07 February 2010

Book World Banter: Feb. 7, 2010

I wasn't sure if I'd do this today, since we didn't get our paper (thanks Snowmageddon), but since the series is only one-week old, I figured I ought to. Book World today reviewed a number of interesting books (Henry Paulson's insider take on the financial crisis, and a book about the effects of nuclear power on the American government), but I'd like to focus on what may be the most harrowing. Joseph Kanon's The Last Train from Hiroshima provides an in-depth look at the effects of the atomic bomb on those who survived and were killed by it. Reviewer Charles Pellegrino does an excellent job of balancing the horror we feel at reading about this terrible event, and the fascination which comes from something that so few of us actually understand. What is a nuclear explosion actually like?

Apparently Kanon addresses this from both the human and the scientific standpoints. The horror of living with radiation poisoning and  the biological effects of the plasma cloud that accompanied the explosion. The book focuses on a large cast of characters, and traces the events of the day and their lives afterwards. Like so many books in this style (think The Boys of Summer):
cross-cutting fatigue inevitably sets in, and Pellegrino's account of what happened to everyone later, the legacy, lacks the cohesion of the earlier day-by-day approach. 
That said, the book looks absolutely fascinating and terrifying. One other note that I'm glad to read is that Kanon doesn't address the question of "should we have dropped it?" Certainly, it is still a relevant debate (though no amount of debate will expunge the event from history), but it has its place. A book describing the effects is not that place. If we want a look at the "should haves" we should look elsewhere. This book, however, will be going on my to-read list for sure.

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