Hiroshima, by John Hersey

February 29, 2012 at 17:36 (Book Reviews, Highly Rated Books, Historical, Second World War, Twentieth Century, War) (, , )


This book shines as a piece of primary-source history, and is elevated to excellence by the sterling work Hersey did in editing it. Published immediately after the end of the war in 1946, it contains very little of the sort of analysis or wider political context that many straight history books do, but also manages to veer away from gutter press journalism (despite the fact that these accounts were indeed published in The New Yorker). The story was sensational enough, and Hersey evidently saw no need to sensationalise it any further.

“At exactly fifteen minutes past eight in the morning, on August 6, 1945, Japanese time, at the moment when the atomic bomb flashed above Hiroshima, Miss Toshiko Sasaki…had just sat down at her place in the plant office and was turning her head to speak to the girl at the next desk.”


Instead, he captured the voices of his interviewees respectfully, without embellishment, and simply, editing the stories into compact and powerful narratives that somehow become as cohesive a tale as though he had invented the stories himself. His arrangement of the witness accounts in such a masterful way is impressive, especially given his constraints of telling the story through the eyes of his interviewed subjects.

For obvious reasons, this book is rather shy with statistics and wider analysis, and while that limits its usability in historical study, it does help the reader to see things more through the eyes of the victims, and helps transmit some of the emotional helplessness and fear that otherwise might have been lost by a more comfortable and more distant view. An excellent human-interest book, and an invaluable and unique historical document.


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