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J. Robert Oppenheimer: Proteus Unbound
Silvan S. Schweber a1a2 a1 Department of Physics, Brandeis University a2 Sloan/Dibner HRST Project, Dibner Institute, MIT
J. Robert Oppenheimer was a complex person. His work in physics during the 1930s, at Los Alamos during the 1940s, and as governmental advisor in the immediate postwar period, gave him a deep sense of connection with communities that had distinctive purposes. But he found it difficult to conceive an overall creative vision for himself or to devise a compelling objective for the community he belonged to if one had not been formulated at the time he assumed its leadership. I analyze the reasons for his successes: the vision and demands of physics during the 1930s, the make-up of Los Alamos, and the challenges of the postwar atomic world. In each of these enterprises he assumed a distinctive role and came to represent a distinctive persona – but he could not integrate his activities into a coherent whole that might be a model for the intellectual in the new world he had helped to shape.