The Power of a Book

Today, 11-11-11, I reread John Hersey’s book Hiroshima (1946).

This is a book written long before films sported iconic mushroom clouds, a la Children of Men (2006), or bristled with pamphlet-perfect flash-‘n-blast, like the playground scene in Terminator 2 (1985). It’s a book from well before the “nuclear literature” that later became material for graduate-level fields—a book from before the Cold War or the years of post-Dr.-Strangelove sophistication.

This is a book of journalism, built from interviews with six persons who survived an unforeseen actuality in the moment when the Bomb and its effects had been unknown and were still inconceivable, entirely new.

Thus the presentation, moment by moment, of these survivors’ (and, in the writing, the author’s) confrontation with worsening, unimagined horrors can cut, even today, past our defenses.

It’s a good book to read when people in power talk about “taking out” Iran or Israel, Damascus or D.C. It’s a book that may have helped, if people in power opened and read it, in 1946, in 1962, yesterday.

A good book to read those hours one wonders if writing’s a waste of time.

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