Thoughtful and important.




The dramatic story of physicists who put science at the service of the state, with momentous results for themselves and the world.

Drawing on private papers, personal interviews, and information from recently declassified FBI files, Herken, a curator and historian at the Smithsonian Institution, draws vivid portraits of three scientists whose nuclear research ultimately created the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs and the arms race that followed: Berkeley experimentalist and Nobelist Ernest Lawrence, theoretician Robert Oppenheimer, and refugee scientist Edward Teller. Solidly researched, much of Herken’s story reads like a detective story in which the central question—was Robert Oppenheimer, one of the intellectual fathers of the Manhattan Project, once secretly a member of the Communist Party?—remains unanswered. Herken also explains the theoretical debate over whether atomic weapons were feasible and the scientific issues that emerged in developing them, and uses declassified information to describe the USSR’s shockingly successful espionage program against British scientists and the laboratory at Los Alamos. Ultimately, Oppenheimer lost his security clearance after an agonizing hearing in which he admitted lying to federal investigators about possible contacts with the Soviet Union. Both Lawrence and Teller turned against Oppenheimer in the end, though Lawrence declined to testify against him. Yet in Herken’s account, Oppenheimer emerges as a complex, even noble figure who may have lied to save his brother, Frank, a committed Communist. And beyond Oppenheimer’s personal tragedy, Herken shows the broader implications of the Oppenheimer case—the brutal treatment of Oppenheimer, who was widely respected in the scientific community, set back recruitment for nuclear research. Meanwhile, Oppenheimer’s moral opposition to the development of ever-more-potent thermonuclear bombs gave way to an arms race that resulted in the production of over 250,000 nuclear weapons in both the US and USSR over three decades.

Thoughtful and important.

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2002

ISBN: 0-8050-6588-1

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2002

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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