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Robert Oppenheimer Character Analysis

The leading physicist on the atomic bomb project (part of the Manhattan Project). Oppenheimer earned his PhD and his highly prestigious job in spite of his communist affiliations and (even more strikingly) having once been accused of trying to poison his professor. Gladwell points out that Oppenheimer knew how to navigate the world and make success for himself in a way that Chris Langan did not.

Robert Oppenheimer Quotes in Outliers

The Outliers quotes below are all either spoken by Robert Oppenheimer or refer to Robert Oppenheimer. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Success and Failure Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Back Bay Books edition of Outliers published in 2011.
Chapter 4 Quotes

[Oppenheimer] possessed the kind of savvy that allowed him to get what he wanted from the world.

Related Characters: Chris Langan, Robert Oppenheimer
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:

Gladwell contrasts two figures: Chris Langan and Robert Oppenheimer. Langan was a highly talented young man who rose from poverty to study at Reed College, among other places. Oppenheimer was raised in a middle-class family, and studied at elite institutions, including Harvard and Cambridge. But Langan eventually dropped out of college because of various minor disagreements with his administrators. Oppenheimer was briefly put on probation while working on his Ph.D thesis. The reason Oppenheimer was put on probation was that he tried to poison his adviser--a serious crime.

The point Gladwell is getting at is that Oppenheimer managed to stay in a high-level academic program by using his negotiating and arguing skills, while Langan dropped out because he was too quick to take "no" for an answer. Gladwell uses the differences between Oppenheimer and Langan to clarify one of his key points: intelligence is not enough; drive and determination, as well as a social skills and luck, are also necessary to understand why certain people succeed. 


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Robert Oppenheimer Character Timeline in Outliers

The timeline below shows where the character Robert Oppenheimer appears in Outliers. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4: The Trouble with Geniuses, Part 2
Success and Failure Theme Icon
Talent, Opportunity, Work, and Luck Theme Icon
Gladwell tells us that Langan’s story makes him think of Robert Oppenheimer, a physicist who famously led the American effort to develop a nuclear bomb in WWII.... (full context)
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Talent, Opportunity, Work, and Luck Theme Icon
Langan was kicked out of school for forgetting to file a form, where Oppenheimer received probation for attempting to poison his tutor. Langan believes he is too controversial a... (full context)
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Talent, Opportunity, Work, and Luck Theme Icon
Privilege, Heritage, and Cultural Background Theme Icon
Solutions and Implications for the Future Theme Icon
4. This is perhaps where we can locate the most important difference between Oppenheimer and Langan. Oppenheimer’s parents (an artist and a successful businessman) fostered his passions, made him... (full context)