Book Review: Hiroshima by John Hersey

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Occasionally revisionist history comes as one of the most striking revelations in the life of a man; sometimes it occurs as a mere form of exaggeration. Unfortunately, Hiroshima, written by a prize-winning author, John Hersey is largely the latter. Hersey is also one of the famous pioneers of a form of journalism that employed a narrative style of typical fiction novels to attract readers (Nagai 3). As a result, Hiroshima is one of the ancient examples of New Journalism techniques where different storytelling fictional styles are utilized in non-fiction reporting (Hachiya, Warner & John 20). Hersey narrates the stories of six different people who survived the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in Japan. The book covers a critical period before and a year after Hiroshima experienced an atomic bomb on 6th August 1945 (Cannon 12).

Hiroshima was published on 31st August 1946 as a long pseudo-article in the New Yorker, which ran the book published in its entirety, occupying almost the whole print space (Maruki 100). However, the subject matter discussed in the book was adequately significant to substantiate its space. In essence, Hiroshima argues that Japan would have considered surrendering without experiencing the nuclear attack if the allied leaders had quit the populist slogan of unconditional surrender and vowed to allow the emperor continue with his rule (Hersey 45). This article provides a detailed review of Hiroshima and draws an explicit attention from the readers to provide a proper understanding of the book.

Book Overview/Summary

According to Fussell, the bombing of the city of Hiroshima in Japan during the Second World War by the American troops on 6th August 1945 marked the beginning of Herseys novel (25). According to the doctors and surgeons who were involved in the process of delivering medical care to the victims of the attack, the Hiroshima violence was not an ordinary bombing. It was an atomic bomb that claimed lives of numerous innocent citizens and left a plethora of victims with strange symptoms and endless injuries. Hersey reported that a vague and incompressible rumour covered the whole city just a week after the bombing event revealed that the destruction of the town occurred as a result of energy released by the splitting of different atoms into two (62).

Nevertheless, the atomic bomb shocked the City of Japan with incredibly overwhelming and widespread effects (Cannon 35). The first negative consequences recorded from the incidence included immediate deaths, sustained severe injuries from survivors, and increased rates of reoccurring fires across the city. For instance, 100, 000 people died in the attack while 100, 000 were left nursing bad injuries due to radiation poisoning from a total population of 250, 000 who lived in Hiroshima (Pilling 44). Hersey records characters such as Father Kleinsorge and Mr. Tanimoto, who did not suffer from any injury helping their families, friends, neighbours, and strangers such as Mrs. Nakamura and her children to evade more injuries (Ham 40).

However, slow and delayed professional aid from recognized personnel and organizations causes widespread death of victims within the first few days of the attack. Furthermore, it remained a challenge to get more professional medical practitioners since a plethora of doctors died or were forced to nurse several injuries as a result of the bombing (Schlosser 40; Sherif 55). Some physicians and physicians who survived the attack such as Dr. Fujii decided to save his life by attending to personal chores and health before resuming work a few weeks later as a physician. Dr. Sasaki, who survived alongside few unharmed doctors, crosses paths with Miss Sasaki when the young lady is presented in the healthcare facility where he is industriously working as a result of her infected and fractured and leg (Lifton 67).

The later effects of the bomb leave medical practitioners confused and defeated by the unusual and unstable symptoms that characterized radiation sickness (Sherif 54.). For instance, Father Kleinsorge is one the patients who suffered from strange wounds that are incurable and are characterized by mysterious and fluctuating white blood cell count. Many patients presented in different hospitals for different levels of treatment such as Mrs. Nakamura come with falling hair. However, most of the six people who survived the deadly atomic bomb in the city lead contended lives (Hogan 56). However, continuous health complications caused by radiation from the nuclear bomb resulted in the death of two victims, Dr. Fujii and Father Kleinsorge.

Book Review

Hersey adopts a straightforward writing style that seems to be plain despite the fact that he chooses the most appropriate words and exquisite phrases to describe different occurrences in the novel (54). For instance, one chapter describes Mr. Tanimoto who was busy looking for a boat to ferry injured victims across the river for safety. However, the determined saviour came across five dead bodies of different men burned ferociously and left nearly naked. However, the attitudes displayed by the dead bodies suggested people who worked tirelessly collectively to push the boat down into the river (Hersey 55). Mr. Tanimoto decided to pull the five bodies from the ship and pushed it ahead to go and assist the other victims. Please forgive me for taking this ship. I must use it for others, who are alive, Mr. Tanimoto pleaded with the dead bodies (Hersey 56).

Hiroshima has a plethora of such moments. In the origin of the story, Hersey introduces us to a tailors widow just after the mysterious explosion. As Mrs. Nakamura stood watching her neighbour, everything flashed whiter than any white she had ever seen Hiroshima captures a full spectrum of mixed feelings and reactions from victims and survivors. The book is full of grief, resilience, panic, disgust, and hope which are interactively presented on the same page. Father Kleinsorge appears climbing over dead bodies at the Asano Park to fill a teapot with water and serve the survivors. However, the determined Father was shocked on meeting 20 injured soldiers, which leaves him in a dilemma, not knowing the next step to take.

Hiroshima is full of different facts regarding human race at its best and worst, alongside alternating narratives of anguish, pain, and generosity. I felt offended by some narrations, whilst other explanations left me surprised. One of the most shocking encounters occurred whilst the pastors found out that pumpkins planted at the church place had been heated on the vine and used in making a feast. I was also saddened by the fact that Hiroshima has little sense of resolution. A few weeks after the attack, Hersey narrates that the Japanese tried to sensitize what had taken place. While some people expressed feelings of disappointment and sadness, others were detached. Many Japanese people expressed their feeling, It was a war, and we had to expect it.

Some people remained philosophical and expressed their feelings in arrogant and rational ways. The most surprising issue was whether the war in its entirety was just even if it met its intended goals. Hiroshima is an interesting book to read. A lot of stories narrated in the novel are interesting and captivating to read. I enjoyed reading this book especially the manner in which Hersey gives his closing remarks at the end of the narration. The journalistic author uses a young boy to provide a captivating description of the life after the atomic bomb. The boy appears to have a vast experience as he narrates the entire story professionally to effectively pass Herseys message to the readers that the People of Japan went on with their lives and daily commitments after the bombing incident.

The young boy assures readers that other children will be born and realize their dreams in life. However, I found it difficult to concur with the assertions presented by this young boy since things have not experienced a positive change since the occurrence of the incident. The effects of the atomic bomb are felt across the board in Japan. For instance, some children born in Japan have been found with a range of medical complications which need adequate resource allocation with combined solutions.


Hiroshima serves as a roadmap that guides and helps readers to understand what happened before, during, and after the atomic bombing of the city of Hiroshima by the U.S. soldiers. Hersey used a stylistic approach to not only create an inspiring story but to develop a journalistic and individualized perception of the occurrence and its outcome. I would strongly recommend this book to other readers. I agree with the quoting presented on the front cover of the book as a result of the Saturday Review. The writings say, Everyone able to read should read it. Additional books such as Hiroshima can play a critical role in educating the society on adverse impacts of wars and addressing associated challenges.


Works Cited

Cannon, Dolores. A Soul Remembers Hiroshima. Huntsville, AR: Ozark Mountain Publishers, 1993. Print.

Fussell, Paul. Thank God for the Atom Bomb, and Other Essays. , 1988. Print.

Hachiya, Michihiko, Warner, Wells, and John W. Dower. Hiroshima Diary: The Journal of a Japanese Physician, August 6-September 30, 1945. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995. Print.

Ham, Paul. Hiroshima, Nagasaki: The Real Story of the Atomic Bombings and Their Aftermath. , 2014. Print.

Hersey, John. Hiroshima. The New Yorker, 1946. Sept. 16, 2017.

Hogan, Michael J. Hiroshima in History and Memory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Print.

Lifton, Robert J. Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1900. Print.

Lifton, Robert J. Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1900. Print.

Maruki, Toshi. Hiroshima No Pika. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, 1982. Print.

Nagai, Takashi. The Bells of Nagasaki. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1994. Print.

Pilling, David. Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival. , 2014. Print.

Schlosser, Eric. Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal. Boston: Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012. Print.

Sherif, Ann. Japan's Cold War: Media, Literature, and the Law. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009. Print.


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