This weekend, for reasons best known to my subconscious, I’ve been re-reading Richard Rhodes’ classic “The Making of the Atomic Bomb”. It is a wonderfully rich work of history, as well as a deeply-felt scientific elegy. Among other things, Robert Oppenheimer is such a fascinating and conflicted character, a point driven home by Oppenheimer’s famously mixed remembrance of the moments after the Trinity test (the last sentence, in particular, has always stayed with me):
We waited until the blast had passed, walked out of the shelter and then it was extremely solemn. We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, from the Bhagavad-Gita: Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him he takes on his multi-armed form. and says, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.
As an aside, it is hard not to read the book without revisiting the human and heartbreaking “Unforgettable Fire”, a Japan Broadcasting Corporation collection containing drawings by atomic bomb survivors. See this and this for examples.