Judging Edward Teller: A Closer Look at One of the Most Influential Scientists of the Twentieth Century

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Much has been written about Edward TEller, but little of it is objective. Given, on the one hand, his position as one of the most inventive theoretical physicists of the 20th century, and on the other, his central role in the development and advocacy of thermonuclear weapons, one might imagine it impossible at this point in history to write a scholarly, impartial account of Teller's life and his impact. Now, however, Istvan Hargittai, a prominent Hungarian physical chemist and historian of science, has written a balanced, thoughtful, and beautifully research biography that comes closest. Hargittai is uniquely qualified for this ... continued below

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Libby, S B December 29, 2010.

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Much has been written about Edward TEller, but little of it is objective. Given, on the one hand, his position as one of the most inventive theoretical physicists of the 20th century, and on the other, his central role in the development and advocacy of thermonuclear weapons, one might imagine it impossible at this point in history to write a scholarly, impartial account of Teller's life and his impact. Now, however, Istvan Hargittai, a prominent Hungarian physical chemist and historian of science, has written a balanced, thoughtful, and beautifully research biography that comes closest. Hargittai is uniquely qualified for this difficult task. Coming a generation and a half later from a similar Hungarian-Jewish background, Hargittai understands well the influences and terrible events that shaped Teller. The advent of virulent, political anti-Semitism, first in Hungary and then in Germany, made Teller twice a refugee. Both Teller and Hargittai lost close family in the Holocaust; Hargittai was himself liberated from a Nazi concentration camp as a child. While Teller was in the US by then, his and Hargittai's surviving family members in Hungary suffered mistreatment at the hands of the postwar Hungarian Communist dictatorship. Hargittai's informed Eastern European perspective also provides a fresh viewpoint to the cold war context of the second half of Teller's career. Furthermore, Hargittai's own scientific work in molecular structure clearly makes him appreciate of Teller's breakthroughs in that field in the 1930s.

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PDF-file: 6 pages; size: 1.4 Mbytes

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  • Journal Name: Physics Today, vol. 64, no. 2, February 1, 2011, pp. 49; Journal Volume: 64; Journal Issue: 2

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  • Report No.: LLNL-JRNL-464839
  • Grant Number: W-7405-ENG-48
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 1018808
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc833643

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  • December 29, 2010

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  • May 19, 2016, 3:16 p.m.

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  • Dec. 5, 2016, 10:04 p.m.

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Libby, S B. Judging Edward Teller: A Closer Look at One of the Most Influential Scientists of the Twentieth Century, article, December 29, 2010; Livermore, California. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc833643/: accessed October 18, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.