Cover image for Edward Teller, the real Dr. Strangelove
Edward Teller, the real Dr. Strangelove
Goodchild, Peter.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
xxv, 469 pages: illustrations ; 24 cm
General Note:
"First published in Great Britain in 2004 by Weinfeld & Nicolson"--T.p. verso.
Personal Subject:
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QC16.T37 G66 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In this biography of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Edward Teller, interviews with fifty of Teller's colleagues and friends, as well a dialogue with Teller himself, provide a clearer view the contradictions and controversies surrounding his life.

Author Notes

Peter Goodchild is an award-winning television producer and the former head of both Science and Features and Drama at the BBC. His production of Oppenheimer won a British Academy Award and spawned an acclaimed biography

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

The destroyer god Shiva needed a human name and face: for many, Edward Teller--the father of the H-bomb--provided both. That face comes into sharp focus in this revealing but decidedly unauthorized biography exposing both Teller's maniacal enthusiasm for weapons of global destructiveness and his acute vulnerability to personal slights and professional indignities. Though he resists the temptation to fit all the contradictory details of a long and controversial life within one tidy psychological formula, Goodchild does trace suggestive links between the childhood insecurities of a friendless student prodigy and the adult aggressiveness of a politically influential mature scientist. In some of Teller's extremely bellicose behavior--such as his relentless campaign against the nuclear test bans proposed by Eisenhower and Kennedy--Goodchild discerns a chilling correspondence between the real Teller and the grimly comic caricature created by Stanley Kubrick in Dr. Strangelove. But alongside this damning comparison, Goodchild lays out a more sympathetic parallel, tracing the tragic similarities between Teller and Shakespeare's heroic but arrogant general Coriolanus. And it is tones of pathos, if not tragedy, that the reader repeatedly hears in Teller's responses to probing interview questions and in his recently discovered intimate correspondence with Maria Mayer as a brilliant mind struggles to shield--and to galvanize--an anxious psyche. A compelling reminder of the epoch-shaping power of one dominant personality. --Bryce Christensen Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Edward Teller, the "Father of the H-bomb," emerges in this readable biography as a brilliant, insecure, sometimes paranoid figure with a significant and decidedly ambiguous historical legacy. Born in Hungary, Teller (1908-2003) absorbed a lifelong hatred of tyranny and a deep distrust of Soviet communism one factor motivating his obsessive and successful advocacy of the hydrogen bomb during the early years of the Cold War. Other powerful forces in Teller's life were limitless scientific curiosity and intense personal ambition: he resented being passed up for the job of theoretical director of the Manhattan Project, and much of his later hunger for political power may have been a reaction to that disappointment. Teller used his influence to block efforts at negotiating a test ban treaty by presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy and fed the Red Scare atmosphere of the '50s; he was the only colleague of J. Robert Oppenheimer's to denounce him as a security threat, a move that endeared Teller to right-wingers in Congress while dividing the scientific community. Teller's final political triumph was winning the support of the Reagan administration for "Star Wars." Goodchild, a BBC television producer and author of a biography of Oppenheimer, offers a detailed, studiously balanced portrait drawn from archives and interviews with Teller himself and many who knew (and loved or loathed) him. Photos not seen by PW. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Teller, who died last year at age 95, was world famous as the "father of the hydrogen bomb," a witness against J. Robert Oppenheimer in the latter's security hearing, and, finally, an ardent promoter of the Cold War arms race. Hated and shunned by many prominent physicists after the Oppenheimer affair, Teller had some supporters in the scientific community, and he acquired many allies in the political and military communities for his long string of weapons proposals. Goodchild, a BBC television producer and author of a 1980 biography of Oppenheimer, studied a wide range of primary and secondary sources and interviewed many people on both sides of the controversies that swirled around Teller. The result is a remarkably well-balanced study of a notoriously prickly and opinionated person. As previous biographies (Stanley Blumberg and Louis Panos's Edward Teller; Teller's own Memoirs) were criticized for whitewashing their subject, this is strongly recommended for both academic and public libraries of all sizes. Jack W. Weigel, Ann Arbor, MI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Goodchild offers another biography of Edward Teller, arguably one of the most distinguished and brilliant physicists of the 20th century and certainly one of the most controversial. The author points out that considerable new material is now available about Teller, including a collection of letters he wrote over a period of many years to Nobel physicist-friend Maria Goeppert Mayer. Goodchild uses a multitude of sources, including interviews with some 40 colleagues, friends, and family members. Over his whole career, Teller is pictured as aggressively and obsessively pushing for the construction, buildup, and peaceful use of nuclear weapons, much to the distress of many of his colleagues. Some 48 well-chosen photographs are provided, as well as brief appendixes concerning scientific points, an extensive list of notes and references, and a useful descriptive listing of some 120 individuals mentioned in the book. As an excellent biography of a great physicist-politician and an interesting account of most of the science and politics involved with nuclear weapons, this is a desirable addition to any college or university library. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. All levels. R. L. Stearns emeritus, Vassar College

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. vii
Glossary of Charactersp. ix
Acknowledgementsp. xvii
Introductionp. xix
1 War, Revolution, Peace and Mathsp. 1
2 In the Company of Godsp. 14
3 Twilight of a Golden Agep. 24
4 America the Beautifulp. 34
5 The Hungarian Conspiracyp. 49
6 Skirmishesp. 61
7 Maverick on the Mesap. 75
8 The Little Toe of the Ghostp. 92
9 The Legacy of Hiroshimap. 107
10 Wilderness Yearsp. 124
11 The Taking of Washingtonp. 141
12 Unholy Alliancesp. 157
13 A 'Simple, Great and Stupid' Mistakep. 174
14 Technically So Sweetp. 187
15 Mikep. 203
16 'Soled' to the Californiansp. 212
17 Bravop. 222
18 The Hearingp. 232
19 Aftermathp. 251
20 'Almost like Ivory Soap'p. 263
21 A Matter of Detectionp. 273
22 Plowsharep. 284
23 Confounding Camelotp. 296
24 Struggling Uphillp. 309
25 Bringing up the Propsp. 328
26 Excaliburp. 351
27 Reykjavikp. 376
28 Brilliant Pebblesp. 382
Epiloguep. 395
Appendix 1 The New Physics: the Path that Led to Quantum Mechanicsp. 403
Appendix 2 Basic Information on the History of Fissionp. 406
Appendix 3 The Sketch for the 'Super' that Evolved During the Berkeley Conference, Summer 1942p. 408
Notes and Referencesp. 410
Select Bibliographyp. 444
Indexp. 451