Book Groups

Below the authors have provided some questions for your book club or reading group.  But first, we pay homage to Robert Oppenheimer’s favorite cocktail, the Dry Martini

First Things First: Martinis

FDR was a martini man, so was Winston Churchill, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cary Grant and all the other sophisticates we connect to the 1920s and 30s, definitely including Robert Oppenheimer, who was famous for his atomic powered version.

JRO’s Dry Martini

The basic ingredients, only two, are simple enough. It was the ceremony that counted: how you chilled them, stirred them, presented them, sipped them that made all the difference. At Los Alamos, 7,320 feet above sea level, martinis packed an atomic punch. To make one:

  • 2 ounces gin
  • 1 ounce dry vermouth

Pour the gin and vermouth into a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice and stir with a bar spoon until the outside of the shaker is frosted and cold.  Strain and serve, garnished with a twist of lemon or 3 small green olives.

Questions for Book Clubs


1.    In 1954, in a celebrated government Hearing labeled “In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer,” he was denied a security clearance, thus effectively banning the celebrated “father of the atomic bomb” from any further service to his government as an advisor on atomic issues. The reason: “defects in his moral character.” On what was this judgment based? Are there political corollaries today?


2.    In every relationship there are lessons learned; what lessons do you think Robert learned from Jean and from Ruth?


3.     The rumor about a sexual affair with Ruth Tolman, while her husband was still living, circulated in the tight-knit community of physicists. Was there an ulterior motive to the rumor?


4.    How does solving the mystery of the “poison apple” help explain Robert’s attraction to women? How does it help explain Robert?


5.    Jean’s teenage flirtation/experimentation with lesbianism caused her a great deal of angst at the time. Do you think she would have an easier time today? What was the outcome of Jean’s early flirtation with lesbianism?


6.    From the information the authors gleaned about each of the women, how would you describe the intrinsic quality of each one’s love for Robert? And his for her?


7.    Do you think Robert’s Jewish background influenced his choice of women to love?


8.    Consider the differences in outcome, had Robert married either Jean or Ruth.


9.    Although Robert loved his parents, what effect did their overly protective relationship have on his relationships, with men and with women, later in his life?


10. Based on Lynn Margulis’ story of her Sunday visit with the Oppenheimer’s, how would you describe Robert’s and Kitty’s relationship? Were you more sympathetic to him or to her?


11.  What is Robert Oppenheimer’s legacy? Was he a martyr or did he become an advocate for the ways man could control the destructive power unleashed at Trinity?