It is fitting that an excellent study of Robert Oppenheimer, "the father of the atomic bomb," would emerge at a time when American politicians are butting heads with scientists over such subjects as global warming, stem-cell research and that golden oldie of discord, evolution. Although government officials were alarmed by Oppenheimer's left-leaning politics even as he assembled the team that would produce the dreadful bomb at Los Alamos, New Mexico, they still treated him with deference, knowing that, to a considerable degree, America's war efforts were in his hands. Jennet Conant's 109 East Palace: Robert Oppenheimer and the Secret City of Los Alamos takes its title from the Santa Fe address of the office that administered the super-secret A-bomb operations in Los Alamos. This book presents a generally approving picture of the tormented scholar/scientist, and both books conclude that he was more than a little responsible for his own miseries.
Jennet Conant, the granddaughter of James B. Conant, president of Harvard and head of the "Manhattan Project" that developed the bomb, creates a cinematic view of the remote but bustling Los Alamos outpost with the charismatic Oppenheimer at its center. While she also delves into his politics, she is more concerned with the drama that transformed him from a relatively obscure university professor into a world-shaking colossus. Conant draws heavily on the written and spoken reminiscences of Dorothy McKibben, who ran the East Palace office with discreet but spectacular competence. Those who can't get enough of Oppenheimer may also wish to read his fictional portrayal in Joseph Kanon's 1997 thriller, Los Alamos.