Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb Essay - Critical Context

Rebecca Larsen

Critical Context

This biography of Oppenheimer, with its short, specifically focused chapters, holds the reader’s attention and is effective in portraying not only the life of this scientist but also the era in which he lived. Larsen provides the young reader with an excellent introduction to modern historical literature.

The author’s use of notes to document all quotations conforms to good practice and also serves to lead the interested reader to investigate additional related sources. Full titles and publication data for all cited sources are included in her bibliography. This bibliography, while not exhaustive of all recent literature relating to Oppenheimer and the atomic bomb, is appropriate for the age group for which Larsen was writing. Reading Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb could open up and stimulate a young person’s interest in the period covered and coordinate well with several areas of cross-disciplinary study.

For the young adult reader, this book can serve as an introduction to the social, political, and scientific climate of the mid-twentieth century. Larsen has given a largely unbiased portrayal of the members of the cast of characters surrounding Oppenheimer, showing the backgrounds from which they emerged and the context in which they operated.

The book’s personal emphasis brings out the individual, human dimension of history. The construction of the atomic bomb and its use in World War II are facts of history that cannot be judged only from hindsight; they must be considered in their contemporary context. Larsen has successfully created this context for young adult readers born decades after these events. This book, with its exciting and dramatic narrative of conflicts among scientists and their interactions with military and political figures, can serve to introduce young readers to a fascinating and complex period in American and world history.