100 Books for America: Hiroshima

With 97 days left until the election, let us continue looking at the 100 books every American should read. These write-ups will be short and not incredibly comprehensive looks at some books and novels that will help you become a better citizen. Check out all of the books that have been picked.

People have spent the past 75 years debated and discussing whether or not Harry Truman was right when he ordered the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

What people haven’t spent nearly enough time talking about is what happened when those bombs were dropped.

Maybe because that’s harder to talk about.

In 1946, John Hersey published Hiroshima, a brief 160-page book that takes the reader through the lives of six people who were affected by the bombing.

It’s widely considered to be the single greatest piece of American journalism.

It doesn’t concentrate on the debate over the bombing, instead taking the reader through an at times heart-breaking and at times heart pounding journey along with these six people.

The people he chronicles are two doctors, a German Catholic priest, a Protestant minister, a seamstress and a factory worker.

The prose is absolutely profound.

“There, in the tin factory, in the first moment of the atomic age, a human being was being crushed by books.”


Before you read the book, you imagine the bombing as a giant mushroom cloud. It’s power and might are represented in absolutely terrifying scope. After you read the book, the bomb’s exquisite tragedy and brutal loss sit up close and in gritty inescapable detail.

“Others, because of pain, held their arms up as if carrying something in both hands. Some were vomiting as they walked. Many were naked or in shreds of clothing. On some undressed bodies, the burns had made patterns—of undershirt straps and suspenders and, on the skin of some women (since white repelled the heat from the bomb and dark clothes absorbed it and conducted it to the skin), the shapes of flowers they had had on their kimonos. Many, although injured themselves, supported relatives who were worse off. Almost all had their heads bowed, looked” straight ahead, were silent, and showed no expression whatsoever.”

That’s the great benefit of the book for Americans.

The use of atomic weapons leaves the theoretical and becomes real.

And unless you see the reality, you can’t have honest discussions about what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


Previously, we discussed the memoir of a Founding Father. Up next, we’ll take a look at a British novel that has taken over the language.

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