Monday, July 17, 2023

❀New Nonfiction History Book Alert❀: An Atomic Love Story by Shirley Streshinsky & Patricia Klaus

Title: An Atomic Love Story: The Extraordinary Women in Robert Oppenheimer’s Life
Author: Shirley Streshinsky & Patricia Klaus
Publisher: Turner Publishing Company
Pages: 380
Genre: Nonfiction/History

Set against a dramatic backdrop of war, spies, and nuclear bombs, An Atomic Love Story unveils a vivid new view of a tumultuous era and one of its most important figures. In the early decades of the 20th century, three highly ambitious women found their way to the West Coast, where each was destined to collide with the young Oppenheimer, the enigmatic physicist whose work in creating the atomic bomb would forever impact modern history. His first and most intense love was for Jean Tatlock, though he married the tempestuous Kitty Harrison—both were members of the Communist Party—and was rumored to have had a scandalous affair with the brilliant Ruth Sherman Tolman, ten years his senior and the wife of another celebrated physicist. Although each were connected through their relationship to Oppenheimer, their experiences reflect important changes in the lives of American women in the 20th century: the conflict between career and marriage; the need for a woman to define herself independently; experimentation with sexuality; and the growth of career opportunities.

Beautifully written and superbly researched through a rich collection of firsthand accounts, this intimate portrait shares the tragedies, betrayals, and romances of an alluring man and three bold women, revealing how they pushed to the very forefront of social and cultural changes in a fascinating, volatile era.


Bookshop: https://tinyurl.com2ecxvwjt


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Book Excerpt

June 14, 1943

The light was fading by the time Robert Oppenheimer left Le Conte Hall.

He walked across campus at his usual fast clip, heading for the streetcar that would take him into San Francisco. He would have allowed his mind to skim over the consequences of what he was about to do. Not that he was weighing them; he had already made the decision to see Jean Tatlock. It would be more of an exercise to keep his mind occupied, to block the uncertainty of how he would find her.

Radiant or remorseful. Perfect or flawed.

There would be hell to pay, that he knew. He would have stopped to light a cigarette, maybe taking the opportunity to glance around for the Army security agent he knew would be there. He was too important to the war effort to be allowed to go loose in the world. His slender, six-foot frame and his signature porkpie hat made him an easy target to tail. The security agents would inform Pash, and Pash would be delighted to inform General Groves, and the general would be livid.

Oppenheimer was the new scientific director of the Los Alamos section of the Manhattan Project, hidden on a mesa high in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico. It was possible that seeing Jean could cause him to be removed from the project altogether. The idea was so disturbing that it would have had to be put out of his mind, along with the wife and two-year-old son he left behind in Los Alamos.

After one last deep drag of his cigarette, he would have flicked it away, then swung onto the Key System train that would carry him over the Oakland Bay Bridge and into the city. He was thirty-nine that June. Jean was twenty-nine. They had known each other, loved each other, for seven years. He would always want her; twice he had come close to marrying her.

Three months before, when he had been about to leave Berkeley for Los Alamos, Jean had asked to see him, but he had not gone to her then. Too much was happening, too fast. He wasn’t allowed to tell her why he was leaving or where he was going, could not confide what he and a remarkable band of scientists were attempting to create. Probably he was glad for that; Jean would not have approved.

She was one of the most principled people he had ever known; she believed above all else in the sanctity of life. She was a physician now, a resident in psychiatry at Mount Zion Hospital, working with troubled children. She did not know that ending World War II might depend on his group’s ability to develop a weapon of mass destruction so horrific it would defeat America’s enemies, unless the Germans got it first. That grim possibility played on his mind. The Germans were intent on conquering all of Europe, the world. Would Jean, with her kind and open heart, be able to grasp the enormity of such a catastrophe?

Oppenheimer arrived at 9:45 PWT, the FBI report reads. He rushed to meet a young lady, whom he kissed and they walked away arm in arm. They entered a 1935 green Plymouth coupe and the young lady drove. The car is registered to Jean Tatlock. She is five foot seven, 128 [pounds], long dark hair, slim, attractive.

She drove east along the Embarcadero—the scene of much of the labor unrest she had reported in the Western Worker—then turned west on Broadway. She had decided where they would eat; not one of the posh restaurants he would have chosen, but a shabby place not far from her apartment on Telegraph Hill, good for the spicy food he favored and some proletarian privacy. An agent waited outside.

He would report: Drove to Xochiniloc Cafe, 787 Broadway, at 10 p.m. Cheap type bar, cafe, and dance hall operated by Mexicans. Had few drinks, something to eat, went to 1405 Montgomery where she lives on top floor...Appears to be very affectionate and intimate...At 11:30 lights went out.

Within two weeks, Lieutenant Colonel Boris Pash, chief of counterintelligence for the Ninth Army Corps in San Francisco, would send a memo to the Pentagon recommending that Dr. Oppenheimer be denied a security clearance and be fired as scientific director of the Manhattan Project, citing among other things this overnight tryst with Jean Tatlock, identified as his mistress and a known Communist.

About the Authors

Shirley Streshinsky is a critically acclaimed author of three works of nonfiction and four historical novels. As a journalist and travel essayist, she has written extensively for a wide range of national magazines such as Glamour, Preservation, American Heritage, The American Scholar, and Conde Nast Traveler. She is the recipient of the Society of Magazine Writers’ Award for Excellence and the National Council for the Advancement of Education Writing award, and was cited by The Educational Press Association of America for “superlative achievement in features.” Her travel essays have been a feature on National Public Radio. She was married to the late photojournalist Ted Streshinsky and lives in Kensington (Berkeley), California.

Patricia Klaus is an independent scholar who attended the University of California at Santa Barbara, and then Stanford University where she earned a Ph.D. in Modern British History. She taught twentieth-century British history at Yale University, was a visiting lecturer at the University of Virginia and Stanford, and has written a number of historical articles. Her particular interests are women in nineteenth and twentieth century England as well as the study of war and literature, which made working on a book about the remarkable women of the Atomic Age especially appealing.

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