Web edition: May 23, 2008
In mid-20th century
Historian Silvan S. Schweber exploits these contrasts to explore the meaning of genius, especially with respect to how these two geniuses interacted with a non-scientific society. Many previous writers have examined both men’s lives thoroughly, but Schweber brings fresh insight by focusing on less widely noted episodes. Aspects of Einstein’s personality emerge more clearly, for example, in the accounts of his role in the founding of
Schweber observes that Einstein exuded a constant sense of self and self-assurance throughout his life. Oppenheimer remade himself several times as his role evolved from student, to teacher, to lab administrator and then public figure. The differences in their personalities played out in their engagement in world affairs. After World War II, both attempted, each in his own way, to influence politicians to forge international controls over the new atomic weaponry, and both failed. Genius—no matter what kind—and politics, it seems, don’t mix. Schweber‘s story shows the difficulties that geniuses encounter in realms where knowledge and logic are not valued as much as power and profit.