The American Prometheus is a recent biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer. The movie Oppenheimer comes out in Imax on Friday. I am looking forward to reading the book and watching the film.

The title of the book makes an appropriate allusion to Prometheus, the mythical god who gifted man the blessing and the curse of fire. Prometheus stole fire from Hephaistos’ forge because he felt sorry for our pitiful human struggles and weakness. Zeus and the other gods were angry at Prometheus’ act of benevolence, and they punished him severely.

The Hydrogen Bomb exploded on top of Hiroshima, Japan on my brother’s day of birth, August 6, 1945, and on Nagasaki a few days later. Since then, and even before, the question has arisen as to whether or not humanity has the required maturity, rationality, and indeed sanity to harness and use that kind of knowledge. The events that unfolded in the months and years after the bombs were dropped argue against our ability to handle such massive responsibility. The political fallout is particularly revealing.

Plot spoiler warning:

Was Oppenheimer made a national hero for bringing an early end to the war and therefore saving many thousands of lives? No! He was investigated, hounded, and harassed.

Only recently have the results of those investigations been repudiated, clearing his name.