Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Oppenheimer and the Bomb is part of a series of short biographies of scientist. Paul Strathern has written a great many biographies and other books about science and history.

The book is easy to read and will give you an overview over the basic facts of Oppenheimer's life, along with an impression of his personality. The style is casual, which makes the book probably attractive for students who need to read up quickly on the subject. Strathern manages to explain the theory of the atom bomb so that it's very easy to understand.

However, he actually mentions the story that J. Edgar Hoover was a cross-dresser, which was already discredited at the time the book was written. I admit, it's an image that has a lot going for it, a story that's almost too juicy not to be re-told. But really, I expect more from a book that claims to be a well-researched biography. It's always a fine line between gossip and fact when writing biographies and I enjoy a good story as much as anyone, but at least the author should make it known that he's gossiping (unless you're Truman Capote, in which case it goes without saying).

The whole thing is only mentioned in passing, but it does nothing for my trust in the author's research. The book is a good choice when you need to polish up your knowledge of Oppenheimer and/or the history of the atom bomb quickly. As far as I can see, all the hard facts are reliable. You may do better to recheck the personal stories about the people involved, though.

Third book for the Non-Fiction Challenge
2012 reviews

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