THE RECOLLECTIONS OF EUGENE P. WIGNER by Eugene P. Wigner

THE RECOLLECTIONS OF EUGENE P. WIGNER

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A veteran of the Smithsonian's oral-history program on the Manhattan Project, Szanton brings an educated focus and a writer's sensitivity to these expertly shaped memoirs, based on over 30 interviews, of a Hungarian-born Nobelist who helped create the atomic bomb. Born in 1902 as a middle-class product of Budapest's excellent private schools (along with Edward Teller, John von Neumann, and Leo Szilard, the three other Hungarian ``geniuses'' behind the Manhattan Project), Wigner graduated to a lectureship at Princeton in 1930. It was from this position of relative safety that he watched, horrified, as Hitler rose to power. Convinced that the Nazis would soon develop an atomic bomb, Wigner solicited and translated Einstein's renowned letter to FDR warning of the potential danger of atomic weapons; urged US military leaders to fund fission research; and joined the Metallurgical Laboratory at the Univ. of Chicago in time to witness the first controlled nuclear chain reaction. Though acknowledging here that ``we should have known that Hitler would not build an atomic bomb,'' and in spite of his regret about Hiroshima, Wigner claims to wish only that US nuclear capability had been achieved earlier, in time to prevent Soviet expansion. His terror of dictatorships, he says, contributed to his belief in the ``foolishness'' of mutual assured destruction; his outrage at the ``sick'' opinions of rebellious American youth in the 1960's; his continuing support for active US preparation for nuclear attack; and his attendance at scientific conferences sponsored by the vehemently anti-Communist Unification Church. Though he reviles his ``best friend'' Leo Szilard as a ``staunch leftist,'' Wigner refuses to condemn Werner Heisenberg for his work with the Nazis. The nature of these memoirs, in which the interviewer remains virtually invisible, precludes any challenge to such apparent contradictions--a disappointment in an otherwise intriguing self-portrait. (Twenty-one b&w photographs-- not seen.)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-306-44326-0
Page count: 310pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1992