1/5. DNF. I've had this biography of Oppenheimer for years, and I've been looking forward to it. Shame it comes with the biographers.
You know how sometimes biographers spend years and years on a project, and it renders them erudite and clear-eyed and compassionate and surgical upon their subject? And then you know how other times biographers spend years and years on a project and it renders them defensive and untrustworthy and over-invested? …Yeah. A small sample of the many reasons finishing this book was not worth my time:
- Bird and Sherwin relate the multiple documented accounts we have of Oppenheimer's expulsion from graduate school in England after he – these sources agree – attempted to poison one of his professors. This can't actually be true, they conclude, and if it is true he was just trying to hurt the guy a little bit, okay, because if it was a real poisoning, there would have been more consequences.
…Yeeeeeah. Yes, definitely, when the very wealthy child of privilege does something bad at school, the good old boys will absolutely react appropriately, yep.
- They recount Oppenheimer's own story of assaulting a girl (sexually and later physically, though the exact dimensions of the sexual assault are unclear) and then conclude, with no reasoning, that this is a fabrication of some sort. The reasoning, by the way, is entirely clear – they just can't cope with the notion that they're writing a biography of a guy who would do that. Even though they quoted his juvenile rape fantasy poetry at length.
- They can't talk about the bomb. It's fucking amazing, they're all 'loving discussion of the first test in the desert, feels feels feels – oh yeah Hiroshima happened anyway let's talk about how the scientists felt afterward also politics shh don't look over there lots of people died but we really don't want to talk about that at all at all at all.'
And then there's the part where they take the suicide of the woman he nearly married before he met his wife – a really interesting, complicated, improbably well-educated, professional queer woman – and they decide the suicide was all about Oppenheimer. It's revisionist fridging! It's fucking amazing!
And then there's –
Nope, I've spent enough time on this already.