Friday, February 03, 2012

[Book Review] HIROSHIMA by John Hershey


Wayne reviews HIROSHIMA by John Hershey (Knopf, 1946)

One of the most important narrative non-fiction books to be published in the United States in the 20th Century did not start out as a book at all. In the early days of 1946 the editor of the New Yorker magazine asked writer John Hersey to report on the effects of the atomic bomb detonation on the residents of Hiroshima. Hersey traveled to Japan in the late spring where he toured the destruction and interviewed survivors. While there, Hersey decided that he would “write about what happened not to buildings but to human beings.”

Written in a stark, understated style, Hersey focused on the lives of six Hiroshima residents before and after the bombing. The finished article was over 30,000 words long and was scheduled to run for four consecutive issues. Deeply impressed with Hersey’s narrative, the editor felt that breaking the article up into four parts would lessen its emotional impact on the reader. So, the New Yorker decided to run the entire piece in one issue, which required the elimination of all other content.

Appearing in the August 31st issue, “Hiroshima” struck a chord with American readers. The issue quickly sold out and the ABC radio network broadcast a reading of the entire article over four-half hour programs in early September. The following month, October 1946, Alfred A. Knopf published the article in book form where it remains in print to this day. Hersey’s Hiroshima is now recognized as a narrative non-fiction classic.

Wayne Dowdy, Central Library History Department

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