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Sin and the Scientist

Sin and the Scientist
By David Joravsky

Robert Oppenheimer: Letters and Recollections, edited by Alice Kimball Smith, edited by Charles Weiner, Harvard University Press, 376 pp., $20.00

Baudelaire made a blasphemous poem out of the Biblical notion that innocence is virtue, knowledge evil. He turned his back on godly virtue and prayed for satanic knowledge. The Tree of Knowledge (l'Arbre de Science) would be a new temple, spreading its boughs over Satan's brow, and he prayed that his soul would be there, next to Satan. At Harvard in the Twenties J. Robert Oppenheimer belonged to a little group of superior undergraduates who used Baudelaire's refrain—"O Satan, prends pitié de ma longue misère!"—as their hilarious shibboleth, a mocking response to the miseries of intense intellectual striving.

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Tags: books, scientist, sin

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