Oppenheimer obviously also appears in Richard Rhodes' utterly superb "The Making of the Atomic Bomb", though he only becomes a main character in the sequel, "Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb", which is also great.
Oppenheimer was a highly skilled physicist, but Rhodes attributes his ability to lead the Manhattan Project to his gifts as a "synthesizer" of ideas and knowledge from many people and disparate branches of science. In my opinion he really came into his own, though, after the bomb, when he started formulating the US' atomic energy strategy, essentially inserting himself -- a scientist, not a statesman -- into the political elite by sheer force of will and charisma. Rhodes tells of Oppenheimer completely dominating meetings in early efforts that resulted in the formation of the Atomic Energy Commission (which became the US Department of Energy), essentially writing national policy recommendations on his own.
Oppenheimer realized the dangers of nuclear proliferation and detente early on, and wanted the world to own atomic energy as a force for good. He wanted an international organization (what became the IAEA) to control atomic energy and not let the US and UK have a monopoly on it. Oppenheimer also recommended against developing the hydrogen bomb, which he thought would dangerously escalate the destructive power of nuclear arms. This opposition ultimately led to Oppeheimer's trial that cost him his security clearance.
But it was his extensive writings on what the future of atomic energy could be that I think set him apart in this years. He was prescient about nuclear arms race and tried to steer the US and the world towards peaceful use of atomic energy. If his policies had been implemented we may have been in a different place today.
Edit: You mean "The Good Spy" from 2015, about Robert Ames?
Recently saw it on Steven Weinberg’s list:
And was it Rhodes book where he described the physicists curiously disappearing from the universities in the early 40's? And when the offer finally came to another physicist to relocate, upon checking out books on New Mexico, would discover that all the scientists that had already disappeared had recently checked out the sam books as well.
Edit: Wow, found the Wikipedia article on Szilard. Man that guy was amazing: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leo_Szilard#Developing_the_ide...
It checks all of the boxes for the "Radical outlier who changes everything by dint of genius and hard work" while barely acknowledging the circumstances, environment, timing etc...
Gifted from birth
Non-traditional and "Troubled" socially
Ahead of peers and mentors
Focused and Driven
Overcame institutional/structural resistance
This is not meant to detract from Oppenheimer's immense contributions, to the contrary. I thought it was something worth keeping in mind as I read the article - especially considering that Oppenheimer himself would spread credit to others and attempt to dismiss the idea that the Manhattan Project was a "One man show."
Sorry, the pedant in me (well, me) must point out it's "dint."
Makes me wonder about Einstein. Were other people working on relativity too?
The only one of the three you name where you could make a case for them making a real difference would be Jobs (and I say that even though I am a non-fan).
The guy helped build a weapon which destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in a matter of seconds. Oh shucks, what an eccentric and quirky guy he was. Objectively, he is one of history's greatest villains and arguably the one of the greatest war criminals, but luckily, he was on the winning side.
If Oppenheimer was japanese and he helped build bombs for the japanese and the japanese dropped nukes on say Baltimore and San Fran during the war, he would have been tried and executed after ww2 by the victorious US. I doubt "The Eccentric Father of the Atomic Bomb" is the titled we'd use if he was japanese.
Your hypothetical assertion is heavily undermined by the actual reality of what happened with Werner Von Braun and all the other Nazi Germany scientists recruited by Operation Paperclip.
How so? Werner Von Braun didn't invent the A-Bomb. His rockets were more of a novelty than anything. A single firebomb killed more people and caused more damage than all the V2 rockets during ww2. And Von Braun's weapons weren't used against the US. It was used against britain.
If Werner Von Braun developed nukes and germany nuked San Fran and Baltimore, do you really believe he'd be a director of NASA? Rather than undermining it, your example supports my assertion.
Werner Von Braun was responsible for no american civilian death. If he was responsible for 200,000 deaths and poisoning hundreds of thousands of american civilians with radiation and we allowed him to be a director of NASA, maybe you'd be right.
The point is if von braun had enslaved hundreds of thousands of americans and then killed them, we wouldn't have made him a director of NASA. If you can show me where von braun murdered hundreds of thousands of americans, I am more than willing to change my mind.
The fact that you are trying to equate v2 rockets with hiroshima and nagasaki shows that your innate bias is making to you grasp at straws and generate a false narrative. But then again, that's my point. Bias in history.
> As Oppenheimer began his trip, he found the Japanese people grateful, even enthusiastic, at his presence in the country. Aspiring scientists were eager to learn from him, and the majority at least appeared to hold no ill will toward him for the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki that killed hundreds of thousands of people.
A really interesting thing to note about Oppenheimer, as the author points out, was a somewhat "haphazard" approach both to studying physics, and in his actual scientific work. Meaning, picking the problems he found the most interesting, rather than some grand, overarching idea.
It's always fascinating in reading books of this sort to see just how closely knit the physics community was, since Oppenheimer studied with Born and Thomson, met Bohr as a student, and later worked with a lot of the truly great ones.
Even in the macabre poisoning episode, the tutor he left the apple for was Patrick Blackett, a future Nobel laureate.
The only good part of the film is the subplot about the John Cusack character (loosely based on Harry Daghlian), which is a pretty good re-enactment of the actual incident. That scene (which is on YouTube) is worth watching on its own.
For a much more accurate portrayal of Oppenheimer, check out the BBC miniseries "Oppenheimer" from 1980. In terms of TV, it's positively premodern -- more like a filmed play than a real production. But Sam Waterston is much more true to Oppenheimer's character.