Edward Teller: The Real Dr. Strangelove
by Peter Goodchild
Reviewed March 3, 2005
Peter Goodchild - an award-winning television producer for the BBC and the author of a 1985 biography of Robert Oppenheimer - provides a detailed, informative biography of Edward Teller. Teller is best known as the "father of the hydrogen bomb," a witness against J. Robert Oppenheimer in the latter's security hearing, and, finally, an ardent promoter of the Cold War arms race. This book provides a fascinating, well-researched look into the life of one of the most politically powerful scientists of the 20th century.
Born in Budapest, Hungary, Teller grew up in a relatively privileged Jewish professional family. The impact of World War I, a postwar Communist revolution, and a tide of post-Communist anti-Semitism all had great impacts on the formation of Teller's psyche. Teller himself recalled that "the consistency of numbers" was "the first memory I have of feeling secure."
Goodchild's well crafted biography draws on interviews with more than fifty of Teller's colleagues and friends and provides a deep richness to this complex character. Throughout his life, Teller was at the center of controversy. For example, one Nobel Prize winning physicist called Edward Teller, "A great man of vast imagination [one of the] most thoughtful statesmen of science". Another called him, "A danger to all that is important. It would have been a better world without [him]." The book carefully explores Teller's role in the Manhattan Project, and his relentless quest to develop the "Super". He also carefully documents one of the pivotal points in Teller's career, Oppenheimer's 1954 security hearing before the Atomic Energy Commission.
Goodchild also explores Teller's obsession with the Soviet threat, which led him to oppose nuclear arms control treaties, the continued development of nuclear weapons, and winning the support of the Reagan administration for "Star Wars", his final political triumph.
Edward Teller's legacy is an enduring one, and Mr. Goodchild has produced a worthy, detailed, and balanced biography of "The Real: Dr. Strangelove."