NEW YORK – Martin J. Sherwin, a prominent atomic weapons scholar who in “A World Destroyed” questioned US support for the bombing of Japan and spent more than two decades researching physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer for the Pulitzer Prize winning book “American Prometheus” has died.
Martin J. Sherwin died Wednesday at his home in Washington, DC, according to his friend Andrew Hartman, professor of history at Illinois State University. He was 84 years old and had battled lung cancer. Kai Bird, a close friend and co-author of “American Prometheus”, called him “possibly the most eminent historian of the nuclear age.”
“When we started working on ‘American Prometheus’ he told me he had a lot of research, but a few gaps,” Kai Bird told The Associated Press on Saturday. “When I started to go through all the documents, I did not find any gaps.”
Mr. Sherwin was from New York. His interest in nuclear research dates back to his undergraduate years at Dartmouth College, when he spent a summer working in a uranium mine in the western United States. Mr. Sherwin’s ties to the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union became terribly personal during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. He was then a junior officer in the Navy and was briefed on the intends to evacuate its San Diego base to a remote location in Baja California, Mexico.
“The aim was to disperse military planes out of range of Soviet missiles,” he writes in “Gambling With Armageddon: Nuclear Roulette from Hiroshima to the Cuban Missile Crisis,” published last year. “Some junior officers – we were all single – joked that the beaches in Baja would be a delicious place to die.”
Martin J. Sherwin was best known for “American Prometheus,” published in 2005 and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for biography. The book has been widely hailed as a comprehensive and invaluable study of the so-called “father of the atomic bomb,” J. Robert Oppenheimer, whose phones were tapped and whose security clearance was granted. was revoked during the McCarthy era of the 1950s, because he advocated nuclear containment and opposed the development of the hydrogen bomb.
The Pulitzer judges cited Mr. Sherwin and Mr. Bird for their “rich evocation of America in the middle of the century” and called “American Prometheus” a “new and fascinating portrait of a brilliant, ambitious, complex and imperfect, deeply linked to its major events – the Depression, World War II and the Cold War ”.
Martin J. Sherwin was also a popular professor and lecturer who taught at Princeton University, George Mason University and, for much of his career, at Tufts University, where he founded the ” Nuclear Age History Center ”. At Princeton, he was an advisor to author-journalist Eric Schlosser and mentor to Katrina vanden Heuvel, now managing editor and publisher of the liberal weekly “The Nation”, for which Mr. Sherwin was a contributor.
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Pulitzer Prize winner Martin J. Sherwin dies at 84 of lung cancer