Kai Bird on Joining Martin Sherwin to Write Oppenheimer’s Biography
This Week on The Literary Life with Mitchell Kaplan
Mitchell Kaplan: Books & Books in Coral Gables, our flagship store, is right across the street from the Coral Gables Cinema. Our indie bookstore so close to this indie cinema is my idea of heaven.
Over the years, we’ve had many collaborations and just a few weeks ago, during the cinema’s first run showing of Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, Kai Bird, the co-author of American Prometheus (which Christopher Nolan adapted for his screenplay) joined me for a Q&A following a screening of the film. That Q&A makes up this edition of The Literary Life.
From the episode:
Kai Bird: Marty started this book in 1980. He signed a contract with Knopf and he worked on it, he was a tenured professor of history at Tufts, and he worked on it every year for the next 20 years. Gathering 50,000 pages of archival documents, interviewing 150 of Oppenheimer’s colleagues, students, associates at Los Alamos… He hadn’t started to write.
And finally in the year 2000, he came to me. We’d become good friends and, uh, I was unemployed. I’d finished my last book, on the Bundy Brothers, and he asked me to join him. He was a very funny guy. He said that if, if you don’t join me, my gravestone is gonna read: “He took it with him.”
But biography takes time. It takes, you know, years. The fastest biography usually is at least five years. And Marty was very thorough and, you know, just dedicated to getting this done. […] I did join him but it still took five more years, so it was a 25 year project.