Thursday 13 June 2013

I cannot remember the books I've read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Today is a bad day for me. A painful anniversary. One that has marred many aspects of life in recent years. And which keeps coming back. Year in, year out.

Sometimes the only thing to do when life is getting you down is to take refuge in books. To read. To learn. To force the brain cells to contemplate something else, often something worse than you’re going through. If only to get perspective.

And so came John Hersey’s Hiroshima. And believe me, mentally walking through the aftermath of an atomic bomb is a surprisingly effective perspective maker.

Written one year after the bomb was dropped, Hersey follows the experiences of six survivors.  And then returns to them all 40 years later.  To see if they’re still surviving.

This is not just a fascinating account of one of history’s world-changing events. But it’s compelling reading. Devastating, frightening, shocking. On so many levels. There’s nothing sordid or invasive here. And it’s certainly not sentimental.
These are real people, real lives. Each tale adds to the next. Indeed, the humanity in such inhumanity makes the whole real. Makes the statistics real. Make the suffering and the death tolls mean something. They bring the atrocities of dropping an atomic bomb to life.  And serve as a testimony to the resilience of human beings.

I came across this book through a course in speed reading. Would you believe. A course which I didn’t enjoy, I hasten to add. All the more so because the flash of text from this book made me want to read more. And slowly. Which of course was not the point.

To me, it's the kind of book that could be used really effectively to teach people about Hiroshima and its aftermath. To really help young and old capture the horror of the final days of the war. To move teenagers to understand why we seemingly incessantly point back to these world wars as so significant and shocking.

My anniversary is indeed painful. But very personal to me and my family. The anniversary of Hiroshima (and Nagasaki) should be painful to us all.


  1. Great review. As someone with plenty of those painful anniversaries, I feel your pain and hope that you and your family are seeing sunnier emotional skies soon.

    Have you read Bomb by Steve Sheinkin? My review of it and some links are here:
    It's about the scientists who created those first atomic and hydrogen bombs that laid waste to Japan to end WWII.

    1. Thank you! And thanks for the post. Bomb is now on my reading list. I won't read it for a while, as Hiroshima is still sitting heavily on me. But I will get to it. Lovely to hear from you :0)