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Shockwave: Countdown to Hiroshima Hardcover – July 26, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. The pace of Walker's narrative replicates the frantic advance of August 1945. BBC filmmaker Walker won an Emmy for his documentary on the bombing of Hiroshima and brings precision jump-cuts to this synesthesic account of the 20th century's defining event. Beginning his story three weeks before August 6 (with the first test of a bomb some of its creators speculated might incinerate the earth's atmosphere), Walker takes readers on a roller-coaster ride through the memories of American servicemen, Japanese soldiers and civilians, and the polyglot team of scientists who participated in the Manhattan Project under Gen. Leslie Groves. He establishes the doubts, fears and hopes of the bomb's designers, most of whom participated from a fear that Nazi Germany would break the nuclear threshold first. He nicely retells the story of Japan's selection months before as a target, reflecting the accelerated progress of the war in Europe, and growing concern among U.S. policymakers at the prospect of unthinkable casualties, Japanese as well as American, should an invasion of Japan's "Home Islands" be necessary. Walker conveys above all the bewilderment of Hiroshima's people, victims of a Japanese government controlled by men determined to continue fighting at all costs. Shockwave's depiction of the consequences invite comparison with John Hershey's still-classic Hiroshima. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Every account of the destruction of Hiroshima is dramatic, but historian and filmmaker Walker has created an exceptionally taut and revealing chronicle. By beginning with the first atomic bomb test in New Mexico on July 16, 1945, and documenting with cinematic selectivity and flow the key events of the next three weeks leading up to August 6, 1945, the day Little Boy was detonated above Hiroshima, he captures the mix of fury and ambition that drove the decision to deploy this barely understood weapon against a civilian population. With an unerring sense of striking detail and ironic juxtaposition, Walker cuts from the tension at Los Alamos to Potsdam--where Truman, Churchill, and Stalin met to decide Japan's fate--to the top-secret airbase on the tiny Pacific island of Tinian, from which the Enola Gay took flight. Here are sharp and searching close-ups of the bomb makers and the bomb's victims, including Taeko Nakamae, then a girl soldier, and a doctor, Shuntaro Hida, who both survived the apocalypse and share their horrific memories 60 years later. Walker brings a fresh, judicious perspective to the eternally shocking story of Hiroshima, which must be told and retold so that its terrible lessons are never forgotten. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
The story begins on August 5, 1945 in the Shukkein Garden of Hiroshima, as two lovers part company. The narrative flashes back to the deserts of New Mexico, where the first atomic bomb was detonated on July 15, 1945. In tense, tight chapters, Walker carries the tale forward day by day, week by week, as the Americans move the bomb inexorably toward Hiroshima: the plane flights out of New Mexico, the mysterious loading of materials aboard the ill-fated USS Indianapolis, the bizarre training of aircrews who had no clear idea of what they would drop on Japan, the assembly of the first bomb on Tinian, the delicate procedure by which the bomb was armed in flight.
The Americans in the book are driven by their determination to end the war quickly, their resolve strengthed by the thousands of young Americans killed and maimed in four years of brutal fighting. On the other side of the tale are the citizens of Hiroshima, who go about their lives in war-torn Japan. They have no inkling at all of the fate that awaits them, but they are determined to defend their homeland to the bitter end. With the grim certainty of tragedy, the two sides collide in one horrific moment in which tens of thousands of Japanese are instantly killed and tens of thousands more begin the long and painful process of dying.
It is impossible not to be moved by this book. Walker brings the events to life with a series of gripping vigenettes: the young scientist who spent the night atop the first atomic bomb in New Mexico, wondering whether it would be detonated prematurely by an electrical storm; the officer who had to arm the bomb in a delicate seven-step procedure and whose brother had lost his face fighting the Japanese; the politicans who were determined to drop the bomb after spending so much of the taxpayers' money to build it; the lovers who never saw each other again after the bomb fell; and the Japanese leaders who refused to surrender even after Hiroshima had been destroyed.
If Hollywood ever gets out of the habit of making movies about comic book characters and seventies sitcoms, perhaps it could make a movie from this book--the story is compact, the characters are compelling, and the climax is as dramatic as it gets. In the meantime, read "Shockwave"--I wasn't able to put it down.
Walker recounts the extraordinary secrecy that cloaked the Manhattan Project - military personnel thought to be security risks were summarily dispatched to guard duty in Alaska -- and the enormous pressures on men like Oppenheimer and General Groves to make it succeed. Oppenheimer was so pessimistic that he was actually betting that the New Mexico test firing would fail, and, at one point, was banned from the testing site so that his negative energy would not affect other scientists. We see an emboldened Pres. Truman at Potsdam "bossing around" a phlegmatic Stalin, who knew more about the U.S.'s "secret" weapon than he let on thanks to the espionage of the notorious Klaus Fuchs. Japan foreign ministry peace overtures through the Soviets run into a diplomatic cul de sac when Truman insists on unconditional surrender, and Stalin opts instead to declare war on Japan and stream his forces into Manchuria.
Despite the protestations of some in the scientific community - including Leo Szilard, "the father of the bomb" - Truman and his advisors never doubt their decision to target a Japanese population center - without warning or demonstration. (Only War Secretary Stimson has some qualms, but he doesn't express them very forcefully.) It's just "not a decision to worry about," Truman says, famously.
Certainly, Paul Tibbets and the Enola Gay crew don't have any reservations about the mission they're asked to perform. And Walker captures their harrowing, tension-filled ride from Tinian Island to Hiroshima in vivid detail. Given the weight of their payload, it's not certain Enola Gay will even make it off the ground, let alone survive a scamper across the Pacific or the sprouting, six-mile-high mushroom cloud.
Still, the reader cannot help but be moved by Walker's graphic accounts of Hiroshima's widespread devastation, and the heart-rending experiences of a local populace caught completely unaware. A doctor called out of the city on a post-midnight emergency is one of the few medical professionals to survive (his medical center lost 85% of its nurses and doctors). An adolescent girl perseveres only through the good graces of her teacher, while a young conscript returns home to collect the bones of his wife and infant daughter.
Sixty years on from the event, "Shockwave" had me spellbound from cover to cover - an enthralling, captivating, engrossing read.
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