I let a few weeks pass after finishing Mozart: The Reign of Love before tackling American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, another massive tome. Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin’s 2006 biography served as a source and template for Christopher Nolan’s film Oppenheimer, of which you may have heard. Have you seen it?
The book covers more of Oppenheimer’s childhood and family background than the film does and does not include the extensive courtroom drama surrounding Lewis Strauss’s Congressional confirmation hearings with which the movie ends. Otherwise, the film’s themes and details (such physicist Richard Feynman playing bongos at a Los Alamos party) clearly derive from the book. Nolan credits the authors in virtually every interview I’ve seen, and Bird expresses gratitude and admiration for the movie. (Co-author Sherwin passed away in 2021.)
I admire the book greatly. The authors labored over the research and writing for 25 years. It’s a massive achievement. It was, though, something of a chore to read, at least for me. So much detail does not necessarily make for elegant prose–it’s workmanlike. Well-written, but not gracefully so.
In that regard, I prefer the Mozart book, which, at times, made me tear up. Jan Swafford’s lyrical prose suited his masterful subject.