Is Oppenheimer based on a book?

Chris Tilly
J. Robert Oppenheimer smoking.

The new Christopher Nolan movie Oppenheimer is in cinemas now, but is the historical biopic based on a book?

Oppenheimer hit screens today, with the official synopsis as follows: “An epic thriller that thrusts audiences into the pulse-pounding paradox of the enigmatic man who must risk destroying the world in order to save it.”

That enigmatic man is J. Robert Oppenheimer, so-called “father of the atomic bomb”. And the movie is as much about his life as it is the creation of the genocidal weapon.

Christopher Nolan both directs and writes the film’s script. But he was working from a source…

Is Oppenheimer based on a book?

Yes, Oppenheimer is based on ‘American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer’ by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin.

The book was published in 2005, and received the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 2006. The tome’s own synopsis is as follows:

“Physicist and polymath, as familiar with Hindu scriptures as he was with quantum mechanics, J. Robert Oppenheimer – director of the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb – was the most famous scientist of his generation.

“In their meticulous and riveting biography, Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin reveal a brilliant, ambitious, complex and flawed man, profoundly involved with some of the momentous events of the twentieth century.”

What Christopher Nolan says about American Prometheus

Christopher Nolan calls the book: “A riveting account of one of history’s most essential and paradoxical figures.” And in a nod to this source, he begins the movie with a quote about Prometheus stealing from the gods, then being tortured for all eternity, drawing a direct comparison with Oppenheimer’s own plight.

The film’s production notes describe the connection between script and book as follows: “American Prometheus became a bible that informed and guided every aspect of the Oppenheimer production. During the screenwriting phase, it provided Nolan with rich stores of insight that helped him craft what interested him most, a critical portrait of Oppenheimer that not only dramatized formative and milestone events, but also explored his psychology and interrogated the consequences of his actions.”

Oppenheimer is in cinemas now, and you can find more coverage below:

| Oppenheimer review | Epic runtime revealed | R-rating explained | Best way to watch Oppenheimer | Christopher Nolan on sex scenes | Cast and characters | Filming locations | True story explained | Is Oppenheimer streaming? | Nolan ranked by Rotten Tomato scoresIs it based on a book? | Age-gap controversy explained Robert Pattinson’s influence | How Oppenheimer died | Christopher Nolan explains strange script | Did Japan ban Oppenheimer? | Review roundup | Does Oppenheimer have a post-credits scene? | Who dies? | Box officeEnding explained |

Related Topics

About The Author

Chris Tilly is the TV and Movies Editor at Dexerto. He has a BA in English Literature, an MA in Newspaper Journalism, and over the last 20 years, he's worked for the likes of Time Out, IGN, and Fandom. Chris loves Star Wars, Marvel, DC, sci-fi, and especially horror, while he knows maybe too much about Alan Partridge. You can email him here: