Inside The Centre: The Life of J. Robert Oppenheimer

Jackson Lears writes:

Oppenheimer was a brilliant physicist, a charismatic leader and a skilful administrator; he was also a deeply reflective and troubled man, sensitive enough to question the conventional wisdom of the powerful even as he struggled to maintain his influence among them. Monk ably captures all these dimensions, in part through sheer accretion of detail. But he does have a central theme, expressed in his title, Inside the Centre. Whatever else Oppenheimer wanted, he always longed to be at the centre of every important theoretical debate and policy discussion he could manage to enter; a child of wealthy and assimilated German Jews on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, he was the quintessential outsider as insider – yet never quite the insider he aimed to be, in part due to his own contrarian instincts. Committed to Enlightenment ideals of open inquiry, he submitted to regimes of suspicion and secrecy though without ever giving up his own doubts.

(LRB 20 December 2012)

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