Jeffrey LewisMichael Krepon's Shoebox

We are starting a new feature — Michael Krepon’s shoebox.

As you will see from his explanatory note, he has collected quotes over thirty years, largely organized around his book writing projects. (You should check out his most recent book, Better Safe Than Sorry: The Ironies of Living With the Bomb, Stanford University Press, 2009).

Michael has generously agreed to curate the collection, beginning with a gem from Enrico Fermi:


As a kid, I collected baseball cards and put them in shoe boxes. (I still have the entire 1958 Topps baseball set.) When I started working on arms control and nuclear weapons on Capitol Hill in the mid-‘70s, I began snipping and pasting testimony on 4X6 cards, which I filed in shoe boxes. You never knew when a quote or a fact would come in handy during hearings or floor debate. When researching my first book in 1981, my shoe box collection grew. Thirteen books later, I now have thirteen shoe boxes – essential companions for an uneliable memory and limited computer skills.

With Jeffrey’s consent, every week I plan to dip into these shoe boxes and highlight a quote worth remembering, which will be posted on this site. Readers might find these offerings a welcome complement to the immediacy of other postings. If these quotes prompt others from readers, so much the better.

To start this off, let’s go back to the beginning, to Enrico Fermi’s quip about nuclear energy in the summer of 1945:

It would be nice if it could cure the common cold

Fermi was one of many atomic scientists who took part in the Manhattan Project, despite grave forebodings. I came across this quote when reading an essay by J. Robert Oppenheimer, “The Environs of Atomic Power,” published in 1957. In Oppenheimer’s retelling, Fermi’s observation about the Bomb was made “not quite without seriousness.”


  1. Lee (History)

    As a former research assistant for Michael who has cut numerous quotes for his infamous 4 × 6 cards, this comes as a welcome reminder of my time with him. I pilfered his collection mercilessly but I learned more from the man himself.

  2. Anonymous

    Vacuum tubes are not only reliable they are also highly resistant in a high radiation environment and this might be pretty useful

  3. Alex W. (History)

    Fermi’s quip reminds me in some vague way of the line from Al Rogers’ 1954 song, The Hydrogen Bomb: “Every dollar I make goes for taxes and bills / Perhaps they’ve discovered the cure for my ills.” (A wonderful song, incidentally. Part of the the Atomic Platters set. Really perfect, spot-on vocals for the subject matter.)