Oppenheimer, by David Boyle

Natalie Morgan

As a new Nolan film of the nuclear scientist nears release, a new biography is published.
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David Boyle, the author behind numerous well-received historical and historical fiction books, including Alan Turing: Unlocking the Enigma and Operation Primrose, brings us a thoughtful and detailed account of the father of the atomic bomb, Robert Oppenheimer, and his connections to Edward Teller and Lewis Strauss. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, left a devastating stain on history and created a widespread unease as to what course the post-war world may take. Seventy-seven years after the detonation of the atomic bombs, director Christopher Nolan brings the creation of the bomb to the big screen. The film will be centred on Oppenheimer and a team of scientists during the Manhattan Project; a project that eventually led to the development of the bomb in 1945. Nolan’s film is predicted to be a big hit in the theatres this summer and Boyle’s book is the ideal short biography to help understand Oppenheimer’s life, character and the men that worked together to use science to change the course of history.

Boyle opens with a detailed account of Oppenheimer’s childhood from which we are able to ascertain how such an intellect was formed. An affluent, albeit lonely, childhood meant that Oppenheimer excelled academically far sooner than his peers. By 1937, Oppenheimer and Teller are acquainted at Stanford University where they both realise their gift for science, specifically physics. Boyle goes on to cover the strained relationship between Oppenheimer and Teller that continued throughout their professional careers.

Th science is well conveyed and explained. The complexity of nuclear physics may put off some readers due to the subject’s unfamiliarity, however, this book excels in its readability whilst succinctly informing those who may wish to know more regarding the monumental scientific discoveries.

Later in the book, Boyle reveals the horrors that occurred once the ‘Little Boy’ bomb was dropped and the events that followed. Using interviews of some of the Hiroshima survivors, recorded by an American journalist, John Hersey, the reader is introduced to the alternate perspective of those who were on the receiving end of Oppenheimer’s creation.

The creation of the nuclear world weighed heavy on Oppenheimer and the book goes on to describe the fallout between the three men; a fallout so great that both Strauss and Teller would fail to support Oppenheimer during his trial, which was initiated due to not voluntarily giving up his security clearance. This period of Oppenheimer’s life caused him great stress and alienation from his work – and Boyle does a superb job when depicting the inner conflict that he endured.

Oppenheimer proves why Boyle is recognised as a master of shorter historical works. Let us hope that the film is equally engaging.

David Boyle is the author of Oppenheimer: A World Destroyed, published by Sharpe Books.