Behind ‘Oppenheimer,’ a Prizewinning Biography 25 Years in the Making

Andy Kifer in The New York Times:

Martin Sherwin was hardly your classic blocked writer. Outgoing, funny, and athletic, he is described by those who knew him as the opposite of neurotic.

But by the late 1990s, he had to admit he was stuck. Sherwin, a history professor and the author of one previous book, had agreed to write a full-scale biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer two decades earlier. Now he wondered if he would ever finish it. He’d done plenty of research — an extraordinary amount, actually, amassing some 50,000 pages of interviews, transcripts, letters, diaries, declassified documents and F.B.I. dossiers, stored in seemingly endless boxes in his basement, attic and office. But he’d barely written a word.

Sherwin had originally tried to turn the project down, his wife remembered, telling his editor, Angus Cameron, that he didn’t think he was seasoned enough to take on such a consequential subject as Oppenheimer, the so-called father of the atomic bomb. But Cameron, who had published Sherwin’s first book at Knopf — and who, like Oppenheimer, had been a victim of McCarthyism — insisted.

More here.