Summary and book reviews of Memoirs by Edward Teller


A Twentieth Century Journey In Science And Politics

By Edward Teller, Judith Shoolery

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  • Hardcover: Oct 2001,
    544 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2002,
    627 pages.

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Book Summary

Edward Teller is perhaps best known for his belief in freedom through strong defense. But this extraordinary memoir at last reveals the man behind the headlines--passionate and humorous, devoted and loyal. Never before has Teller told his story as fully as he does here. We learn his true position on everything from the bombing of Japan to the pursuit of weapons research in the post-war years. In clear and compelling prose, Teller chronicles the people and events that shaped him as a scientist, beginning with his early love of music and math, and continuing with his study of quantum physics under Werner Heisenberg. He also describes his relationships with some of the century's greatest minds--Einstein, Bohr, Fermi, Szilard, von Neumann--and offers an honest assessment of the development of the atomic and hydrogen bombs, the founding of Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, and his complicated relationship with J. Robert Oppenheimer.

Rich and humanizing, this candid memoir describes the events that led Edward Teller to be honored or abhorred, and provides a fascinating perspective on the ability of a single individual to affect the course of history.


DESCRIBING WHAT I have been up to since January 15, 1908, or rather, describing the fraction I can remember, is neither simple nor straightforward. Our memories are selective; they delete some events and magnify others. Just the simple act of recalling the past affects the recollection of what happened. That some of my remembrances are not the commonly accepted version of events should not be surprising.

Describing those events-and the people who had a hand in making me the person I turned out to be-is even more difficult. We do not easily recognize what shapes us most deeply, and the results of introspection are even less reliable than memory. Anyone optimistic enough to try to understand peoplethe most complicated entities in the known universe-is entering a morass.

Writing the first five chapters of this book was especially hard. It was like remembering someone I once knew, a person who no longer exists. 1 felt as I did in 1933, when I wrote a poem called "Air ...

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Media Reviews
Scientific American

Whatever one thinks of physicist Teller's reputation as a hawk in military matters and a controversial figure in science politics, he and his collaborator, Shoolery (a writer, editor and former science teacher), have produced a page-turner.

National Review

At once lively and profound...[ Memoirs] chronicles a remarkable life.

Washington Post

An important, informative, and that fully lives up to expectations and can be wholeheartedly recommended.

San Diego Union-Tribune

[A]n illuminating, personable portrayal of arguably one of the greatest physicists of modern times.

Physics Today

Fascinating...Edward has captured the joys and the sorrows of [his life journey] in beautiful detail.

National Interest

A fascinating record of the mutual entanglement of theoretical physics and world politics in the 20th century.

Library Journal - Gregg Sapp

At 93, Teller is one of the last living links to the golden age of 20th-century physics. He was there when quantum theory was conceived, he participated in the Manhattan Project, and he has been called the father of the hydrogen bomb. Yet for all of his indisputable scientific genius, he is perhaps best known for his conservative politics. Just as Teller has been lauded by conservatives and reviled by liberals, some readers will find this book frank and revealing, while others will see it as hubristic and self-serving.... Political opinions aside, this book has flaws. It is too long and packed with unnecessary details, and it contains just one appendix...

Kirkus Reviews

Though it will be disturbing to many readers, Teller's narrative has many fine moments he writes affectingly of his youth in a Hungary, and later Germany, in which anti-Semitism was on the rise, pays quiet homage to his beloved late wife, and even explains how he lost a foot in an accident involving a trolley car. (Terry Southern and Kubrick cruelly commemorated that loss by placing their Dr. Strangelove in a wheelchair.) But those fine moments are diminished somewhat by Teller's snappish dismissals of those who question the ethics of modern science, and he closes by insisting that we moderns have nothing to fear from today's bugbears such as genetically modified food, cloning, and nuclear power, all of which, he assures us, will lead to a brighter tomorrow. This memoir will not silence Teller's many critics; indeed, it will provide them further ammunition. Still, a useful, if (of course) self-serving, contribution to the history of science and the literature of the Cold War.

Publishers Weekly

Starred review. Panoramic and beautifully written recollections of one of the great scientific, if controversial, figures of all time.


Starred review. Acclaimed as a genius, reviled as a madman, Edward Teller refuses to be ignored.....Curiosity will impel even [Teller's] harshest critics into these memoirs, where both his powerful intellect and his imperious ego are on full display.

Times Literary Supplement

Much of [Memoirs] is indeed the raw material of history and deserves to be held as an archive.


[Teller] writes with warmth, humor, and optimism.

Reader Reviews
Davina -

Edward Teller was one of the leading scientists of the 20th century and has been described as 'the father of the hydrogen bomb'. His memoirs run to 600 pages of small type (in paperback), covering most of the 20th century - from his birth in 1908 to...   Read More

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