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

Lesley M. M. Blume. Simon & Schuster, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-1-982128-51-7

Journalist Blume (Everybody Behaves Badly) delivers a thrilling behind-the-scenes account of John Hersey’s seminal 1946 report on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. In the months after Japan’s surrender, Hersey hatched a plan with New Yorker managing editor William Shawn to go into Hiroshima as a “Trojan horse reporter” and describe the bomb’s impact from the victims’ point of view. Blume balances her narrative between Hersey’s journalistic process and Shawn’s editorial decision-making, which culminated in convincing New Yorker founder Harold Ross to devote the entire Aug. 29, 1946, issue to the story. She also documents the dramatic impact of Hersey’s report, which was eventually published as a book, on the public perception of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, and its continued resonance in the debate over nuclear arms. Hersey, she notes, devoted all the proceeds from the work to the American Red Cross and didn’t return to Japan for 40 years. Blume builds tension by expertly interweaving scenes at the New Yorker offices (where Ross and Shawn kept most staffers in the dark right up until publication), with Hersey’s journey into Japan and his search for survivors, and vividly captures a pre-television era when evidence of the nuclear fallout was suppressed by the U.S. government. This enthralling, fine-grained chronicle reveals what it takes to cut through “dangerously anesthetizing” statistics and speak truth to power. (Aug.)

Correction: An earlier version of this review incorrectly referred to William Shawn as Wallace Shawn.