Daniel's Reviews > Hiroshima

Hiroshima by John Hersey
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Aug 25, 09

bookshelves: 2009
Read in August, 2009

I went old school with this one: I printed out the original version of John Hersey's article from The New Yorker's Web site so I could read it in its original three-columns-per-page format and surrounded by advertisements for Chesterfield cigarettes, U.S. Savings Bonds, Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey, Rosalind Russell in RKO's "Sister Kenny," Bell System Overseas Telephone Service, and Knox the Hatter, on Fifth Avenue at Fortieth Street.

This is the editorial note that ran with Hersey's story in the Aug. 31, 1946, issue of The New Yorker:
TO OUR READERS
The New Yorker this week devotes its entire editorial space to an article on the almost complete obliteration of a city by one atomic bomb, and what happened to the people of that city. It does so in the conviction that few of us have yet comprehended the all but incredible destructive power of this weapon, and that everyone might well take time to consider the terrible implications of its use.
--THE EDITORS

Hersey's book-length article focuses primarily on six victims of the bombing -- Miss Toshiko Sasaki, Dr. Masakazu Fujii, Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamara, Father William Kleinsorge, Dr. Terufumi Sasaki and the Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto -- tracking their lives from the morning of the bombing through the months of its aftermath. It's a masterful piece of journalism, and of a type little seen anymore. The article has almost no attribution and few quotes. Rather, it uses a straightforward narrative style, telling the story as it happened, and the reader simply has to trust that Hersey did the footwork needed to compose his piece. And it's obvious he did.

Hersey gives almost no information about the U.S. decision to bomb Hiroshima or the larger context of World War II, but rather focuses solely on how the bombing and its aftermath affected the city's people. The book is stronger as a result, showing the full range of horrors caused by the dropping of an atomic bomb -- in particular on six people we come to know and care about deeply.

It speaks to Hersey's talents as a writer that, despite the tragic subject matter and the physical and emotional turmoils he recounts, we the readers don't want the book to end, because that means leaving Miss Sasaki, Dr. Fujii, Mrs. Nakamura, Father Kleinsorge, Dr. Sasaki (no relation to Miss Sasaki) and the Reverend Tanimoto behind. We want to stay with them, and make sure they're able to build new lives for themselves.

The book's last paragraph -- a school essay written by Toshio Nakamura, who was 10 years old when the bomb was dropped -- is particularly heartbreaking, and serves as a fitting coda for Hersey's piece. It's short enough to quote here, but really needs to be read in context. It's the perfect ending to an important, stirring work of journalism. The entire book is highly recommended for all readers.
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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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Nick Black i've got a reproduction of this new yorker. it's sobering.

on another note...i once spent three days in a mental institution with a roommate who was about ~70, looked kinda like an especially decrepit santa claus, and sang this jingle all the time i was there:

chesterfield kings....
taste great!
because the tobaccos....are!....


this got pretty unacceptable pretty quickly, ack.


Nick Black Nick wrote: "i've got a reproduction of this new yorker. it's sobering.

on another note...i once spent three days in a mental institution with a roommate who was about ~70, looked kinda like an especially decr..."


btw i felt confident voting, already expecting to enjoy your review. =D


Megha Nick wrote: "on another note...i once spent three days in a mental institution with a roommate who was about ~70, looked kinda like an especially decrepit santa claus, and sang this jingle all the time i was there:

chesterfield kings....
taste great!
because the tobaccos....are!....



this got pretty unacceptable pretty quickly, ack. "


Ah, got it. I had to re-read Daniel's review to understand where this came from.




message 4: by Rose (new) - added it

Rose Any chance you could you send it me, or let me steal your identity (again)? I can't read it because I'm not an NYer subscriber, and I'd like to join you on this one if I can.


Daniel Thank you for the vote, Nick. I hope I end up deserving it.

Rose: You've got mail.


message 6: by Kimley (last edited Aug 25, 2009 09:23PM) (new)

Kimley This sounds really interesting but I'm not sure I could handle it - think I'd be crying the whole time...

You might enjoy reading Dazai's The Setting Sun after reading this. A beautiful book about a Japanese family trying to grasp all that this meant and cope in the years immediately following the war.


KFed Hmm. I read this freshman year of high school and didn't get much out of it, but your review makes me want to revisit it. Thanks for this.


message 8: by Anthony D (new)

Anthony D Buckley A good review. The pictures from Hiroshima had a big influence on many people when I was growing up in the the 1950s. It's good to employ rationality when considering the morality of nuclear weapons and the use of force generally. But sometimes you do need just to look at the human impact.


Moira Russell I printed out the original version of John Hersey's article from The New Yorker's Web site so I could read it in its original three-columns-per-page format and surrounded by advertisements for Chesterfield cigarettes, U.S. Savings Bonds, Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey, Rosalind Russell in RKO's "Sister Kenny," Bell System Overseas Telephone Service, and Knox the Hatter, on Fifth Avenue at Fortieth Street.

That's hardcore. I love it. I read the book early as a teenager, but I've never seen the article in its original context.


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