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#215 : J. Robert Oppenheimer and Leslie Groves (The General and the Genius)
November 9th, 2021 | E215

What I learned from reading The General and the Genius: Groves and Oppenheimer—The Unlikely Partnership that Built the Atom Bomb by James Kunetka. 


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It is clear that nothing short of a full-speed, all-out attempt would be worthwhile.

Once Leslie Groves accepted his new assignment, he embraced it completely. From his appointment in September 1942 until the end of the war, he worked at full speed, often fourteen hours a day or more. His remarkable energy and stamina frequently exhausted those who worked and traveled with him.

Groves's style was to delegate whatever he could and then put the screws to the delegees. He was a taskmaster.

The instructions to the project were that any individual in the project who felt that the ultimate completion was going to be delayed by as much as a day by something that was happening, it was his duty to report it direct to me. Urgency was on us right from the start.

When Marshall asked him if he ever praised anyone for a job well done, Groves said no. "I don't believe in it. No matter how well something is being done, it can always be done better and faster.”

Oppenheimer insisted that Los Alamos should have one director. He had learned enough about management from studying Groves to believe that while consensus was important, an organization needed a single leader.

The dual approaches reflected Groves's belief in pursuing multiple solutions to a problem until the problem is solved

In a frank assessment of his boss after the war, he called him, "the biggest S.O.B. I have ever worked for. He is the most demanding. He is the most critical. He is always a driver, never a praiser. He is abrasive and sarcastic. He disregards all normal organizational channels. He is extremely intelligent. He has the guts to make timely, difficult decisions. He is the most egotistical man I know. He knows he is right and so sticks by his decision. He abounds with energy and expects everyone to work as hard or even harder than he does. If I had to do my part of the atomic bomb project over again and had the privilege of picking my boss I would pick General Groves."

Groves had a reputation for competence. He was demanding, rough, and sometimes brutal with his staff, intolerant of delay and mental slowness. On the other hand, he never swore, rarely lost his temper, and never raised his voice. He was also prepared to let subordinates disagree if their arguments were sound. He disliked people who groveled.

Groves remained unflappable, accepting the unanticipated as normal.


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