From the bestselling author of Tuxedo Park, the fascinating story of the 3,000 people who lived together in near confinement for more than two intense and conflicted years under J. Robert Oppenheimer and the world's best scientists to produce the Atomic Bomb and win World War II.
They were told as little as possible.
Their orders were to go to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and report for work at a classified Manhattan Project site, a location so covert it was known to them only by the mysterious address: 109 East Palace. There, behind a wrought-iron gate and narrow passageway just off the touristy old plaza, they were greeted by Dorothy McKibbin, an attractive widow who was the least likely person imaginable to run a front for a clandestine defense laboratory. They stepped across her threshold into a parallel universe--the desert hideaway where Robert Oppenheimer and a team of world-famous scientists raced to build the first atomic bomb before Germany and bring World War II to an end.
Brilliant, handsome, extraordinarily charismatic, Oppenheimer based his unprecedented scientific enterprise in the high reaches of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, hoping that the land of enchantment would conceal and inspire their bold mission. Oppenheimer was as arrogant as he was inexperienced, and few believed the thirty-eight-year-old theoretical physicist would succeed.
Jennet Conant captures all the exhilaration and drama of those perilous twenty-seven months at Los Alamos, a secret city cut off from the rest of society, ringed by barbed wire, where Oppenheimer and his young recruits lived as virtual prisoners of the U.S. government. With her dry humor and eye for detail, Conant chronicles the chaotic beginnings of Oppenheimer's by-the-seat-of-his-pants operation, where freshly minted secretaries and worldly scientists had to contend with living conditions straight out of pioneer days. Despite all the obstacles, Oppie managed to forge a vibrant community at Los Alamos through the sheer force of his personality. Dorothy, who fell for him at first sight, devoted herself to taking care of him and his crew and supported him through the terrifying preparations for the test explosion at Trinity and the harrowing aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Less than a decade later, Oppenheimer became the focus of suspicion during the McCarthy witch hunts. When he and James B. Conant, one of the top administrators of the Manhattan Project (and the author's grandfather), led the campaign against the hydrogen bomb, Oppenheimer's past left-wing sympathies were used against him, and he was found to be a security risk and stripped of his clearance. Though Dorothy tried to help clear his name, she saw the man she loved disgraced.
In this riveting and deeply moving account, drawing on a wealth of research and interviews with close family and colleagues, Jennet Conant reveals an exceptionally gifted and enigmatic man who served his country at tremendous personal cost and whose singular achievement, and subsequent undoing, is at the root of our present nuclear predicament.
Jennet Conant is the author of Man of the Hour: James B. Conant, Warrior Scientistand the New York Times bestsellers The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington and Tuxedo Park: A Wall Street Tycoon and the Secret Palace of Science That Changed the Course of World War II. She has written for Vanity Fair, Esquire, GQ, Newsweek, and The New York Times. She lives in New York City and Sag Harbor, New York.
"The Manhattan Project was a chapter of history rich in the drama of human strengths and frailties, as Jennet Conant chronicles in her illuminating 109 East Palace.... Yet, for all the doubts and hardships, the scientists and workers at Los Alamos were part of something extraordinary.... Thanks to Conant's vivid book, we understand why." -- BusinessWeek
"A haunting, beautifully realized and highly entertaining story.... A stunning accomplishment." -- Edmonton Journal
"Terrifically engaging reading.... A story that, especially in times of uncertain security, we should read and heed." -- San Jose Mercury News
"A unique and interesting portrait of the development of the atomic bomb and the brilliant man who oversaw the process.... Conant gives the reader one story after another, revealing the humanity of these people within the framework of the project that ushered the world into the Atomic Age.... Highly readable." -- San Antonio Express-News
"Bears the weight of inexorable drama.... Excels in showing how bedeviled the brilliant, oddly spineless but extraordinarily powerful Oppenheimer was." -- St. Petersburg Times
"A spellbinding account of a venture that often teetered on the brink while the future of the world lay at stake.... Vividly told, the interplay of personalities that would ultimately transform the world." -- Kirkus Reviews (starred)
"More than any other account of Los Alamos that I've read, Conant's narrative evokes the texture of life there.... A well-told narrative of daily life in a top-secret operation." -- Newsday
"An engaging portrait of life on the remote mesa that served as backdrop for the world's most audacious scientific enterprise.... Conant packs her book with colorful, little-known details that bring the quotidian side of the bomb-building effort to life." -- Baltimore Sun