One Nobel Prize–winning physicist called Edward Teller, “A great man of vast imagination…[one of the] most thoughtful statesmen of science.” Another called him, “A danger to all that is important… It would have been a better world without [him].” That both opinions about Teller were commonly held and equally true is one of the enduring mysteries about the man dubbed “the father of the H-bomb.” In the story of Teller’s life and career, told here in greater depth and detail than ever before, Peter Goodchild unravels the complex web of harsh early experiences, character flaws, and personal and professional frustrations that lay behind the paradox of “the real Dr. Strangelove.”
Goodchild’s biography draws on interviews with more than fifty of Teller’s colleagues and friends. Their voices echo through the book, expressing admiration and contempt, affection and hatred, as we observe Teller’s involvement in every stage of building the atomic bomb, and his subsequent pursuit of causes that drew the world deeper into the Cold War—alienating many of his scientific colleagues even as he provided the intellectual lead for politicians, the military, and presidents as they shaped Western policy. Goodchild interviewed Teller himself at the end of his life, and what emerges from this interview, as well as from Teller’s memoirs and recently unearthed correspondence, is a clearer view of the contradictions and controversies that riddled the man’s life. Most of all, though, this absorbing biography rescues Edward Teller from the caricatures that have served to describe him until now. In their place, Goodchild shows us one of the most powerful scientists of the twentieth century in all his enigmatic humanity.
Peter Goodchild demonstrates in this sensitive and fascinating biography [that] Teller’s danger arose from the fact that he was both a brilliant scientist and a skilled political manipulator—but unfortunately also a man of limited wisdom. It would be easy to ridicule [Teller], but Goodchild, to his credit, resists shallow scorn. Teller emerges as a complicated individual whose actions were always logical, if rather warped. He becomes rather more frightening than I had ever previously imagined, for it is no longer possible to dismiss him as a madman.
Edward Teller, the ‘Father of the H-bomb,’ emerges in this readable biography as a brilliant, insecure, sometimes paranoid figure with a significant—and decidedly ambiguous—historical legacy… Goodchild, a BBC television producer and author of a biography of Oppenheimer, offers a detailed, studiously balanced portrait drawn from archives and interviews with Teller himself and many who knew (and loved or loathed) him.
An excellent biography of a great physicist-politician and an interesting account of most of the science and politics involved with nuclear weapons.
- 512 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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