers with an interest in Oppenheimer's life, or in the Atomic Age. It also includes illustrations from Oppenheimer's personal life, as well as those related to his work. The author has also included a bibliographic essay that will prove useful for those who wish to investigate Oppenheimer's life in greater detail.
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