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Megaton Man

Steven Shapin: The Original Dr Strangelove, 25 April 2002

Memoirs: A 20th-Century Journey in Science and Politics 
by Edward Teller and Judith Shoolery.
Perseus, 628 pp., £24.99, January 2002, 1 903985 12 9
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... July 1945 were given strict instructions to turn their backs on the initial blast. The physicist Edward Teller refused to obey orders. He put on an extra pair of dark glasses under welder’s goggles, smeared his face with ointment, and looked straight at the aim point, not wanting to miss a second of the atomic age. In the decades that followed, ...

Spying made easy

M.F. Perutz, 25 June 1987

Klaus Fuchs: The man who stole the atom bomb 
by Norman Moss.
Grafton, 216 pp., £12.95, April 1987, 0 246 13158 6
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... cold fish. All Fuchs’s former colleagues whom Moss has interviewed have stressed his reticence. Edward Teller, the Hungarian-born creator of the hydrogen bomb and éminence grise behind Reagan’s SDI, found Fuchs ‘taciturn to a pathological degree’. When Teller heard the news of his arrest, he is said to have ...

Nuclear Family

Rudolf Peierls, 19 June 1980

Disturbing the Universe 
by Freeman Dyson.
Harper and Row, 283 pp., £6.95, November 1979, 0 06 011108 9
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... write about Oppenheimer without referring to his ‘trial’ and to the part played in it by Edward Teller. Dyson does not condone Teller’s actions, but shows some understanding and sympathy, and remains a friend of his. The portrait of Teller does not come ...


Anthony Holden, 6 November 1980

The United States in the 1980s 
edited by Peter Duignan and Alvin Rabushka.
Croom Helm, 868 pp., £14.95, August 1980, 0 8179 7281 1
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... ahead from the single-issue elections of the last twenty years. Carter has refused to debate Edward Kennedy, and now John Anderson, and thus Reagan. Reagan in turn has been bound and gagged by his advisers, their hostage rather than their boss, in the apparent belief that he cannot live up to the media pitches devised by them on his behalf. There has ...


Edward Luttwak: Darpa, 1 December 2016

The Pentagon’s Brain: An Uncensored History of Darpa, America’s Top Secret Military Research Agency 
by Annie Jacobsen.
Little, Brown, 560 pp., £12.99, September 2015, 978 0 316 34947 5
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... from the viewpoint of York’s erstwhile mentors in the nuclear weapons business, among them Edward Teller, because they indicated the nefarious purpose of negotiating the prohibition of nuclear tests with Khrushchev – which was exactly Eisenhower’s aim. By the summer of 1958, Johnson and York were ready to take a much broader look at possible ...

Don’t let that crybaby in here again

Steven Shapin: The Manhattan Project, 7 September 2000

In the Shadow of the Bomb: Oppenheimer, Bethe and the Moral Responsibility of the Scientist 
by S.S. Schweber.
Princeton, 260 pp., £15.95, May 2000, 0 691 04989 0
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Atomic Fragments: A Daughter’s Questions 
by Mary Palevsky.
California, 289 pp., £15.95, June 2000, 0 520 22055 2
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... had signed on to build a few atomic bombs, but the Government now wanted many of them, and Edward Teller began his public agitation for vast resources to construct the ‘Super’ – the hydrogen bomb. The Japanese had been defeated, but General Groves was reported as saying in March 1944 that the real purpose in building the bomb was to subdue ...

Britain’s Thermonuclear Bluff

Norman Dombey and Eric Grove, 22 October 1992

... would have blown itself apart before any appreciable thermonuclear processes were initiated. Edward Teller and Stanislaw Ulam, émigré scientists from Hungary and Poland respectively, who were working at Los Alamos, found an ingenious solution in 1951. As part of his work on improved fission weapons Ulam had suggested a two-stage fission ...

At Los Alamos

Jeremy Bernstein, 20 December 2012

... while I was still working on my thesis, I’d had an unsuccessful interview in Washington with Edward Teller, who was recruiting for Livermore. He made an odd comment about preferring physics to politics. It was only much later that I realised my interview had taken place the day after he testified against Robert Oppenheimer. Another thing I didn’t ...

Guests in the President’s House

Steven Shapin: Science Inc., 18 October 2001

Science, Money and Politics: Political Triumph and Ethical Erosion 
by Daniel Greenberg.
Chicago, 530 pp., £22.50, October 2001, 0 226 30634 8
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... the Oval Office: ‘Ed, how much money does the Federal Government put into MIT every year?’ Edward David didn’t have the exact sum to hand – it was in fact $105 million in 1972 – but Nixon was adamant: ‘I want it all cut off.’ In a dither, David scurried back to his office and phoned Nixon’s assistant John Ehrlichman, asking: ‘What do you ...

Loose Talk

Steven Shapin: Atomic Secrets, 4 November 2021

Restricted Data: The History of Nuclear Secrecy in the United States 
by Alex Wellerstein.
Chicago, 549 pp., £28, April, 978 0 226 02038 9
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... to divulge.’Loose lips were recognised as one sort of problem; loose documents were another. The Teller-Ulam design for the H-bomb was talked about as the ultimate secret: one of the very few bits of design knowledge which, if it fell into enemy hands, might substantially reduce the Americans’ advantage. It was also something that ‘could be given away on ...

Think like a neutron

Steven Shapin: Fermi’s Paradoxes, 24 May 2018

The Last Man Who Knew Everything: The Life and Times of Enrico Fermi, Father of the Nuclear Age 
by David N. Schwartz.
Basic, 448 pp., £26.99, December 2017, 978 0 465 07292 7
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... to get stuck into whatever projects interested him, giving him the special job of dealing with Edward Teller, who was obsessed with the possibility of proceeding directly to a fusion weapon. With the German surrender in May 1945, attention turned to issues concerning the postwar nuclear world and most urgently the question of whether to use the bomb ...

Oh God, what have we done?

Jackson Lears: The Strange Career of Robert Oppenheimer, 20 December 2012

Inside the Centre: The Life of J. Robert Oppenheimer 
by Ray Monk.
Cape, 818 pp., £30, November 2012, 978 0 224 06262 6
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... loyalty under further suspicion. Since the Manhattan Project, a number of physicists led by Edward Teller had been pushing for the development of a fusion bomb – the so-called ‘Super’ or, later, hydrogen bomb. Oppenheimer, like most of the other Los Alamos scientists, opposed it as a weapon that, if it were technically feasible (which he ...

An Example of the Good Life

Steven Shapin: Michael Polanyi, 15 December 2011

Michael Polanyi and His Generation: Origins of the Social Construction of Science 
by Mary Jo Nye.
Chicago, 405 pp., £29, October 2011, 978 0 226 61063 4
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... elite schools: the progressive Minta gymnasium alone produced Szilárd and his fellow physicists Edward Teller (who rejoiced in the initials E.T.) and Nicholas Kurti, the engineer Theodore von Kármán, and the economists Nicholas Kaldor and Thomas Balogh. They were overwhelmingly Jewish or from a Jewish background. Almost all were non-observant, some ...

Uncle of the Bomb

Steven Shapin: The Oppenheimer Brothers, 23 September 2010

Something Incredibly Wonderful Happens: Frank Oppenheimer and The World He Made Up 
by K.C. Cole.
Houghton Mifflin, 439 pp., $27, August 2009, 978 0 15 100822 3
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... programme for developing the hydrogen bomb so enthusiastically promoted by his former colleague Edward Teller. That opposition, combined with continuing suspicion of his left-wing political affiliations before and during the war, led in 1954 to the AEC hearings, which resulted in the withdrawal of his security clearance. (Robert had flirted with ...

Venisti tandem

Denis Donoghue, 7 February 1985

Selected Poems 
by Tony Harrison.
Viking, 204 pp., £9.95, September 1984, 0 670 80040 6
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Palladas: Poems 
by Tony Harrison.
Anvil, 47 pp., £2.95, October 1984, 9780856461279
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Men and Women 
by Frederick Seidel.
Chatto, 70 pp., £4.95, October 1984, 0 7011 2868 2
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Dangerous play: Poems 1974-1984 
by Andrew Motion.
Salamander, 110 pp., £8.95, October 1984, 0 907540 56 2
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Mister Punch 
by David Harsent.
Oxford, 70 pp., £4.50, October 1984, 0 19 211966 4
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An Umbrella from Piccadilly 
by Jaroslav Seifert and Ewald Osers.
London Magazine Editions, 80 pp., £5, November 1984, 0 904388 75 1
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... with another, and that the main problem is to find a style of being present in the poem. The teller is in the tale, and the artistic effort is to make sure that his presence there is neither assertive nor apologetic. A preoccupied sense of crisis is not obligatory. Tony Harrison’s Selected Poems includes 14 poems from the Loiners (1970), eight from The ...

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