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The Tragedy of Edward Teller

The Tragedy of Edward Teller

István Hargittai


The main thrust of this play is that Edward Teller sets out to save the world and it may just be that he saves it. He persuades the United States to build the hydrogen bomb to serve as a deterrent against the Soviet hydrogen bomb. During the process, however, he is being viewed as a warmonger rather than a saviour by some parts of the public and most of his scientific peers.


Whether Teller saved the world or not could not be decided by scientific methods. However, the Third World War did not break out and the Cold War was won by the Free World. The proof would have been if he had failed in persuading the United States to go ahead with the hydrogen bomb, and the Soviet Union – as a sole possessor of thermonuclear weapons – had gained dominance of the world. There is thus an ambiguity and Teller died knowing that he may have saved the world, but there may be few other people crediting him with this deed.


Building up a deterrent and forcing the Soviets into an arms race they could not afford may be Teller’s true legacy. However, he has been accused that he was driven by obsessive anti-communism, that he destroyed the popular Robert Oppenheimer, that he sought power rather than pursuing a scientific career for which he was eminently qualified, and that by virtually forcing SDI onto the United States he almost caused its bankruptcy.

Hungarian Academy of Sciences


István Hargittai

Istvan Hargittai is a physical chemist and professor emeritus (active) at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics. He is a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the Academia Europaea (London), and a foreign member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters (Oslo). He is a PhD and DSc, and has honorary doctorates from Lomonosov Moscow State University, the University of North Carolina, and the Russian Academy of Sciences.


He has been Founding Editor-in-Chief of the international periodical Structural Chemistry (Springer Nature) since 1989. He has published over three hundred research papers and reviews and has published hundreds of other papers, in particular in science dissemination and popularisation. He has authored and edited over fifty books about structural chemistry, history of science, the nature of scientific discovery, memorials of scientists, conversations with famous scientists, and other topics.


His books have appeared in English, Hungarian, Russian, German, Swedish, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, and in the Farsi language.


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