Martin Sherwin, Prize-winning Biographer of Oppenheimer, Dies at 84
Reviewing “American Prometheus,” Janet Maslin of The New York Times described it as “a work of voluminous scholarship and lucid insight, unifying its multifaceted portrait with a keen grasp of Oppenheimer’s essential nature.”
That nature, she wrote, expressed itself in “charm and bravado on the surface, Dostoyevskian darkness underneath.”
Martin Jay Sherwin was born on July 2, 1937, in Brooklyn to Harold and Mimi (Karp) Sherwin. His father was a children’s clothing manufacturer, and his mother was a homemaker who worked as a secretary to help pay for her son’s college tuition.
After graduating from James Madison High School, he enrolled in Dartmouth intending to pursue a career in medicine, then dabbled in geology and philosophy. He ended up graduating with a bachelor’s degree in history in 1959.
He served in the Navy as an intelligence officer in Japan and Hawaii, then earned a doctorate in diplomatic history in 1971 at the University of California, Los Angeles. His dissertation became the basis for “A World Destroyed,” his first book, which suggested that President Harry S. Truman’s decision to use atomic weapons had less to do with ending the war than with intimidating the Soviets.
In 1980, Dr. Sherwin joined the faculty of Tufts University, where he established the Nuclear Age History and Humanities Center. He and Evgeny Velikhov, a Russian physicist, set up a project in which students and scholars at Tufts and Moscow State University came together by satellite TV. Dr. Sherwin retired from Tufts in 2007 as professor emeritus. He also taught at George Mason and Princeton Universities.
In addition to his wife, Susan (Smukler) Sherwin, he is survived by a son, Alex; a sister, Marjorie Sherwin; and four grandchildren. His daughter, Andrea Sherwin, died of cancer in 2010.