29 books like Robert Oppenheimer

By Ray Monk,

Here are 29 books that Robert Oppenheimer fans have personally recommended if you like Robert Oppenheimer. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton

Andrew Zangwill Author Of A Mind Over Matter: Philip Anderson and the Physics of the Very Many

From my list on biographies of physicists.

Who am I?

I am a physics professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Ten years ago, I switched my research focus from solid-state physics to the history of that subject. This was fertile ground because professional historians of science had almost completely ignored solid-state physics. I began my new career by writing two journal articles about the physicist Walter Kohn and his discovery of what became the most accurate method known to calculate the properties of solids. This experience led me to broaden my perspective and ultimately produce a biography of the theoretical physicist Philip Anderson. My next book will be a historical-sociological study of self-identity and disciplinary boundaries within the community of physicists.  

Andrew's book list on biographies of physicists

Andrew Zangwill Why did Andrew love this book?

Don’t let the length (over 900 pages) of this biography put you off. Instead, immerse yourself in the slow and powerful current of author Richard Westfall’s superbly written and richly detailed portrait of the skills, achievements, and obsessions of the singular genius that was Isaac Newton. Westfall explains in a masterful way Newton’s mathematics, his physics, his heretical theology, his fixation with alchemy, his activities running the Royal Mint, and his disputes with other scientists. These features, and Westfall’s evocative description of the intellectual and social milieu of Newton’s 17th-century world, make Never at Rest a compelling read.   

By Richard S. Westfall,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Never at Rest as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This richly detailed 1981 biography captures both the personal life and the scientific career of Isaac Newton, presenting a fully rounded picture of Newton the man, the scientist, the philosopher, the theologian, and the public figure. Professor Westfall treats all aspects of Newton's career, but his account centres on a full description of Newton's achievements in science. Thus the core of the work describes the development of the calculus, the experimentation that altered the direction of the science of optics, and especially the investigations in celestial dynamics that led to the law of universal gravitation.


Book cover of Michael Faraday and The Royal Institution: The Genius of Man and Place

Andrew Zangwill Author Of A Mind Over Matter: Philip Anderson and the Physics of the Very Many

From my list on biographies of physicists.

Who am I?

I am a physics professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Ten years ago, I switched my research focus from solid-state physics to the history of that subject. This was fertile ground because professional historians of science had almost completely ignored solid-state physics. I began my new career by writing two journal articles about the physicist Walter Kohn and his discovery of what became the most accurate method known to calculate the properties of solids. This experience led me to broaden my perspective and ultimately produce a biography of the theoretical physicist Philip Anderson. My next book will be a historical-sociological study of self-identity and disciplinary boundaries within the community of physicists.  

Andrew's book list on biographies of physicists

Andrew Zangwill Why did Andrew love this book?

For my money, Michael Faraday was the greatest experimental scientist of the nineteenth century. His notebooks detailing his achievements in electrochemistry and electromagnetism should be read by every budding experimentalist as models to emulate. The late Sir John Thomas, a distinguished solid-state chemist, wrote this short biography (only 234 pages) of Faraday during his tenure as the Director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain.  Thomas’ scientific expertise, his insider status, and his graceful writing style led him to produce a real gem. Enjoy yourself as Thomas recounts Faraday’s ascent at the Royal Institution from laboratory assistant to full professor, his scientific work, his private life, and his unmatched skill as a popularizer of science. 

By John M. Thomas,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Michael Faraday and The Royal Institution as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A self-educated man who knew no mathematics, Michael Faraday rose from errand boy to become one of Britain's greatest scientists. Faraday made the discoveries upon which most of twentieth-century technology is based and readers of this book will enjoy finding out in how many ways we are indebted to him. The story of his life speaks to us across the years and is a fascinating read, especially when the tale is told with the understanding and gusto that Professor Thomas-one of the UK's leading scientists-brings to the telling.

Faraday took great trouble to make the latest discoveries of science, his…


Book cover of Lise Meitner: A Life in Physics

Andrew Zangwill Author Of A Mind Over Matter: Philip Anderson and the Physics of the Very Many

From my list on biographies of physicists.

Who am I?

I am a physics professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Ten years ago, I switched my research focus from solid-state physics to the history of that subject. This was fertile ground because professional historians of science had almost completely ignored solid-state physics. I began my new career by writing two journal articles about the physicist Walter Kohn and his discovery of what became the most accurate method known to calculate the properties of solids. This experience led me to broaden my perspective and ultimately produce a biography of the theoretical physicist Philip Anderson. My next book will be a historical-sociological study of self-identity and disciplinary boundaries within the community of physicists.  

Andrew's book list on biographies of physicists

Andrew Zangwill Why did Andrew love this book?

Skip the documentaries. Lise Meitner’s dramatic story is much better told in this meticulously researched and well-written biography. Meitner became the second woman in the world to earn a PhD in physics and then left her native Vienna for Berlin where she began a thirty-year collaboration with chemist Otto Hahn working on radioactive substances. They discovered nuclear fission in 1938, just when Meitner’s Jewishness forced her to flee Nazi Germany for Sweden. Unjustly, Hahn never acknowledged her equal contribution to the discovery when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1945. This sensitive biography helps right a historical wrong. 

By Ruth Lewin Sime,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lise Meitner as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Lise Meitner (1878-1968) was a pioneer of nuclear physics and co-discoverer, with Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann, of nuclear fission. Braving the sexism of the scientific world, she joined the prestigious Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry and became a prominent member of the international physics community. Of Jewish origin, Meitner fled Nazi Germany for Stockholm in 1938 and later moved to Cambridge, England. Her career was shattered when she fled Germany, and her scientific reputation was damaged when Hahn took full credit - and the 1944 Nobel Prize - for the work they had done together on nuclear fission. Ruth…


Book cover of Schrodinger: Life and Thought

Andrew Zangwill Author Of A Mind Over Matter: Philip Anderson and the Physics of the Very Many

From my list on biographies of physicists.

Who am I?

I am a physics professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Ten years ago, I switched my research focus from solid-state physics to the history of that subject. This was fertile ground because professional historians of science had almost completely ignored solid-state physics. I began my new career by writing two journal articles about the physicist Walter Kohn and his discovery of what became the most accurate method known to calculate the properties of solids. This experience led me to broaden my perspective and ultimately produce a biography of the theoretical physicist Philip Anderson. My next book will be a historical-sociological study of self-identity and disciplinary boundaries within the community of physicists.  

Andrew's book list on biographies of physicists

Andrew Zangwill Why did Andrew love this book?

This biography brings fully to life the multi-faceted Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger. Although best known as the co-inventor of quantum mechanics, he later wrote a book called What is Life which inspired many physicists to apply their talents to biology. Moore gives a full account of Schrödinger’s upbringing, his education, his science, and his extensive philosophical writings. You can judge for yourself if Moore is persuasive when he argues that the erotic intensity of several of Schrödinger’s extramarital affairs helped fuel and found expression in some of his specific scientific achievements. 

By Walter J. Moore,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Schrodinger as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Erwin Schroedinger was a brilliant and charming Austrian, a great scientist, and a man with a passionate interest in people and ideas. In this, the first comprehensive biography of Schroedinger, Walter Moore draws upon recollections of Schroedinger's friends, family and colleagues, and on contemporary records, letters and diaries. Schroedinger's life is portrayed against the backdrop of Europe at a time of change and unrest. His best-known scientific work was the discovery of wave mechanics, for which he was awarded the Nobel prize in 1933. However, Erwin was also an enthusiastic explorer of the ideas of Hindu mysticism, and in the…


Book cover of Inside The Centre: The Life of J. Robert Oppenheimer

Andrew Hodges Author Of Alan Turing: The Enigma

From my list on Alan Turing’s world.

Who am I?

I am a mathematician, based at Oxford University, following up the ideas of the Nobel prizewinner Roger Penrose on fundamental physics.  But I am best known for writing a biography of Alan Turing, the founder of computer science. I did this at a time when he was almost unknown to the public, long before computers invaded popular culture. And it meant giving a serious account of two kinds of secret history: the codebreaking of the Second World War and the life of an unapologetic gay man. Since then I have also created a supporting website. When I was drawn to find out about Alan Turing, it was not only because he was a mathematician. I seized the chance to bring together many themes from science, history, and human life. This broad approach is reflected in my recommendations. I am choosing books that hint at the great scope of themes related to Turing’s life and work.

Andrew's book list on Alan Turing’s world

Andrew Hodges Why did Andrew love this book?

Ray Monk has, like me, been drawn to the idea of a linear biographical narrative fusing life and work together. My third pick is his biography of the American physicist Robert Oppenheimer. This is a fascinating story parallel to Turing’s. The Second World War brought both of them, hitherto pure researchers, to intense and crucial involvement in the world’s affairs. Nuclear weapons for Oppenheimer were what codebreaking was for Turing. Afterward, both were at odds with the governments they had empowered.

When in 1953 Turing wrote ‘I detest America’ he might well have been reacting to the McCarthy period in which Oppenheimer was attacked. But Ray Monk treats Oppenheimer’s pure scientific work as seriously as the political story. Oppenheimer’s 1939 paper on black holes was the background to Penrose’s 1965 paper cited in the Nobel physics prize of 2020. These dates illustrate the deep and decades-spanning connections that are involved…

By Ray Monk,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Inside The Centre as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

J. Robert Oppenheimer is among the most contentious and important figures of the twentieth century. As head of the Los Alamos Laboratory, he oversaw the successful effort to beat the Nazis to develop the first atomic bomb - a breakthrough which was to have eternal ramifications for mankind, and made Oppenheimer the 'father of the Bomb'.

But his was not a simple story of assimilation, scientific success and world fame. A complicated and fragile personality, the implications of the discoveries at Los Alamos were to weigh heavily upon him. Having formed suspicious connections in the 1930s, in the wake of…


Book cover of American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer

Shirley Streshinsky and Patricia Klaus Author Of An Atomic Love Story: The Extraordinary Women in Robert Oppenheimer's Life

From my list on the race to build the first atomic bomb.

Who are we?

Shirley Streshinsky was 11 years old when the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Many scientists were responsible, but only Robert Oppenheimer was labeled “Father of the Atomic Bomb”. At twenty-nine while living in San Francisco she crowded into an auditorium at U.C. Berkeley to hear him speak. She left knowing she would write about him. Patricia Klaus has been a Modern British historian for years, the story of Robert Oppenheimer and the women he loved opened new worlds for her: the history of science and the discovery of fission in 1938. Her father was a pilot in the 509th Bomb Wing that had dropped the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.

Shirley's book list on the race to build the first atomic bomb

Shirley Streshinsky and Patricia Klaus Why did Shirley love this book?

This is a meticulously researched book, a deserving Pulitzer Prize winner; Christopher Nolan consulted it for his movie Oppenheimer due out this summer.

Shirley met Marty Sherwin in Washington D.C. in the fall of 2006 when she was beginning the research on what would become our book. Marty was beginning to pack up the files on Prometheus to give to the Library of Congress. He invited both Patricia and Shirley to his home and made a place for them to work at his dining room table.

By Kai Bird, Martin J. Sherwin,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked American Prometheus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Physicist and polymath, 'father of the atom bomb' J. Robert Oppenheimer was the most famous scientist of his generation. Already a notable young physicist before WWII, during the race to split the atom, 'Oppie' galvanized an extraordinary team of international scientists while keeping the FBI at bay. As the man who more than any other inaugurated the atomic age, he became one of the iconic figures of the last century, the embodiment of his own observation that 'physicists have known sin'.

Years later, haunted by Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Oppenheimer became a staunch opponent of plans to develop the hydrogen bomb.…


Book cover of Disturbing the Universe

Brian Hall Author Of The Stone Loves the World

From my list on exploring the galaxy.

Who am I?

A child of scientists, I grew up planning to be a physicist, but became a novelist instead. Since I straddle the worlds of science and literature, I’ve always valued good science writing. It’s a rare talent to be able to inform and excite the general reader while not oversimplifying the science. I particularly thrill to books about exploring other planets and star systems, because when I was a teenager I read a lot of science fiction, and wished more than anything that someday, when I was much older, I would find myself on a rocket headed for, say, a colony on Mars.

Brian's book list on exploring the galaxy

Brian Hall Why did Brian love this book?

Freeman Dyson, who died last year at the age of 96, was one of the world's leading physicists. He was also one of the worlds leading mathematicians. Later in life, he became one of the world’s leading astronomers. He was passionately concerned with the ethics of science and the perils of human politics. He also read a lot of literature and had interesting things to say about it, and could write better than many novelists. In 1979, at the age of 56, he published Disturbing the Universe: part autobiography, part window into the mind of a scientist, part essayistic rumination. There’s no other book like it. Listing the titles of the chapters covering his life until age 23 hints at the book’s richness and unpredictability: “The Magic City,” “The Redemption of Faust,” “The Children’s Crudade,” “The Blood of a Poet.” In the book’s final third, Dyson addresses issues related…

By Freeman Dyson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Disturbing the Universe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Spanning the years from World War II, when he was a civilian statistician in the operations research section of the Royal Air Force Bomber Command, through his studies with Hans Bethe at Cornell University, his early friendship with Richard Feynman, and his postgraduate work with J. Robert Oppenheimer, Freeman Dyson has composed an autobiography unlike any other. Dyson evocatively conveys the thrill of a deep engagement with the world-be it as scientist, citizen, student, or parent. Detailing a unique career not limited to his ground-breaking work in physics, Dyson discusses his interest in minimizing loss of life in war, in…


Book cover of Uncommon Sense

Shirley Streshinsky and Patricia Klaus Author Of An Atomic Love Story: The Extraordinary Women in Robert Oppenheimer's Life

From my list on the race to build the first atomic bomb.

Who are we?

Shirley Streshinsky was 11 years old when the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Many scientists were responsible, but only Robert Oppenheimer was labeled “Father of the Atomic Bomb”. At twenty-nine while living in San Francisco she crowded into an auditorium at U.C. Berkeley to hear him speak. She left knowing she would write about him. Patricia Klaus has been a Modern British historian for years, the story of Robert Oppenheimer and the women he loved opened new worlds for her: the history of science and the discovery of fission in 1938. Her father was a pilot in the 509th Bomb Wing that had dropped the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.

Shirley's book list on the race to build the first atomic bomb

Shirley Streshinsky and Patricia Klaus Why did Shirley love this book?

This is a collection of Oppenheimer’s essays and speeches, a good thing to read to get a sense of the man himself, how he thinks, how he handles language.

How he struggles to suggest how civilization might begin to cope with the reality that new weapons now exist capable of annihilating civilization... “unless we show,” he says, ”urged by our own example and conviction, that we regard nuclear armament as a transitory, dangerous and degrading phase of the world’s history.”

He said that forty years ago, and counting.

By J Robert Oppenheimer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Uncommon Sense as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

J. Robert Oppenheimer, a leading physicist in the Manhattan Project, recognized that scientific inquiry and discovery could no longer be separated from their effect on political decision-making, social responsibility, and human endeavor in general. He openly addressed issues of common concern and as a scientist accepted the responsibility brought about by nuclear physics and the atom bomb. In this collection of essays and speeches, Oppenheimer discusses the shift in scientific awareness and its impact on education, the question of openness in a society forced to keep secrets, the conflict between individual concerns and public and political necessity, the future of…


Book cover of The Green Glass Sea

Rebecca Langston-George Author Of The Booth Brothers: Drama, Fame, and the Death of President Lincoln

From my list on little-known US history for children.

Who am I?

I taught for more than 26 years in classes ranging from first grade through college. No matter the age of the students, I used children’s books to introduce topics in history. I never shied away from using a picture book with older students and often found they were more engaged in a picture book than in an article. I also used historical fiction as a hook to lure students into picking up a related non-fiction book. In fact, historical fiction was the gateway that taught this writer of 13 nonfiction children’s books to love non-fiction history. 

Rebecca's book list on little-known US history for children

Rebecca Langston-George Why did Rebecca love this book?

This Scott O’Dell Award winner is historical fiction for middle grade readers.

Set in the New Mexico desert during World War II, Dewey and Suze become unlikely friends when their parents work on the top secret “gadget.” The gadget’s scheduled test lights up the pre-dawn sky for miles around but is explained away as an explosion at a munitions outpost.

A few weeks later Suze’s family takes Dewey with them to visit the green glass sea of Trinitite, a new mineral created as a result of the atomic bomb’s test. Readers will feel the humanity of how war affects us all. Readers who prefer fiction over nonfiction might find this a gateway to interest them in picking up a nonfiction title on WWII or the atomic bomb. 

By Ellen Klages,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Green Glass Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

A heartfelt story of a budding friendship in the thick of the war--winner of the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction

It's 1943, and eleven-year-old Dewey Kerrigan is en route to New Mexico to live with her mathematician father. Soon she arrives at a town that, officially, doesn't exist. It is called Los Alamos, and it is abuzz with activity, as scientists and mathematicians from all over America and Europe work on the biggest secret of all--"the gadget." None of them--not J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Manhattan Project; not the mathematicians and scientists; and least of all, Dewey--know…


Book cover of Science, Jews, and Secular Culture: Studies in Mid-Twentieth-Century American Intellectual History

Suzanna Sherry Author Of Beyond All Reason: The Radical Assault on Truth in American Law

From my list on why liberals should fear “woke” culture.

Who am I?

I’ve been a liberal all my life: I went to my first protest march by myself when I was 13 and cast my first vote for George McGovern. I’ve also been an academic most of my life, studying and teaching at multiple colleges and universities. Over the last decade I’ve watched the animating principles of both academia and liberalism – the spirit of free inquiry and the willingness to debate ideas – descend into an authoritarian conformism that brooks no dissent. I hope that these books can persuade people to fight against these trends before it’s too late: “Do not go gentle into that good night; Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.”

Suzanna's book list on why liberals should fear “woke” culture

Suzanna Sherry Why did Suzanna love this book?

Like Stone’s book, this is a book about history, not wokeness. It’s not an easy read, but it’s worth the effort.

It recounts the triumph of scientific reasoning and liberal tolerance over several decades in the mid-twentieth century. That triumph was largely brought about by the “secularization” of American culture, spearheaded by Jewish intellectuals.

I read it long before wokeness was a thing – it was published in 1996 – and found it interesting but not particularly relevant to anything I was thinking about. But when wokeness came along, it suddenly hit me that this new religion was taking us backwards, back to the beginning of Hollinger’s story.

If that trend continues, we are in danger of losing the gains that science and tolerance have produced.

By David A. Hollinger,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Science, Jews, and Secular Culture as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This remarkable group of essays described the "culture wars" that consolidated a new, secular ethos in mid-twentieth-century American academia and generated the fresh energies needed for a wide range of scientific and cultural enter-prises. Focusing on the decades from the 1930s through the 1960s, David Hollinger discusses the scientists, social scientists, philosophers, and historians who fought the Christian biases that had kept Jews from fully participating in American intellectual life. Today social critics take for granted the comparatively open outlook developed by these men (and men they were, mostly), and charge that their cosmopolitanism was not sufficiently multicultural. Yet Hollinger…


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