Hiroshima Reading Guide: Understanding John Hersey’s Account


Hiroshima is a non-fiction book written by American journalist John Hersey. Published in 1946, it is a detailed and gripping account of the immediate aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima during World War II. Hersey’s book focuses not only on the destruction and devastation caused by the atomic bomb, but also on the personal stories and experiences of six individuals who survived the attack. Through their perspectives, Hersey provides a powerful and humanistic portrayal of the tragedy, shedding light on the consequences of nuclear warfare and the resilience of the people of Hiroshima. This groundbreaking work has become a seminal piece of journalism and a testament to the enduring horrors of war.


Hiroshima List

This reading guide of Hiroshima by John Hersey provides readers with a comprehensive overview of the book and its major themes. It offers a detailed summary of each chapter and highlights important events and characters.

Readers will gain a better understanding of the devastating impact of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and its people, as well as the long-term physical and psychological effects. They will also learn about the social and political climate of the time and the aftermath of the attack.

Additionally, the reading guide explores the narrative structure and writing style of the book, helping readers appreciate Hersey’s journalistic approach and the way he presents the stories of six survivors.

Overall, readers can expect to gain insights into the human experience in the face of unimaginable tragedy, the resilience of the human spirit, and the importance of remembering and learning from the past.

Author Background

John Hersey was an American journalist and writer. He was born on June 17, 1914, in Tientsin, China, to missionary parents. Hersey graduated from Yale University in 1936 and worked as a journalist for various publications, including Time magazine. He was also a war correspondent during World War II, reporting from Europe and Asia.

Hersey gained significant recognition for his book Hiroshima, published in 1946. Inspired by his own reporting trip to Japan, Hersey interviewed survivors and extensively researched the effects of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. The book provides a detailed account of the experiences of six survivors in the aftermath of the devastating event.

Hiroshima is considered a pioneering work of journalism and a landmark in the non-fiction genre. It played a crucial role in raising awareness about the horrors of nuclear warfare and became an important piece of anti-war literature. The book’s impact led to the establishment of the John Hersey Prize, recognizing outstanding journalism that fosters public awareness on nuclear or biological weapon issues.

John Hersey continued to write fiction and non-fiction throughout his career, addressing various historical and social issues. He passed away on March 24, 1993, leaving behind a significant legacy as a writer and journalist committed to shedding light on important events and their human impact.


Hiroshima Book Club Questions

1) How does the author’s portrayal of the survivors’ experiences challenge or reinforce the traditional narrative of war?

John Hersey’s Hiroshima presents a divergent perspective on the effects of war, challenging the conventional narrative of heroism and glory often associated with armed conflicts. By centering the narrative around the experiences of six survivors of the atomic bombing, Hersey humanizes the victims and forces readers to confront the devastating consequences of war on individual lives. Through the stories of people like Dr. Masakazu Fujii and Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto, readers witness the horrors of the bomb from the ground, completely devoid of any romanticized notions of heroism.

Rather than focusing solely on the physical destruction caused by the bomb, Hersey delves into the psychological and emotional impact on the survivors. This approach challenges the traditional narrative, which often excludes the long-lasting trauma and suffering endured by those affected by war. By doing so, Hiroshima forces readers to question and reevaluate their understanding of the human cost of war: the lives lost, the long-lasting physical and emotional scars, and the violation of human dignity.

2) How does the author explore the concept of collective guilt and responsibility in the aftermath of war?

In Hiroshima, John Hersey skillfully explores the concept of collective guilt and responsibility in the aftermath of war. While the survivors of the atomic bombing were innocent civilians, the book raises complex questions about the culpability of the wider society and governments involved in creating the climate that led to such devastation.

By chronicling the lives of six survivors, Hersey brings a human face to the victims, emphasizing their innocence and the unfairness of their suffering. However, the book also does not shy away from examining the actions and attitudes of the Japanese government and military before and during the war. This juxtaposition allows readers to consider the role of collective guilt in the larger context of war.

Through characters like Dr. Terufumi Sasaki, who initially believed in the necessity of the war and had even contributed to the war effort as a physician, Hersey forces readers to reflect on the choices and actions of individuals within societies at war. This raises thought-provoking questions about the degree to which individual choices contribute to the collective guilt of nations, as well as the importance of learning from past mistakes and working towards peace.

3) To what extent does Hiroshima encourage readers to question the morality of using atomic weapons?

Hiroshima unequivocally forces readers to question the morality of using atomic weapons, presenting a stark and devastating portrayal of the immediate and long-term consequences of such a choice. By providing vivid narratives of the survivors’ experiences, John Hersey highlights the horrendous suffering inflicted upon innocent civilians, challenging readers to consider the ethics of warfare.

The book offers a sobering reflection on the effects of atomic bombs, taking readers beyond the detached statistics and national justifications often associated with nuclear weapons. Hersey’s depiction of the survivors’ physical injuries, emotional trauma, and struggles to rebuild their lives compels readers to confront the moral implications of using such destructive power.

Moreover, Hiroshima exposes the seemingly indiscriminate nature of the bomb’s impact on the innocent, including children, pregnant women, and elderly individuals. By highlighting the human cost of atomic weapons, the book prompts readers to question the principle of “just war” and raises doubts about the legitimacy of targeting unarmed civilians.

Overall, Hiroshima challenges readers to critically assess the morality of using atomic weapons, reminding us of the immense responsibility borne by nations and individuals involved in decisions that can unleash untold suffering and devastation. It serves as a crucial reminder of the horrors of war, urging a collective pursuit of peace and the abolition of weapons of mass destruction.

Hiroshima Similar Books

1. “The Making of the Atomic Bomb” by Richard Rhodes: This Pulitzer Prize-winning book provides a comprehensive history of the development of the atomic bomb, covering the scientific, political, and social aspects that led to its creation. It delves into the events leading up to the bombing of Hiroshima, offering a broader context to understand the catastrophic consequences.

2. “Nagasaki: Life after Nuclear War” by Susan Southard: This book focuses on the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan. Through interviews with survivors and extensive research, Southard examines the physical and psychological impact of the bombing, as well as the struggle for survival and the long-term effects on the lives of individuals and the city as a whole.

3. “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes” by Eleanor Coerr: This children’s book is based on the true story of Sadako Sasaki, a young girl from Hiroshima who developed leukemia as a result of the atomic bombing. The book tells of her determination to fold a thousand paper cranes in the hopes of being granted a wish and symbolizes the resilience of the human spirit in the face of tragedy.

4. “Hiroshima Nagasaki: The Real Story of the Atomic Bombings and Their Aftermath” by Paul Ham: In this in-depth exploration, Paul Ham provides a nuanced account of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, examining the decisions behind the bombings, the reasons for targeting these particular cities, and the immediate and long-term consequences for the survivors.

5. “Hiroshima in History: The Myths of Revisionism” by Robert James Maddox: This book addresses the various myths and misconceptions surrounding the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Maddox challenges revisionist arguments, using primary sources and historical records to provide a balanced and historically accurate analysis of the events.

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