Inside the Centre: The Life of J Robert Oppenheimer by Ray Monk - review by John Gray

John Gray

Bright Shining Splinters

Inside the Centre: The Life of J Robert Oppenheimer

By

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Describing his reaction to the testing of the atomic bomb in New Mexico on 16 July 1945, Robert Oppenheimer recalled:

We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture the Bhagavad Gita: Vishnu is trying to persuade the prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says: ‘Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or other.  

Recorded for a film documentary twenty years after the event, Oppenheimer’s account of the test was to become a canonical expression of contemporary angst. Yet it hardly squares with the reports of others who were present at the time. A military officer reported that Oppenheimer’s face ‘relaxed into an expression

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