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Extended Audio Sample 109 East Palace: Robert Oppenheimer and the Secret City of Los Alamos, by Jennet Conant Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (398 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Jennet Conant Narrator: Anne Twomey Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio Format: Abridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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They were told as little as possible.

Their orders were to go to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and report for work at a classified Manhattan Project site, a location so covert it was known to them only by the mysterious address: 109 East Palace. There, behind a wrought-iron gate and narrow passageway just off the touristy old plaza, they were greeted by Dorothy McKibbin, an attractive widow who was the least likely person imaginable to run a front for a clandestine defense laboratory. They stepped across her threshold into a parallel universe—the desert hideaway where Robert Oppenheimer and a team of world-famous scientists raced to build the first atomic bomb before Germany and bring World War II to an end.

Brilliant, handsome, extraordinarily charismatic, Oppenheimer based his unprecedented scientific enterprise in the high reaches of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, hoping that the land of enchantment would conceal and inspire their bold mission. Oppenheimer was as arrogant as he was inexperienced, and few believed the thirty-eight-year-old theoretical physicist would succeed.

Jennet Conant captures all the exhilaration and drama of those perilous twenty-seven months at Los Alamos, a secret city cut off from the rest of society, ringed by barbed wire, where Oppenheimer and his young recruits lived as virtual prisoners of the United States government. With her dry humor and eye for detail, Conant chronicles the chaotic beginnings of Oppenheimer’s by-the-seat-of-his-pants operation, where freshly minted secretaries and worldly scientists had to contend with living conditions straight out of pioneer days. Despite all the obstacles, Oppie managed to forge a vibrant community at Los Alamos through the sheer force of his personality. Dorothy, who fell for him at first sight, devoted herself to taking care of him and his crew and supported him through the terrifying preparations for the test explosion at Trinity and the harrowing aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Less than a decade later, Oppenheimer became the focus of suspicion during the McCarthy witch hunts. When he and James B. Conant, one of the top administrators of the Manhattan Project (and the author’s grandfather), led the campaign against the hydrogen bomb, Oppenheimer’s past left-wing sympathies were used against him, and he was found to be a security risk and stripped of his clearance. Though Dorothy tried to help clear his name, she saw the man she loved disgraced.

In this riveting and deeply moving account, drawing on a wealth of research and interviews with close family and colleagues, Jennet Conant reveals an exceptionally gifted and enigmatic man who served his country at tremendous personal cost and whose singular achievement, and subsequent undoing, is at the root of our present nuclear predicament.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “More than any other account of Los Alamos that I’ve read, Conant’s narrative evokes the texture of life there...A well-told narrative of daily life in a top-secret operation.” 

    Newsday

  • “An engaging portrait of life on the remote mesa that served as backdrop for the world's most audacious scientific enterprise...Conant packs her book with colorful, little-known details that bring the quotidian side of the bomb building effort to life.” 

    Baltimore Sun

  • “A unique and interesting portrait of the development of the atomic bomb and the brilliant man who oversaw the process...Conant gives the reader one story after another, revealing the humanity of these people within the framework of the project that ushered the world into the Atomic Age...Highly readable.” 

    San Antonio Express-News

  • “Terrifically engaging reading...A story that, especially in times of uncertain security, we should read and heed.” 

    San Jose Mercury News

  • “A haunting, beautifully realized and highly entertaining story...A stunning accomplishment.” 

    Edmonton Journal 

  • “Conant...offers a human look at the brilliant physicists who for more than two years, along with their families, lived, laughed, despaired, and rejoiced in a secret, sequestered...in the New Mexico desert. Conant brings to life the colorful, eccentric town of thousands that sprang up on a New Mexico mesa and achieved the unthinkable.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “A spellbinding account of a venture that often teetered on the brink while the future of the world lay at stake...Vividly told.” 

    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Listener Opinions

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Raylene Roberts | 2/4/2014

    " An interesting account about the manhattan project. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Yvonne | 1/29/2014

    " Not as much info on the physics going on as I'd expected/hoped, but ended up being an interesting description of life at Los Alamos. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Janice | 1/21/2014

    " This book contains the information I've been looking for: the who, what, where, why and when of Los Alamos. There are some slow and tedious pages at the beginning and at the end, nevertheless, the book is an excellent resource. Jennet Conant captures the emotions and the hectic pace that went into providing housing, laboratories, security, and infrastructure for the new city, built from scratch, thrown together by the Army for the sole purpose of developing the atomic bomb before Nazi Germany. Ms. Conant introduces us to the leading scientists of the world, their families, and the support staff that came together to toil for the most noble of purposes and to live in the most meager conditions for the twenty-seven months it took to develop the bombs which were eventually used against Japan, not Germany, to end WWII. I found the photographs and the map helpful. I enjoyed the trivia. Japanese fire balloon attachs? Who knew! And with the wood fueled kitchen ranges and furnaces. . . how did the residents keep their tinderbox apartments from burning the whole place down? "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Benj FitzPatrick | 1/10/2014

    " As the first order of business I'd like to give this novel 4.5 stars. With that finished we can move on to the more interesting bits. For having grown up in Los Alamos and working at the national lab for 5 summers I know shockingly little about the town's war years. In fact, this was my first foray into reading a book detailing the Manhattan Project. I will try to keep the nostalgic influence for my childhood home to a minimum. My initial realization during the first hundred pages was how well Conant described the balance between the work all of the scientists did and the strain they felt as people (mostly from their horrific living conditions). Similarly, Conant captured the tension in their lives due to the secretive nature of their work, which meant husbands and wifes could not discuss anything freely. Another facet of the scientists' humanity that was fascinating stemmed from the tension between the military and Oppenheimer, with my favorite scene being when Oppenheimer wore an indian headdress after Groves told him his normal hat was too conspicuous. One strange point to me was how many of the scientists were theoreticians. This made me wonder about the untold stories of the scientists who truly designed and built the bombs. In short, Conant's descriptions covered both the scientific and human aspects of these extraordinary people, and, as a scientist, I have often seen how hard it is to convey both adequately. "

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