Robert and Frank

Quote of the day: “Robert and Frank were like two peas in a pod — only they were like the peas in Mendel’s genetic crosses , one smooth and one wrinkled.” From an LRB review of a new biography of Frank Oppenheimer, brother of Robert, CP member, experimental (rather than theoretical) physicist, and — I had not known this; I have fond memories of my visit there when I was 12 or 13 — founder of the Exploratorium.

The reviewer was presumably thinking of Genesis 27 as well as Mendel. Certainly there’s something biblical about the Oppenheimer brothers. At Trinity, Robert famously quoted, or anyway later recalled or imagined quoting, the Upanishads: “I am become death, destroyer of worlds.” Frank recalled it differently: “I think we just said: ‘It worked.'”

Liberal : theoretical : classicist :: communist : experimental : pragmatist. Doesn’t one major axis of the 20th century lie right down that line? Frank described his job on the Manhattan Project as “training people to fix what broke, redesigning things when necessary, and ensuring that no one slacked off on the job.” Mutatis mutandis, wouldn’t most communists have described their work the same?

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