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Kaius  ·  118 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: What are you Reading?

    American Prometheus - Nothing earthshattering. Gave good context for Oppenheimer I felt. Curious if anyone else has read it.

Read it many years ago, I knew very little about Oppenheimer going into it. The main takeaways was the sheer size of the Manhattan project, the curious nature of Oppenheimer as a person, and then the political intrigue that followed related to his security clearance over the suspected association with the Communist party.

I particularly liked the "competency porn" aspect of it; remarkably talented individuals doing things that require remarkable talent. It scratches that "gee I wish I was a genius" itch you get in fiction like The Martian or whatever. But this was a real genius working with other genius's to do something momentous. I remember reading Bryson's book at the same time as this and it explained much of the explosion in physics around the 20's and 30's and the big players involved.

As a self professed nerd I knew I'd like the science stuff but was surprised to find the political bits pretty interesting. The paranoia of the time period, the creation of a new age, what it means to create something you cannot control, being discarded once you have served your purpose, the beginning of the cold war, and perhaps the social structures in the US at the time, were all fascinating. I ended up reading Caro's LBJ biographies not to long after which though not completely related, have some overlap with the social paranoia and McCarthyism.

The part that stayed with me afterwards was how Oppenheimer was such a difficult person to really get a grip on. He was clearly brilliant, and charming, but also depressive and emotionally complex. Morally ambivalent? Is that a good term for it? He wrung his hands and quoted the bhagavad gita over his role in making the bomb, but then celebrated the anniversary of the day the bomb was dropped in costume dress up for the rest of his life...

Was he too brilliant to comprehend, or just a messed up clever individual? The book was good to not spell out too much its views, although given it took years to write I wonder how much bias it contains.

As for the movie, I've seen it once and was underwhelmed, I'm holding judgement until I watch it again.