Science and the Common Understanding.
"AMERICA'S PROMETHEUS, 'THE FATHER OF THE ATOMIC BOMB'": J. ROBERT OPPENHEIMER'S SCIENCE AND THE COMMON UNDERSTANDING, 1954, PUBLISHED THE SAME YEAR THE ATOMIC ENERGY COMMISSION REVOKED HIS SECURITY CLEARANCE; Inscribed by Him to Best Friend and Confidant Ruth Sherman Tolman and with a autographed signed letter
Science and the Common Understanding.
OPPENHEIMER, J. Robert.
Item Number: 118622
New York: Simon and Schuster, 1954.
First edition of this classic work by the father of the atomic bomb. Octavo, original cloth. Association copy, inscribed by the author on the front free endpaper in the year of publication, “For Ruth in gratitude & love Robert May – June 1954,” The recipient, Ruth Sherman Tolman was the wife of Richard C. Tolman, and she was Robert Oppenheimer’s best friend and confidant. A brilliant psychologist in her own right, she helped lead the effort to make psychology a science, held a key post with the OSS, the forerunner of the CIA, and established some of the first treatments for battle fatigue, which we know today as PTSD. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, head of the Manhattan Project, and the founder of modern theoretical physics in America, became a friend of the Tolman’s while in his 20s, staying at their guest house during his time spent going between Caltech and UC Berkeley. Robert and Ruth were rumored to have had a long-running affair, which was disavowed by those who knew them, but recent books have renewed that debate. Laid in is a note on Oppenheimer’s Institute For Advanced Study letterhead which reads, “Ruth dear, Most of these you have seen at one time or another, but perhaps you would like to have them neat & tidy… The S F Talk is still on its way, & I don’t yet have it. There is a long letter in me urging to be written to you – it should reach you before this.” It is known that Ruth destroyed many of his letters, although some have come to light. While this note doesn’t settle that debate, it does, along with the inscription, indicate the intimacy that they shared. Additionally laid in is the original errata slip and two clipped articles. Fine in a near fine dust jacket. Jacket design by Peter Hollander.
In 1953 Oppenheimer came to the attention of Joseph McCarthy when Roy Cohn approached the FBI with the idea of "calling in Oppenheimer and launching an investigation." But Admiral Strauss, soon named AEC Chairman, "was determined to strip Oppenheimer of his security clearance and did not want his carefully laid plans ruined" by McCarthy's broad brush (Monk, Robert Oppenheimer, 615). That November Oppenheimer was in London to present these six lectures as part of the prestigious BBC Reith Lecture series. Back home, a few days before Christmas, he received a letter from AEC Chairman Strauss that announced the suspension of his clearance and called for his resignation. Oppenheimer decided, instead, to seek a hearing. With that, "the ordeal that would end his career of public service and, ironically, both enhance and secure his legacy, had begun… He was America's Prometheus, 'the father of the atomic bomb'… Like that rebellious Greek God Prometheus—who stole fire from Zeus and bestowed it upon humankind—Oppenheimer gave us atomic fire" (Bird & Sherwin, American Prometheus, ix-xiii). Science and Common Understanding was soon published, appearing the same year as the controversial April 1954 AEC hearing where he faced nearly 30 hours of cross-examination. In the end, when his clearance was revoked, Einstein famously responded by saying that AEC should stand for "Atomic Extermination Conspiracy," and Lilienthal, the former AEC Chairman, noted: "it is sad beyond words… terribly wrong." In this timely work Oppenheimer offers his own uniquely "philosophic estimate of modern physics… In tracing developments in atomic physics from Newton to Rutherford and then to Bohr, Schrodinger and Einstein… [he] exhibits a keen historical sense of the transition of science from mechanism to relativism… physics, in Oppenheimer's view, necessitates an essentially pluralistic approach to social life" (Horowitz, Persuasions and Prejudices, 93-4).