EDWARD TELLER: The Real Dr. Strangelove

Peter Goodchild, Author . Harvard Univ. $29.95 (469p) ISBN 978-0-674-01669-9

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.)

Reviewed on: 09/06/2004
Release date: 10/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
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