Sunday, September 04, 2005

Oppenheimer books

Thomas Powers (author of Heisenberg's War) reviews recent biographies of Oppenheimer in the New York Review of Books.

What Oppenheimer left us at the end of the day was not the bomb— somebody would have built it—but his life. I mean the whole of it—the brilliance, the rich and complex personality, the example of his greatest achievement, pushed through in the furious, triumphant American way; and then the long harrowing aftermath so apparent in his late photographs—a man distressed by what the world insisted on doing with what he had built, and convinced there would be a price to pay. Foreboding of this kind was banished at a very early date from the Pentagon, the White House, and the bomb laboratories. There the ruling faith is that professionals can manage the dangers, and for a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war, it was possible to think they were right. But now things have changed again, and we find we are living once more with the old suspense, threatened by the weapons we were the first to build and use, and waiting for nothing to happen forever.

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