Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Albert Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer, two iconic scientists of the twentieth century, belonged to different generations, with the boundary marked by the advent of quantum mechanics. By exploring how these men differed-in their worldview, in their work, and in their day-this book provides powerful insights into the lives of two critical figures and into the scientific culture of their times.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-04335-0
    Subjects: History of Science & Technology, Physics, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-32)

    On one of their walks together in the early 1950s, Albert Einstein told J. Robert Oppenheimer, “When it has once been given you to do something rather reasonable, forever afterward your work and life are a little strange” (Oppenheimer 1956b, 2). Einstein had not been modest as a young man, but as a man in his seventies he characterized what he had achieved as “something reasonable” rather than as “something great.” Both Einstein and Oppenheimer had done “great things”; both were “great”; both transformed our ideas concerning what human beings can be or do. In his essay on Chaim Weizmann,...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Albert Einstein and Nuclear Weapons
    (pp. 33-100)

    Quantum mechanics was responsible for a restructuring of the physical sciences that proved as consequential as that brought about by the Scientific Revolution. Just as Newton’s physics transformed Western culture, so too did quantum mechanics during the twentieth century. And it is one of the characteristics of that century that the insights and understanding that quantum mechanics provided were soon thereafter marshaled for destructive ends. The design of the first atomic bomb was based on the conceptual tools provided by quantum mechanics: the uranium bomb was never tested before its use on Hiroshima. Similarly, the understanding of the structure and...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Albert Einstein and the Founding of Brandeis University
    (pp. 101-135)

    John Stachel, in an erudite and sensitive essay (Stachel 2002, 57–84), chronicled the events shaping Einstein’s attitude toward Judaism and his identification as a Jew. He explored Einstein’s mature views on Jews, Judaism, and Zionism and pointed to the fact that when in 1952 David Ben-Gurion, then the prime minister of Israel, offered the presidency of Israel to Einstein to succeed Chaim Weizmann, who had just died, Einstein declined. In his letter to Ben-Gurion expressing his regrets for not being able to accept, Einstein added: “I am the more distressed because my relationship to the Jewish people has become...

  7. CHAPTER THREE J. Robert Oppenheimer: Proteus Unbound
    (pp. 136-194)

    In Greek mythology Proteus was the old, prophetic, uncommunicative shepherd of the seas’ flocks who knew all things—past, present, and future. Those who wished to consult him first had to surprise him and bind him during his noonday slumber. Even when caught he would try to escape by assuming all sorts of shapes; but if caught he would then tell all he knew. Protean thus came to mean variable, versatile, taking many forms.

    In his Jefferson Lecture of the Humanities in 1973, Erik Erikson called Thomas Jefferson aProteanman, meaning that Jefferson was a many-sided man of universal...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR J. Robert Oppenheimer and American Pragmatism
    (pp. 195-238)

    For his contribution to theFestspeilcelebrating the twenty-five years of activities of the School of Social Science of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, Charles Taylor (2001) offered an essay on “Modernity and Identity.” In this work he attempted to better understand the present-day discourse of identity and to answer the question: “Why would our ancestors have found it hard to understand the contemporary preoccupation with identity?” (Taylor 2001, 139). To do so he distinguished three different contexts in which the word is commonly used. The first is the sense given it by Erik Erikson, namely, “identity” as...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Einstein, Oppenheimer, and the Extension of Physics
    (pp. 239-264)

    Eugene Wigner, one of the leading contributors to quantum theory, made a perceptive comment regarding the genesis of quantum mechanics in a lecture he delivered in the early 1980s at an international school of subnuclear physics:

    While I was studying chemical engineering [during the early 1920s] and visited the Berlin University’s physics colloquium each week, I gained the impression that many of the participants had doubts whether the human mind is strong enough to extend physics to the microscopic domain…. The first change in this pessimistic attitude came with Heisenberg’s paper, modest as the aim of that was…. An equally...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Einstein, Oppenheimer, and the Meaning of Community
    (pp. 265-308)

    Oppenheimer first met Einstein in January 1932 when Einstein visited Cal Tech during his around the world trip of 1931–1932.¹ In January 1935, Oppenheimer went east to attend a meeting of the American Physical Society. While in New York he took the opportunity to go to Princeton to visit the Institute for Advanced Study to which he had been invited to spend a year as a visiting member. He conveyed his reaction to the occupants of Fine Hall—the building where both the mathematics department of Princeton University and, until 1938, the Institute for Advanced Study were located—in...

  11. Some Concluding Remarks
    (pp. 309-316)

    The Preface posed the question: “How did Einstein and Oppenheimer try to remain relevant after they had made their singular contribution?” As we have seen for both Einstein and Oppenheimer, physics was an integral and vital part of their lives—it had been so previously and it remained so subsequently.

    Einstein was constant and unshakable in his belief that the nonlinear field equations of his theory of general relativity and those of his “unified” theories of gravity and electromagnetism might yield particle-like solutions that would correspond to known “elementary” particles. He thought that such nonlinear field equations might even provide...

  12. APPENDIX: The Russell-Einstein Manifesto
    (pp. 317-320)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 321-378)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 379-400)
  15. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 401-404)
  16. Index
    (pp. 405-412)