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Biographer recounts life, times of first lab director

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By Roger Snodgrass

J. Robert Oppenheimer, the first director of the Los Alamos laboratory, did not quite come to life Monday night, but his shadow cast by a master storyteller had a haunting and unusual presence.

The prize-winning co-author of an acclaimed biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer performed a powerful feat of ventriloquism, placing his subject squarely in his own time while speaking directly to our own.

Martin Sherwin, along with Kai Bird, won the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 2006, for their acclaimed biography, “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer.”

Sherwin became the first historian to give the talk, the 38th in the series.

In his one-hour lecture to an audience that nearly filled Duane Smith Auditorium, Sherwin gave an abbreviated version of the Oppenheimer story focusing on the transformations in the life of the man who would become famous as “the father of the atom bomb, then later denounced it as “a most terrible weapon.”

Sherwin’s talk was entitled, “Oppenheimer’s Shadow: His Nuclear World and Ours,” and one of its main themes was Oppenheimer’s profound concerns and ultimate renunciation of the bomb in his later life


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