Much has been written about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with texts contemporary to the events helping to unveil the horror of what occurred to a global audience as well as more recent work exploring the bombings from new angles. This list provides five key texts below with further reading included at the end.

Hiroshima – John Hersey (1946)

John Hersey’s classic account tells the stories of six survivors of the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Hersey was one of the first Western journalists to witness the ruins of Hiroshima after the bombing and his telling of what he saw allowed the English-speaking world to truly understand the horror of what had occurred. Hailed as one of the finest pieces of journalism ever written, since its publication as a book in 1946 it has sold three million copies worldwide and has never been out of print.

A lengthy extract of the book is available on the New Yorker magazine website, the outlet where it was initially published.

Barefoot Gen – Keiji Nakazawa (1972)

The aftermath of the events of Hiroshima are brought to life by Nakazawa’s illuminating and colourful Manga series. Set in the days after the bombing took place, the series takes the perspective of a young boy, Gen, and his family and their struggle to overcome the aftermath of the effects of the bombing and the war itself.

The series has been adapted into both films and TV series and is still widely read by Japanese primary school children today.

Black Rain – Masuji Ibuse (1965)

Survivors of the bombing, known as ‘the hibakusha’, came to be stigmatised in Japan and considered cursed. Even those who were not sick were treated with suspicion, as they may become sick or give birth to children with birth defects. Ibuse’s book is a novel but is based on accounts of survivors, the book combines flashbacks of the bombing with the struggle to move on and get married once being labelled a ‘hibakusha’.

The effects of the Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki – the United States Strategic Bombing Survey (1946)

In order to understand the full effects of the action he had taken, President Truman dispatched a team of personnel to the scene. The results of their 10 weeks on the ground study is available online and lays bare the grim reality of what had been unleashed, a blast of ‘virtually inconceivable’ temperatures with skin burns occurring as far as three miles away.

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes – Eleanor Coerr (1977)

This book tells the story of Sadako Sasaki who was diagnosed with leukaemia after being exposed to radiation caused by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Inspired by a Japanese legend, Sadako sought to fold 1000 origami cranes in order to be granted a wish, however in this telling she managed only 644 before dying of cancer in 1955. Sadako’s full life story has been retold in newer texts and she has become a symbol of peace worldwide. This children’s historical novel helped her story become known to a global audience.       

Further reading:

Rain of Ruin: A Photographic History of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – Dillon, Wenger & Goldstein (1999)

The Complete Story of Sadako Sasaki: and the Thousand Paper Cranes – Masahiro Sasaki, Sue DiCicco (2020)

The Crazy Iris and Other Stories – Kenzaburo Oe (1994)

The Unfinished Atomic Bomb: Shadows and Reflections – Lowe, Atherton and Miller (2017)

The Atomic Bomb: Voices from Hiroshima and Nagasaki – Kyoko Iriye Selden and Mark Selden (1989)

Flowers of Hiroshima – Edita Morris (1959)

Children of the Atomic Bomb: An American Physician’s Memoir of Nagasaki, Hiroshima, and the Marshall Islands – James Yamakazi and Louis B.Fleming (1995)

Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War – Susan Southard (2015)