When he discovers that his father worked on missiles for a defense contractor, Jeff Porter is inspired to revisit America’s atomic past and our fallen heroes, in particular J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb. The result, Oppenheimer Is Watching Me, takes readers back to the cold war, when men in lab coats toyed with the properties of matter and fears of national security troubled our sleep. With an eye for strange symmetries, Porter traces how one panicky moment shaped the lives of a generation.

All the figures in this masterful work are caught in a web of coincidences and paranoias, the chapters strewn with the icons of American material culture of a bygone era—vintage Pontiacs, Fizzie sodas, Geiger counters, latex girdles, and, of course, Fat Man and Little Boy. Readers also encounter noteworthy figures from the era, including Francis Gary Powers, whose U2 spy plane was shot out from under him in the skies over the Soviet Union, and Fidel Castro, whom the CIA plotted to kill or, at least, strip of his beard.

Seamlessly weaving historical events played out on a grand stage with day-to-day activities of childhood, Oppenheimer Is Watching Me is a heady mix of personal memoir and cold war history.

To listen to an interview with Jeff on Writers' Voices with Monica and Caroline, KRUU-LP 100.1 FM, please click here.

“Jeff Porter has elegantly created a new and imaginative Oppenheimer that brings fresh insights to a life and time that is endlessly fascinating."—Martin J. Sherwin, co-author (with Kai Bird), American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for biography
“This is a stunning new narrative which sets the personal and autobiographical in high relief against the backdrop of the cold war. It is a brilliant book, intricately conceived and executed. It reminded me of DeLillo’s Underworld as well as Auster’s The Invention of Solitude.”—Joan Connor, Ohio University, author, The World before Mirrors and History Lessons
“With humor, psychological insight, and bold imaginative leaps, Jeff Porter memorably evokes the experience of growing up during the cold war with its penumbra of political paranoia, nuclear menace, and radiation fears. Personal memories, family history, classical mythology, quantum physics, and public events flow together in a brilliantly illuminating way. Oppenheimer Is Watching Me gripped me at once, and I read it with mounting admiration and engagement. This memoir is valuable not only for the way it bears witness to a fast-receding era but also as a commentary on the terrors of our own day and the toll they are taking on our spirit.”—Paul S. Boyer, author,
By the Bomb’s Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age
“This is an inventive book, and an original one. A seamless blend of personal and public history, Oppenheimer Is Watching Me reports on many things: pole vaulting, baseball, Love Canal, Los Alamos and the dark halls of Washington, quarks, neutrons, jazz clubs, Pontiacs, fall-out shelters, cabbages and kings. Jeff Porter writes with equal wit and grace about the Manhattan Project and his family in Tonawanda, about Francis Gary Powers, Fidel Castro, and his Sicilian grandfather. There’s much that’s melancholic, too, a fear and trembling unto death—but somehow the whole is more bracing than bleak, the song of a survivor, and all of it vividly seen.”—Nicholas Delbanco, author, Spring and Fall and Anywhere out of the World

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Publication Details

Publication Date
Pages, art, trim size
150 pages, 5 ¾ x 9 ¼ inches