The best books on the Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

1 authors have picked their favorite books about the Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and why they recommend each book.

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Ghosts of the Tsunami

By Richard Lloyd Parry,

Book cover of Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan's Disaster Zone

Northern Japan was struck by one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded in 2011, followed by a disastrous tsunami in which thousands died. Lloyd Parry spent years visiting and interviewing the survivors, bringing back riveting accounts of what it means to have your life shattered by such a catastrophe and to live among the debris. These include one man’s description of being swallowed alive by the giant wave then spat out into the house of a relative which reads like a modern myth.

Who am I?

As a teenager, I became fascinated by Japan – by the mysteries of Zen, the exotic atmosphere cooked up by its great novelists, the serene beauty of the countryside captured in old photographs. Then I moved to Tokyo and for eleven years was immersed in Japanese culture. It was like getting to know a complex human being, I went from bafflement and revulsion through fascination and infatuation, arriving at a degree of understanding and affection. I love Japan and feel I know it quite intimately. But the variety of books on my list give an idea of how many different ways this great, elusive civilization can be approached.

I wrote...

Tokyo: The City at the End of the World

By Peter Popham,

Book cover of Tokyo: The City at the End of the World

What is my book about?

I arrived in Tokyo as a callow 25-year-old and was plunged into culture shock – unable to speak, to read, to understand, helpless as a baby. And staggered by the chaotic ugliness of the civilization I had so much admired from a distance for its aesthetic sense, its serene wisdom. 

Putting the seductive image and the brute reality together and making sense of them took seven years. This book was the result, one that is impossible to categorize, but which has changed people’s lives. ‘The best account I have ever read about how it feels to live and think’ in Tokyo, wrote one of them. ‘The best book about Japan that you have never read.’ Thirty-six years after its first publication, it still packs a punch.

The Japanese Merchant Marine in World War II

By Mark P. Parillo,

Book cover of The Japanese Merchant Marine in World War II

This book doesn’t have a catchy title and sounds rather pedestrian, but we are told never to judge a book by its cover and in this case it’s true about the title as well! Mark Parillo’s magisterial thesis taught me a great deal about why the Japanese lost the Pacific War. He explains why they stubbornly refused to convoy their merchant fleet even when, by failing to do so, they were aiding the enemy’s cause. Japan needed to import most of its war material, but once the US submarine campaign began to decimate the ships that were bringing in those vital supplies in 1944-45 the game was essentially up. Therefore, a case can be made that the war was effectively lost before the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

Who am I?

I lived and taught in Asia for over 30 years and love the place to bits. Leaving Oxford for Singapore may have seemed like a daring adventure in 1980, but it complemented my doctoral research and introduced me to a wonderful set of students who have enriched my life ever since. Asia has a fascination for me that I can’t resist. I have written and edited 15 books on naval and defence themes, much of which have been set in the Asian continent. An associate editor of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for the past 25 years, I am also the editor for the series Cold War in Asia. 

I wrote...

Naval Warfare 1919-45: An Operational History of the Volatile War at Sea

By Malcolm H. Murfett,

Book cover of Naval Warfare 1919-45: An Operational History of the Volatile War at Sea

What is my book about?

Naval Warfare 1919-1945 is an analytical and interpretive study that examines why things happened at sea when they did. Vividly written, it ranges far and wide: sweeping across all naval theatres and those powers performing major, as well as minor, roles within them in these years of peace and war. 

Professor Murfett re-examines the naval past in a stimulating way and takes issue with those aspects of it that deserve closer attention. He demonstrates that superior equipment and the best intelligence, ominous power and systematic planning, vast finance and suitable training are often simply not enough to guarantee success at sea. Sometimes the narrow difference between victory and defeat hinges on those infinite variables: the individual’s performance under acute pressure and sheer luck.

The Rising Sun

By John Toland,

Book cover of The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945

The masterful Toland weaves a narrative of jaw-dropping detail, drama and complexity that tells the grand and harrowing story of the Pacific War between the United States and Japan from the perspective of the Japanese. The tale takes the reader from Tokyo cabinet meetings to the deck of warships to the frontline of critical battles, to share the experiences of everyone from national leaders to top generals to ordinary soldiers. It’s one of those books that’s so good it leaves you wondering how it was even written.

Who am I?

Michael Schuman is the author of three history books on Asia, most recently Superpower Interrupted: The Chinese History of the World, released in 2020. He has spent the past quarter-century as a journalist in the region. Formerly a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal and Time magazine, he is currently a contributor to The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion.

I wrote...

Superpower Interrupted: The Chinese History of the World

By Michael Schuman,

Book cover of Superpower Interrupted: The Chinese History of the World

What is my book about?

We in the West routinely ask: "What does China want?" The answer is quite simple: the superpower status it always had but briefly lost. In this colorful, informative story filled with fascinating characters, epic battles, influential thinkers, and decisive moments, we come to understand how the Chinese view their own history and how its narrative is distinctly different from that of Western civilization. More importantly, we come to see how this unique Chinese history of the world shapes China's economic policy, attitude toward the United States and the rest of the world, relations with its neighbors, positions on democracy and human rights, and notions of good government.

Jonathan Schell

By Jonathan Schell,

Book cover of Jonathan Schell: The Fate of the Earth, the Abolition, the Unconquerable World

In the 1940s, journalist John Hersey wrote an eye-opening expose on the effects of the atomic bombing of Japan with Hiroshima. In doing so, Hersey began to shape the already-contested memory of why America dropped “the bomb.” Following in Hersey’s footsteps, in the early 1980s Jonathan Schell penned a straightforward warning about the atomic age. After interviewing scientists, policymakers, and intellectuals, he began to pen an accessible essay exposing of what would happen to earth after a nuclear war. The result was Fate of the Earth, and it went on to become one of the most impactful pieces of non-fiction of the decade. It helped to validate scientist Carl Sagan’s controversial “nuclear winter” hypothesis, and inspired an untold number of the public to engage in antinuclear activism. To appreciate the early 1980s as a period of intense nuclear fear, this is a must-read.

Who am I?

My interest in the decade and in the Cold War came during graduate school. This was where I discovered Carl Sagan’s theory of a nuclear winter: that after a nuclear war, the debris and smoke from nuclear bombs would cover the earth and make it inhabitable for life on earth. Tracing debates between this celebrity scientist and U.S. policymakers revealed a hesitancy on either side to even consider each other’s point of view. This research made me reconsider the pop culture of my youth—films like The Day After and Wargames, music like “Shout” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” and books from Don DeLillo’s White Noise to Dr. Seuss’ Butter Battle Book—and ultimately see them as part of a political contest in which lives—our lives—were in the balance.  

I wrote...

Nuclear Freeze in a Cold War: The Reagan Administration, Cultural Activism, and the End of the Arms Race

By William Knoblauch,

Book cover of Nuclear Freeze in a Cold War: The Reagan Administration, Cultural Activism, and the End of the Arms Race

What is my book about?

The early 1980s were a tense time. The nuclear arms race was escalating, Reagan administration officials bragged about winning a nuclear war, and superpower diplomatic relations were at a new low. Nuclear war was a real possibility and antinuclear activism surged. By 1982 the Nuclear Freeze campaign had become the largest peace movement in American history. Alarmed, the Reagan administration worked to co-opt the rhetoric of the nuclear freeze and contain antinuclear activism. Recently declassified White House memoranda reveal a concerted campaign to defeat activists' efforts.

In this book, William M. Knoblauch examines these new sources, as well as the influence of notable personalities like Carl Sagan and popular culture such as the film The Day After, to demonstrate how cultural activism ultimately influenced the administration's shift in rhetoric and, in time, its stance on the arms race.

A Bell for Adano

By John Hersey,

Book cover of A Bell for Adano

I was a senior in high school, and my English teacher gave us customized reading recommendations. He thought I might like this book. He had no idea. Though often a serious work—it’s set in World War II Italythis novel exudes charm like nothing I’d ever read. There are books, TV shows, plays, and movies that you may like or even love, but when they charm you? You never forget them. Also, there’s a minor character in the book who shares my last name. I returned the favor in my novel by giving my protagonist the last name Adano.

Who am I?

My first job upon graduating from college was working for an invention-marketing firm. This wasn’t my intention; armed with a degree in journalism, I was ready to take on the world. Unfortunately, the country was enduring a recession, and after six months of unemployment, I was happy to be offered a copywriting position. So often during the two years I spent there, I would think to myself, “This could make such a great novel.” It took me a while—and with more than a few rejections along the way—but inspired by the writers and books I’ve included in my collection, I finally got around to penning my own tale.

I wrote...

Mousetrap, Inc.

By Joseph Guzzo,

Book cover of Mousetrap, Inc.

What is my book about?

New college graduate Nick Adano doesn’t realize it, but he’s about to move from the frustration of unemployment into the despair of being a vital cog in a morally dubious invention-marketing company. And when Nick and his boss find themselves with a problem on their hands—a client with a good idea who’s being railroaded—will Nick have the courage to confront himself?

To entertain his equally despairing coworkers, Nick pens tales featuring an antihero named Chapel Fox, by day a respected divorce attorney, but by night a madman bringing his version of justice to his beloved hometown. Capturing the essence of the awkward early twenties, when we’re adults... but not quite, this work speaks to anyone who’s endured a less-than-ideal work situation.

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