Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Nick's Picks

Continuing our regular feature of book recommendations from Uptown Borders' sales manager, Nick Taylor:

by John Hersey

On this Wednesday let us remember a city laid to ash. Decimating dates of history are always a topic of reflection for the advancement of our species, in hopes that we may learn to never again engage in such lamentable, ineffable tragedy. And while words can never hope to fully capture the essence of horror, terror and inhumanity expressed in total war, this piece of journalistic gold strives to do just that with the stories of six survivors from a date every American should be able to recognize, August 6, 1945.

Among our witnesses are a clerk, a physician, a tailor's widow, a German priest, a surgeon and a pastor to a Methodist church. Each life is introduced, gives their astounding account of survival and, in this edition, is followed forty years later.

Vivid, stark scenes of destruction reach every eye glancing upon these pages: a young woman lain in a state of shared silence beside two dying bodies for three days... a man's legacy destroyed, pinning him over halfway submerged in water... a wounded doctor trudges amongst a seemingly unending soundscape of ailing victims. Over 100,000 people died.

Those to outlast the blast and the burns were left forever changed and marked, many to slow deaths. Deemed "hibakusha," meaning "exposion-affected persons," they lingered, cursed with haunting truths, truths as visible as the outer keloid scars and inner poisons of radiation, onward into tales of hatred, resilience and forever transformation. One such hatred, Miss Sasaki questions Father Kleinsorge as to the validity of God's allowance only to later transformitively celebrate her 25th anniversary living as a nun. One such near-death resilience, Dr. Sasaki, post-surgery and lacking a lung, remains resolute. "He did not give up cigarettes" (Hiroshima, pg 106). One such life, Kiyoshi Tanimoto, bears the unfathomable experience of being confronted with copilot of the flying massacre Enola Gay, Robert Lewis. "Tanimoto sat there with a face of wood" (Hiroshima, pg 145).

Perhaps this book, this date, and this story is familiar; maybe it was assigned literature during your elementary or latter education. Yet, if you are like me and was subject to a school setting lacking challenging curriculum or encouragement for independent learning, you may have missed it. Don't forget everything from which we have to learn; history is abundant source material with which we can find our greater futures.

As no one could ever say enough about this book to do it justice, I will simply close with one of the more recent facts. The last official survivor, Tsutomu Yamaguchi, died in January of 2010 at age 93 from stomach cancer. Let these stories of the sacred dead survive.

- Nicholas Taylor, Sales Manager, Uptown Borders


  1. I taught English at John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights. I heard him speak twice and had brief discussions with him. He was first and foremost, a journalist. A true journalist. Not many like him any more. Of course, our students are required to read the book and debate the moral implications of WMDs.Great review, Nick.

  2. Thank you for keeping good work filling our classrooms.

  3. One should also read "The Rape of Nanking" by Iris Chang or "Downfall" by Richard Frank to get a perspective on "the moral implications" of dropping the bomb.

  4. Dave is correct. Always good to get other perspectives.

  5. The Rape of Nanking has been on my radar for a few years; I'll get around to reading it soon enough.

  6. The Rape of Nanking was one of the most disturbing books I've ever read. There is a letter to Hitler in that book, from an SS stating pretty much the following: "We have to do something to help the Chinese people, the barbarism displayed here is beyond anything I've ever seen." (not direct quote, I can't quite remember exactly what he said, but that was the gist.)

    An SS guard thinks what is being done to Chinese people by the Japanese is depravity at its worst - and is asking Hitler of all people to help...that should give you an idea of just how horrible the acts that occurred there were.

    From someone who has studied the Holocaust and WWII for years, and is an avid reader of anything related to it... Rape of Nanking was by far, one of the worst I've ever read. Iris Chang also committed suicide. Not sure if it was because of how much what she uncovered affected her, but I can't imagine hearing these stories from the survivors first hand the way she did.

  7. @thirtysomething, I assume you are talking about what the Japanese did and not that the book was terrible. The 30's and 40's were a terrible period for mankind throughout the world.