Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Oppenheimer: Portrait of an Enigma

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Oppenheimer: Portrait of an Enigma

Article excerpt

Oppenheimer: Portrait of an Enigma, by Jeremy Bernstein. Ivan R. Dee, April 2004. $25

Living inside J. Robert Oppenheimer's skin cannot have been easy, and telling the complex story of Oppenheimer's life in an objective yet sympathetic manner has required the considerable talents and accomplishments of Bernstein-as writer, educator, and scientist. While a postdoc in physics at Princeton University, the author came to know Oppenheimer and began to gather the anecdotes and personal information that justify this intimate biography of the brilliant, troubled, and controversial man generally acknowledged as the father of the A-bomb. Bernstein develops several themes to portray Oppenheimer's complex life. The dominant theme is that, contrary to outward appearances, Oppenheimer never quite grasped his own identity and, according to Bernstein, remained "captive to an element of self-destructiveness." Precocious youth, socially isolated scholar, arrogant young genius, devotee of poetry in several languages, founder of the school of theoretical physics at the University of California, spellbinding lecturer, capricious friend, inspirational and intellectual leader of the Los Alamos scientists, political innocent, officially designated security risk, and a great researcher and teacher-Oppenheimer played these roles and more. …

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