One of the Three Writers Who Taught Me About War

❝ What everybody knows about John Hersey is that he wrote “Hiroshima,” the one widely read book about the effects of nuclear war. Its place in the canon is assured, not only because it was a major literary achievement but also because reporters haven’t had another chance to produce an on-the-scene account of a city recently blasted by a nuclear weapon. Yet Hersey was more of a figure than that one megaton-weighted fact about him would indicate. Born in 1914, he had an astonishingly rapid ascent as a young man. Because he was a quiet, sober person who lived an unusually unflamboyant life by the standards of celebrated American writers, it’s easy to miss how much he achieved.

❝ By the time Hersey reached his mid-thirties, he had worked as an assistant to Sinclair Lewis, the first American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, and as a reporter for Henry Luce, the founder of Time-Life. He had published five books about the Second World War—two works of nonfiction and three heavily researched novels. One of these novels, “A Bell for Adano,” which he wrote in a month, won a Pulitzer Prize and was adapted into a long-running Broadway play and then a Hollywood movie. Another, “The Wall,” set in the Warsaw ghetto, was the first major book about the Holocaust. Meanwhile, Hersey, as a magazine writer, had reported from all over the world. For The New Yorker, he wrote the original version of “Hiroshima,” along with the first, mythmaking account of John F. Kennedy’s heroics as the skipper of PT-109 in the Pacific theatre, and a five-part Profile of Harry Truman, based on what must be the most copious access a sitting President has ever given to a journalist…

❝ “Hiroshima” is still probably the best-known piece The New Yorker has ever published. When it appeared, in August, 1946, it took up an entire issue, a signal the magazine has chosen to send only that once. Its publication marked the end of the magazine’s founding era and the beginning of its maturity…

I read “Hiroshima” the year it came out. I have carried that first edition with me everywhere I have lived. Some other time I may write about the other two works in the title of this post. All were about World War 2. All were about war, more powerfully, more thorough, more introspective than you would have expected so close to a war filled with as much death and destruction as that one. I reread it every few years. The others as well.

I was eight years old when it was published. I was not an ordinary eight-year-old, I guess. The understanding of war, so many aspects of war I gleaned from those pages, has stayed with me all my life. That has grown and changed in some ways over time. The same is true of the others.

Please read the article. You will learn more about this author. And please read “Hiroshima”.

2 thoughts on “One of the Three Writers Who Taught Me About War

  1. eideard says:

    Konstantine Simonov, war correspondent, war poet, and author of the novel “Days and Nights’ – a love story smack in the middle of the siege of Stalingrad.

    Peter Bowman, author, editor for [among others] Popular Science magazine, Air Force News correspondent…author of “Beach Red” set within an amphibious assault in the Pacific.

    Both were Book of the Month Club selections BITD…along with “Hiroshima”. Which is when I read each.

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