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Telling Life Stories

Starting Over: The Life of Herman Ernst Sheets

Selection from
STARTING OVER: The Life of Herman Ernst Sheets
his memoir, written with Pat McNees

"Although Oskar [Kraus] was one of the more famous members of the family, my grandmother continued to think of him as her idealistic and impractical younger brother, always in need of her unsolicited advice. As I recall, she summed up his friends, efforts, and accomplishments like this:


“First Oskar gets interested in and spends most of his career writing about Brentano. He could have picked someone noncontroversial to spend his time on, but no, he has to pick Brentano, the only professor to ever be expelled from the University of Vienna. And why was Brentano expelled? Because in 1894 he decided to argue that the Pope was not ‘infallible,’ a remarkably stupid thing to do in Vienna, the self-appointed capital of the remnants of the Holy Roman Empire.

“Next, what does Oskar get involved in? He supports hiring at the University of Prague some controversial civil servant from the Swiss Patent Office who isn’t even a lawyer. This Einstein wants to change all the laws of physics! First of all, no one understands anything he talks about. Everyone knows about Newton and the apple, how does he refute that? I don’t even think Oskar believes what Einstein is saying.

“Then Oskar gets involved with all those Czechoslovak nationalists. You know, like that former professor, Tomáš Masaryk, and his like-minded friends. The fact that both Masaryk and Oskar studied in Vienna with that expelled Professor Brentano clearly indicates that they have no practical sense. Also, anyone with any sense knows that the biggest tragedy of the Great War was the break-up of the Austrian Empire into all these silly little countries with no history and no culture!

“And as for his friend Albert Schweitzer, well at least he is not controversial. He has a lot of degrees and is well intentioned, but, like Oskar, has no practical sense. He is off in Africa so no one has any idea what he is doing or who he is.

“And finally, Oskar makes friends with Bertrand Russell in England. What good is a friend like him? He’s the most controversial person in the universe. What can you say about a mathematician who thinks he is a philosopher?”

~From Chapter 1, “Life in Germany and Czechoslovakia.”
(2007) Click here to order STARTING OVER: The Life of Herman Ernst Sheets


Hermann Chitz's life, which began quietly in 1908 in the Kingdom of Saxony, was to span a century and two continents. He escaped to America from Hitler's Europe; his parents, assimilated Jews, stayed behind. With a Prague doctorate and patent in hand, he landed in New York in 1939, and changed his name—starting over as Herman Sheets.

In wartime he worked on critical aspects of the atomic bomb that would end the Second World War. In peacetime he directed research and development for Electric Boat's nuclear submarine program. At the peak of his career, in a single year, his wife died unexpectedly and he was fired for displeasing Admiral Hyman Rickover.

As a single parent, with three of his six children still at home, he started his career over again at the University of Rhode Island. Not until his own children were educated and launched did he remarry and take on an expanded family. This is the remarkable story of an immigrant, inventor, ocean engineer, technical consultant, and family man who consistently turned difficult transition into new beginnings.

Click here to order second-hand copies of STARTING OVER

The Amazon page shows an image of the paperback cover

On the Amazon page you can read a brief excerpt about Herman's chapter about working with Admiral Herman Rickover

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