In the fall of 1940, as German bombers flew over London
and with America not yet at war, a small team of British scientists
on orders from
Winston Churchill carried out a daring trans-atlantic mission. The
British unveiled their most valuable military secret in a clandestine
with American nuclear physicists at the Tuxedo Park mansion of a
mysterious Wall Street tycoon, Alfred Lee Loomis. Powerful, handsome,
and enormously wealthy, Loomis had for years led a double life,
spending his days brokering huge deals and his weekends working
world's leading scientists in his deluxe private laboratory that
was hidden in a massive stone castle.
In this dramatic account of a hitherto unexplored but crucial
story of the war, Jennet Conant traces one of the world's most extraordinary
careers and scientific enterprises. She describes Loomis' phenomenal
rise to become one of the Wall Street legends of the go-go twenties.
He foresaw the stock market crash of 1929 in time to protect his
vast holdings, making a fortune while other bankers were losing
shirts. He rode out the Depression years in high style, and indulged
in the hobbies of the fabulously rich. He raced his own America's
yacht against the Vanderbilts and Astors, and purchased Hilton Head
Island in South Carolina as his private game reserve. Conant writes
about the glamour and privilege of his charmed circle as well as
Loomis' marriage to a beautiful but depressive wife, whom he sent
for repeated hospitalizations while he pursued a covert affair with
his protégé's young wife. His bitter divorce scandalized
society and drove Loomis into near seclusion in East Hampton.
At the height of his influence on Wall Street, Loomis abruptly
retired and devoted himself purely to science. He turned his Tuxedo
laboratory into the meeting place for the most visionary minds of
the twentieth century: Albert Einstein, Werner Heisenberg, James
Niels Bohr, and Enrico Fermi. With England threatened by invasion,
he joined Vannevar Bush, Karl Compton, and the author's grandfather,
Harvard president James B. Conant, in mobilizing civilian scientists
to defeat Nazi Germany, and personally bankrolled pioneering research
into the radar detection systems that ultimately changed the course
of World War II.
Together with his friend Ernest Lawrence, the Nobel Prize-winning
atom smasher, Loomis established a top-secret wartime laboratory
MIT and recruited the most famous names in physics. Through his
close ties to his cousin Henry Stimson, who was secretary of war,
Loomis was able to push FDR to spend hundreds of millions of dollars
to create the advanced radar systems that defeated the German Air
Force and deadly U-boats, and then to build the first atomic bomb.
One of the greatest scientific generals of World War II, Loomis'
exists not only in the development of radar but also in his critical
role in speeding the day of victory.