This week we’re looking back at one of the most monstrous events in human history. This week we’re looking back on the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, on its 75th anniversary through the lens of Fallout by Lesley MM Blume.
Fallout is not the story of the Hiroshima bombing, but of the coverup of its true horrific effects – and one man’s efforts to uncover them. Fallout is the story of the expose Hiroshima, written by John Hersey and published in The New Yorker on August 31, 1946. As Fallout cites the essay heavily while telling the story of how it came to be, and since The New Yorker’s website currently has the essay free to view at least as of the writing of this post in late June 2020, I very much recommend you take a moment to go read the original essay. It really is as powerful as Blume describes, and truly deserves its story being told.
Blume does the singular most remarkable job I’ve ever seen in a nonfiction book in at least one way: Nearly 40% of the text of the ARC I read of this book was bibliography. In my experience, a seemingly comprehensive bibliography averages closer to 25% to 33% of the text of a nonfiction book. Though at least in my ARC edition, the notes were not referenced in the actual text. It is unknown at this time if that was intentional or if that will be fixed prior to publication, but the effect was that it made the story flow much easier without the constant footnote references, so perhaps it is a great thing that they were listed but not directly referenced.
Blume also has a knack for the narrative, and does a remarkable job of keeping what could be a dense and complicated issue taut yet crystalline. Reading this book really gives the sense of being there and searching for the truth, yet also having the hindsight to know which passages and influences will ultimately bare out in the annals of history. Her passion for this particular essay, the history of it, and the history it describes, becomes abundantly clear almost from the first words of this effort.
Hiroshima was an absolutely critical essay for every American to read, understand, and internalize, and Blume’s work here detailing the history of how it came to be should be read right alongside Hersey’s original essay. Very much recommended.
And as always, the Goodreads review:
Powerful History. This is a history not of the actual nuclear detonation at Hiroshima, but of one man’s efforts to uncover the coverup of just how horrific that nuclear detonation was. On August 31, 1946 – just over a year after said detonation – John Hersey published a four part expose in The New Yorker about the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, and its immediate aftermath. It dominated that month’s print issue, supplanting both regular (and popular) cartoons and columns, and it would go on to become its generation’s Pentagon Papers or Edward Snowden. This book tells *that* history, the history of how Hersey was able to write the expose and its effects, including a discussion of Hersey’s followup piece 40 years later called Hiroshima: The Aftermath. And it does the entire history a great deal of justice in its easy to read narrative and comprehensive approach – this is the singular most well documented book I’ve ever read, with nearly 40% of the text of the book being its bibliography. That it is publishing the week of the 75 anniversary of the bombing is spot-perfect timing as well. Very much recommended.
Footnote: In 2015, The New Yorker published Hersey’s original Hiroshima essay on its website, where it remains at least to the time of the writing of this review. If you’ve never actually read that essay, or indeed are like me and had never even *heard* of that essay before reading this book, I also very much going to that site and reading this 30K word essay on the horrors of nuclear weapons, as told by some of the only people to have been able to tell the tale.