John Hersey was of a rare breed—a journalist and a novelist who excelled at both, and brought both skills together effectively and effortlessly. This slim volume about the aftermath of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima by the U.S. Army is one of his greatest achievements.
August 6, 1945. The first atomic bomb dropped on a city was released from the Enola Gay and detonated in the midst of one of Japan's largest cities, a military headquarters and shipping depot. Hersey records the aftermath, constructing a compelling narrative from the reports of eyewitness survivors.
Hiroshima is more harrowing than any horror novel. It is a horror novel, the very worst kind, the real kind. Hersey's lines are poetry, but the chaos and wreckage he describes is most decidedly not.
Commentary is kept to a minimum. It's not the act or its defense with which Hersey is concerned, but its effects, both on the physical landscape and the people. He talks of skin falling off bodies like latex. He talks about children going blind. He describes the hellish heat and the bizarre colors.
The stories speak for themselves. If you're expecting a vindication of U.S. policy or an anti-war treatise, look elsewhere. The epilogue, in which Hersey describes a return trip to the city 40 years later, is one of the saddest last chapters in all of literature. Hiroshima should be required reading for everyone.