Keeper of the Nuclear Conscience: The Life and Work of Joseph Rotblat by Andrew Brown - review by Patrick Marnham

Patrick Marnham

Shadow of the Bomb

Keeper of the Nuclear Conscience: The Life and Work of Joseph Rotblat


Oxford University Press 347pp £18.99

Joseph Rotblat not only believed that the purpose of science was to serve humanity; he also lived by his beliefs. Although there were a few leading physicists, including Max Born and Lise Meitner, who refused to have anything to do with the wartime atomic bomb project, Rotblat was the only scientist who left Los Alamos, late in 1944, when he discovered that there was no longer any danger of a Nazi bomb. Following the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific director of the Manhattan Project, became world famous and an international hero. After the war Oppenheimer worked publicly to regain control of nuclear weapons, while privately endorsing the development of the H-bomb on the grounds that it was ‘technically sweet’. Rotblat, by contrast, abandoned nuclear physics and became the first professor of medical physics at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. In a way, Rotblat was everything that Oppenheimer was said to be but was not. 

Rotblat was born in Warsaw in 1908. His father was ruined by the German occupation during the First World War; the family faced starvation, and Joseph missed much of his primary schooling and nearly died of typhus. Rotblat Senior wanted his clever son to become a rabbi. But instead of

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