The best books beyond Oppenheimer: the truth, reality, and horror of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima

Why am I passionate about this?

I write stories and poetry intended to influence positive change in our world. Since marrying Kent 25 years ago and then growing to know and love his parents, something stirred in me to learn more and to write Of White Ashes. In our research, we relied on over 50 primary Hiroshima sources, visited the family home in Hiroshima, saw the bomb shelter my father-in-law dug into the side of a hillside, visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, the few buildings that still stand, and walked where my father-in-law walked. Researching and writing Of White Ashes changed me—forever. My article, "How the History of Nuclear Violence Shapes Our Present", was published in CrimeReads.

I wrote...

Book cover of Of White Ashes

What is my book about?

The bombing of Pearl Harbor propels America into WWII and two Japanese Americans into chaos. Ruby Ishimaru loses her liberty and uproots from her Hawaii home to incarceration camps on the mainland. Koji Matsuo strains under the menacing clouds of the Japanese war machine and atomic bombing while concealing a dangerous secret—one that threatens his family’s safety. When destiny brings Ruby and Koji together in California, their chemistry is magnetic, but wounds of trauma run deep and threaten their love as another casualty of war.

Of White Ashes illuminates the remarkable lives of ordinary people who endure seemingly unbearable hardship with dignity and patience. Their experiences compel us to reflect on the resilience of humanity and the risk of history repeating.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Hiroshima

Constance Hays Matsumoto Why did I love this book?

Like most high school students, I had read and was horrified by John Hersey’s Hiroshima.

For the longest time after reading Hiroshima, I tried to imagine carbonized bodies and human shadows etched in stone, but it was unimaginable. I stopped imagining; easier, safer not to think about the suffering. But then I met Kent and learned the fascinating stories of his Japanese American parents—his mother was incarcerated in the WWII camps; his father had survived the atomic bombing of his city of Hiroshima. 
Since high school, I’ve read Hiroshima many times. Why? To learn from Hersey’s visit to Hiroshima soon after the bombing and his survivor interviews. His meticulously researched, gripping, and compassionate New Yorker article (and later book) is an essential work of journalism and humanized the atomic bombing for the world.

By John Hersey,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Hiroshima as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“One of the great classics of the war" (The New Republic) that tells what happened in Hiroshima through the memories of survivors—from a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. 

On August 6, 1945, Hiroshima was destroyed by the first atom bomb ever dropped on a city. This book, John Hersey's journalistic masterpiece, tells what happened on that day. Told through the memories of survivors, this timeless, powerful and compassionate document has become a classic "that stirs the conscience of humanity" (The New York Times).

Almost four decades after the original publication of this celebrated book, John Hersey went back to Hiroshima in search…

Book cover of Black Rain

Constance Hays Matsumoto Why did I love this book?

A few weeks ago, I saw the Oppenheimer movie, now widely praised for igniting conversation and debate on the topic of nuclear weapons and criticized for failing to show the devastating impact of the bomb on the Japanese. Books like Black Rain tell that story.

The title Black Rain denotes horror. Indeed, being among those Japanese on whom the black rain fell was a horror unimaginable to most of us. Soon after the bomb exploded, thunderous inky clouds released sticky black raindrops over the city. People suffering from desperate thirst opened their mouths to the heavens and drank the deadly droplets. Later, they would learn these droplets were gifts of radioactive poison.

Written with superb attention to detail and vivid descriptions, Black Rain helps us understand the devastating impact of nuclear war on humanity.

By Masuji Ibuse, John Bester (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Black Rain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Black Rain is centered around the story of a young woman who was caught in the radioactive black rain' that fell after the bombing of Hiroshima. lbuse bases his tale on real-life diaries and interviews with victims of the holocaust; the result is a book that is free from sentimentality yet manages to reveal the magnitude of the human suffering caused by the atom bomb. The life of Yasuko, on whom the black rain fell, is changed forever by periodic bouts of radiation sickness and the suspicion that her future children, too, may be affected.
lbuse tempers the horror of'

Book cover of On the Horizon

Constance Hays Matsumoto Why did I love this book?

On the Horizon is unique, as it brings Lois Lowry’s personal experiences to the page.

Lowry was born in Honolulu, where the U.S./Japan war began during WWII with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and was eleven years old when she moved to Tokyo where her father was stationed during the Occupation.

On the Horizon conveys great meaning over the course of its 72 pages, is creatively illustrated, and is appropriate for young and older readers alike. It delivers substance in verse—about those who died or whose lives were forever changed at Pearl Harbor and in Hiroshima. Names of the deceased and ordinary items—tricycles, paper cranes, and dolls—tell extraordinary stories of hate, shame, guilt, fear, loss, grief, and hope.

By Lois Lowry, Kenard Pak,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked On the Horizon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

From two-time Newbery medalist and living legend Lois Lowry comes a moving account of the lives lost in two of WWII's most infamous events: Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima. With evocative black-and-white illustrations by SCBWI Golden Kite Award winner Kenard Pak. Lois Lowry looks back at history through a personal lens as she draws from her own memories as a child in Hawaii and Japan, as well as from historical research, in this stunning work in verse for young readers. On the Horizon tells the story of people whose lives were lost or forever altered by the twin tragedies of Pearl…

Book cover of Hiroshima No Pika

Constance Hays Matsumoto Why did I love this book?

Hiroshima No Pika is an Illustrated book that immerses YA readers into the daily life of the Japanese before the atomic bomb was unleashed on them.

The aftermath is shown in raw and haunting illustrations. My father-in-law, an American hiding his identity in Hiroshima, was sixteen years old and working in a factory making rifles for his emperor when the bomb fell. Hiroshima No Pika tells the horrors of what he experienced that day. 

My favorite part is the ending. “It can’t happen again,” she says, “if no one drops the bomb.” Sadly, we are now closer to midnight (90 seconds) on the Doomsday Clock than at any point since the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists developed the design in 1947. Indeed, it can happen again. But we must have hope and work toward peace.

By Toshi Maruki,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hiroshima No Pika as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

August 6, 1945, 8:15 a.m.
Hiroshima. Japan

A little girl and her parents
are eating breakfast,
and then it happened.

This book is dedicated to
the fervent hope the Flash
will never happen again,

Book cover of Fallout: The Hiroshima Cover-Up and the Reporter Who Revealed It to the World

Constance Hays Matsumoto Why did I love this book?

Since John Hersey’s Hiroshima is my top book pick about the Hiroshima bombing, it makes sense that Fallout is another favorite.

Blume uses her journalistic talents to take the reader on a thrilling journey through the U.S. Government's attempts to cover up the horrific effects of the blast and its aftermath and the efforts to keep secret Hersey’s necessary article about Hiroshima right up to its publication.

Many believe the lessons in Hiroshima served as a deterrent that has kept the atomic warfare genie in its bottle for all these many years. Fallout tells the story of just how difficult it was to pull that off. Buckle up.

You might also like...

Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

By Wendy Lee Hermance,

Book cover of Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

Wendy Lee Hermance Author Of Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Wendy Lee Hermance was heard on National Public Radio (NPR) stations with her Missouri Folklore series in the 1980s. She earned a journalism degree from Stephens College, served as Editor and Features Writer for Midwestern and Southern university and regional publications, then settled into writing real estate contracts. In 2012 she attended University of Sydney, earning a master’s degree by research thesis. Her books include Where I’m Going with this Poem, a memoir in poetry and prose. Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat marks her return to feature writing as collections of narrative non-fiction stories.

Wendy's book list on why Portugal is weird

What is my book about?

Weird Foods of Portugal describes the author's first years trying to make sense of a strange new place and a home there for herself.

Witty, dreamlike, and at times jarring, the book sizzles with social commentary looking back at America and beautiful, finely drawn descriptions of Portugal and its people. Part dark-humor cautionary tale, part travel adventure, ultimately, Hermance's book of narrative non-fiction serves as affirmation for any who wish to make a similar move themselves.

Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

By Wendy Lee Hermance,

What is this book about?

"Wendy Lee Hermance describes Portugal´s colorful people and places - including taxi drivers and animals - with a poet´s empathy and dark humor. Part travel adventure, part cautionary tale, Weird Foods of Portugal is at it´s heart, affirmation for all who consider making such a move themselves."

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Japan, Hiroshima, and the news media?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Japan, Hiroshima, and the news media.

Japan Explore 482 books about Japan
Hiroshima Explore 14 books about Hiroshima
The News Media Explore 21 books about the news media