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Thank God for the Atom Bomb Mass Market Paperback – January 14, 1990

4.5 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A conservative cultural critic with a passion for nude beaches and the Indy 500 auto race, Fussell (The Great War and Modern Memory) explores some of his pet topics in this miscellany of essays and articles. The title piece, a defense of Truman's decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, generated lively controversy when it first appeared in the New Republic; a spirited exchange from that journal is included here. Elsewhere, Fussell hails George Orwell's essays as a refreshing counterweight to today's "theory-ridden" criticism. Mulling the difference between tourists and travelers, he offers disarming observations on travel writers Paul Theroux and John Krich. One piece explores how patriotic fervor thrust Carl Sandburg's propaganda tracts into the literary limelight. Fussell has quirky, interesting things to say about gun control, war poetry, chivalry and modernism as an offshoot of the "melodrama of the French Revolution."
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Most of these 14 essayson topics ranging from Hiroshima to the Indy 500originally appeared in the New Republic , Sewanee Review , and other periodicals. One essay praises George Orwell for virtues that Fussell himself has cultivated: an accessible style, a lively interest in the social uses of language, and "a power of facing unpleasant facts." Fussell is even keener on exposing the euphemisms and illusions of others. His most valuable pieces deal with the horrors of modern warfare and its literaturesomewhat extending and generalizing his powerful The Great War and Modern Memory (1975). Libraries with well-educated browsers would find this worthyif not mandatorywhile those covering the two World Wars would find it worthier still. Donald Ray, Manhattanville Coll. Lib., Purchase, N.Y.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 257 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (January 14, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345361350
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345361356
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 4 x 7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,055,870 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Mass Market Paperback
The title essay alone is worth the price of the book. This is a thoughtful, and irrefutable analysis of the reasons for the decision and the correctness of it. It is the only analysis I had read when I first read this essay years ago, which pointed out that Hiroshima and Nagasake were 5 days apart. Clearly, no warning would have been enough to cause the Japanese to surrender because the first bomb alone was not enough to bring about their surrender.

For those who think that it was wrong to drop the bomb knowing it would hit civilians, how about the heavy bombing of Tokyo done with conventional bombs. There was no ability to bomb very selectively in those days. Based on the losses suffered in invading Okinawa, including the number of Japanese Civilians killed in that invasion, it can reasonably be argued that, as a result of the two bombs being dropped, and the ultimate surrender of the Japanese leadership, fewer Japanese civilians were killed than would have been killed in the invasion of Japan.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
I admit, I was attracted to this book because of the title. Our library had it featured on its web page with some excerpts and I was intrigued. I was not disappointed.

The title essay is simply brilliant. It is also caustic, blunt and nuanced. I'll refer to it before the next time I teach about World War II.

There are two more essays on World War II. I found the two essays on George Orwell to be most interesting. His commentary on the differences between tourism and travel reminded me of the Twain essays I've been reading lately. "Taking It All Off In The Balkans" is the account of his visit to a nudist resort in the former Yugoslavia - very funny and (I've got to say it) revealing.

Two essays were just not interesting to me, being mainly about poetry and I find myself unable to muster the interest to read poetry, let alone read extensive commentary on it. I skimmed those.

The essay on the 2nd Ammendment ("A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.") comes off as a poorly-researched rant as opposed to the well-researched arguments made in the Atom Bomb essays. It stands out in this collection for that reason.

The other oddball essay is my 2nd favorite (after the title essay). Fussell went to the Indy 500. Try to imagine an East Coast college professor who writes about poetry standing around Indy's infamous snakepit and the guys with the "Show us your t_ts" signs. Fussell's comments are quite observant and show that he really spent some time walking around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and getting a feel for racing in general. Having just attended my 24th Indy 500 six days ago I was especially interested in his comments. I would be most interested in seeing Fussell's thoughts at having more racial diversity in the fields and 3 women in the race nowadays.
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Format: Hardcover
What we now know about the decision to drop the Bomb makes it less defensible than it once was, though one can certainly understand the perspective of a young soldier who thought he would have to take part in an invasion of Japan. Fussell was an insightful and sharp writer (as his essential book "Class" proves). The following quote pretty much sums up his thinking:

"'A Power of Facing Unpleasant Facts' - The words are [George] Orwell's in his essay 'Why I Write.' From childhood, he says, he might have sensed that he was going to be a writer, for already he had `a facility with words and a power of facing unpleasant facts.' The latter, he implies throughout his career, is necessary not just to any writer but to any honest thinker. And it's notably a power, not merely a talent or a flair. The power of facing unpleasant facts is clearly an attribute of decent, sane grown-ups as opposed to the immature, the silly, the nutty, or the doctrinaire. Some exemplary unpleasant facts are these: that life is short and almost always ends messily; that if you live in the actual world you can't have your own way; that if you do get what you want, it turns out not to be the thing you wanted; that no one thinks as well of you as you do yourself; and that one or two generations from now you will be forgotten entirely and that the world will go on as if you had never existed. Another is that to survive and prosper in this world you have to do so at someone else's expense or do and undergo things it's not pleasant to face: like, for example, purchasing your life at the cost of the innocents murdered in the aerial bombing of Europe and the final bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And not just the bombings.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Bottom Line Thank God for the Atom Bomb is my second collection of Paul Fussell essays. The first was The Great War and Modern Memory. Of the two the first was a tighter and better book. Having read the two I count myself a fan of Paul Fussell. This book is recommend to any fan of the essay. Do not let the title or the first few selections lead you to believe that this is only about war. This is a collection, some of it published elsewhere and as it covers several topics. It can feel thrown together.

Paul Fussel served his nation as a combat officer on the ground in the European theater during WWII. Had the Japanese not been speed to the surrender tables, he would have been among those sent fight them on the Japanese home Islands. Some would say that this fact is all he has to offer when in the opening essay he is certain that dropping those nuclear bombs was correct. Further, those who think otherwise lack the war time experience to have credibility. His argument is far more than selfish. In pointing out the average number of people who were dying every day in the Pacific, and counting out how many would have died had the war continued for even a few days more it is clear that waiting would not have saved lives. Ours or theirs.

It is to his credit that the next essay is a scholarly disagreement to his case and ending this section is a discussion of American actions that a more peaceful world would consider atrocities. His point was that the War in the Pacific included in its costs, American soldiers who felt it ok to participate in collecting, even gifting the skulls of Japanese dead. Humans in any war do terrible things, this is almost without parallel in American history.
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