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After the war, when he moved to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., Oppenheimer made powerful enemies with his stance against the hydrogen bomb, including Lewis Strauss, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). A ferocious advocate of the hydrogen bomb, Strauss set in motion the lethal chain of events that led to the hearing on Oppenheimer's fitness to hold a security clearance. The FBI put illegal taps on Oppenheimer's phones and planted bugs at his home and Princeton office. As a basis for its most serious charge, that Oppenheimer had been a secret party member, the AEC inquest panel used transcripts of the illegal wiretaps, which were full of hearsay from party members who thought he might have been an unacknowledged comrade. During the inquest, Oppenheimer's lawyers were not allowed to see those transcripts, so they could never prepare an adequate rebuttal.
The same evidence would never be permitted in a courtroom, but Strauss had seen to it that Oppenheimer was being disposed of in an administrative hearing for which courtroom niceties did not apply. The outcome was a foregone conclusion. As a deliberate act of political rehabilitation, John Kennedy would invite Oppenheimer to the White House in 1961 and later arrange for him to receive the Enrico Fermi Prize. Yet until his death in 1967, Oppenheimer would never again feel comfortable as a public advocate for a sane nuclear policy.
Bird and Sherwin are concerned chiefly with the political and personal dimensions of Oppenheimer's case. For a broader picture of Los Alamos as a unique human settlement, part Western boom town, part scientific prison camp, turn to 109 East Palace by Jennet Conant. The Los Alamos in her book is largely the one General Leslie Groves, military chief of the Manhattan Project, was describing when he directed Oppenheimer, saying: "Here at great expense the government has assembled the world's largest collection of crackpots. Take good care of them." Conant sees the place partly through the eyes of Dorothy McKibbin, a local woman who managed the tiny Santa Fe office that channeled new arrivals to the growing but highly secret enclave on a desert mesa outside of town. To get at the intrigues of Los Alamos through McKibbin is at times like trying to figure out Hamlet by way of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. But by moving frequently beyond the things McKibbin could know, Conant ends up providing an entertaining picture of day-to-day life in a deadly serious wartime enclave that still managed to have a baby boom, a prostitution scandal and its own tragedy--Oppenheimer's.