SANTA FE, N.M. — It’s been an oft-covered subject: The Manhattan Project’s super-secret research at Los Alamos that led to the design, building and detonation of the atomic bomb.
Author James Kunetka’s new book “The General and the Genius” tells that important story through a different lens – the relationship of Gen. Leslie “Dick” Groves of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the director of the project, and theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who directed the research at Los Alamos.
“I’ve always been intrigued by the dynamic” of Groves and Oppenheimer, Kunetka said in a phone interview.
Thanks in part to recently declassified documents, Kunetka said the book is a fuller, updated telling of the story through the two people most responsible for the bomb.
And the author wanted to relate it to readers who are neither scientists nor engineers.
In the book’s preface he states that the Groves-Oppenheimer partnership was “unexpected as it was successful.
There was little in either man’s life before 1942 to suggest that the general and the physicist would ever meet, much less form a close working association to develop an atomic bomb.”
Recent generations may know about atomic bombs and about the bomb’s destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ending World War II, but, Kunetka said, he doesn’t think those generations know much about Groves and Oppenheimer.
“What happened at Los Alamos was an historic, scientific and technical achievement,” Kunetka said. “To understand the decisions that were made you have to understand the times and why Los Alamos was created to begin with. They don’t exist in isolation. In an interesting way, Groves and Oppenheimer represent scientific and military views that crossed over in their actions.”
Kunetka, who is 70, grew up in Albuquerque. A retired associate vice president of the University of Texas, he lives in Austin.
In 1978 he wrote “City of Fire: Los Alamos and the Birth of the Atomic Age, 1943-45,” a short volume described as a primer on the subject. His other work of nonfiction is “Oppenheimer: The Years of Risk.”
Published in 1982, it discusses the physicist’s scientific achievements, the development of the atomic bomb, the post-war loss of his security clearance and other issues that influenced his life between the years 1939 and 1954.