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Oberlin Club of Washington, DC: "Oppenheimer: The Man. The Book. The Movie."

Oberlin Club of Washington, DC:

“Oppenheimer: The Man. The Book. The Movie.”

A Zoom conversation with Kai Bird, co-author of the book 'American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer'


Physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer during World War II directed the efforts of a select cadre of scientists who toiled in secrecy at the Manhattan Project’s weapons laboratory at Los Alamos, New Mexico. Under Oppenheimer’s leadership, the Manhattan Project developed the atomic bombs that the United States employed to devastating effect against the cities and population of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, thus expediting the Japanese surrender. Although known as “the father of the atomic bomb” and heralded for guiding the crash project that contributed to military victory, Oppenheimer in the postwar era spiraled from national hero to outcast. He expressed misgivings about the morality of the weapons he helped create, warned about the risks of an arms race and the dangers of a nuclear war, and publicly opposed the emerging national security doctrine that expanded the destructive power and arsenals of nuclear weapons. His past political associations and personal behavior fed narratives used by critics during the Cold War to cast him as a subversive and impacted the eventual loss of his security clearance. The public humiliation devastated Oppenheimer and tarnished his reputation; he was a broken man through his final years.

Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin collaborated on the acclaimed biography American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer. Critics regard their work as “masterful” and the standard against which other works on Oppenheimer must be measured.

Join author Kai Bird as he offers his perspective about the complexities of Oppenheimer the man, the experience of writing the Oppenheimer biography, and his thoughts about the Academy Award-winning movie “Oppenheimer” which was based on American Prometheus.

Kai Bird is an award-winning author who has written seven books, five of which have been biographies whose subjects, in addition to Oppenheimer, include the brothers McGeorge and William Bundy, John J. McCloy, Robert Ames, and Jimmy Carter. In 2006, Mr. Bird and co-author Martin Sherwin were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for the Oppenheimer biography. Mr. Bird was awarded the 2024 BIO Award presented by the Biographers International Organization in recognition of his “significant contributions to the art and craft of biography.” Mr. Bird is currently working on a biography of lawyer Roy Cohn. Since 2017, Mr. Bird has served as Executive Director of the Leon Levy Center for Biography at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York. He earned a B.A. from Carleton College and holds an M.S. in Journalism from Northwestern University.


Oberlin Club of Washington, DC: "Oppenheimer: The Man. The Book. The Movie."

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