A correspondent for TIME during World War II, John Hersey journeyed to Japan in May 1946 to report on the dropping of the first atomic bomb from the perspective of the residents of Hiroshima. Published first in the New Yorker (at 31,000 words, it took up the whole issue) and then as a book by Knopf, Hiroshima reconstructs the events of Aug. 6, 1945, and the year that followed through the eyes of two doctors, a housewife, a secretary, a Japanese minister and a German Jesuit priest. They wander through the carnage and destruction trying to bear the unbearable, like characters from Dante’s Inferno — but of course, they are innocent souls. Hersey’s spare, stripped-down prose matched the blasted landscape and devastated psychology of the victims, and his novelistic structure and techniques helped inspire an entirely new style of reportage that would come to be known as New Journalism. Reading the 1985 edition, which includes a final chapter looking at all six characters’ lives 40 years on, is essential.
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