By conveying plainly the experiences of six survivors of the 1945 atomic bombing and its aftermath, Hersey brought to light the magnitude of nuclear war.But how did Hersey―who was not Japanese, not an eyewitness, not a scientist―come to be the first person to communicate the experience to a global audience? In Mr. Straight Arrow, Jeremy Treglown answers that question and shows that Hiroshima was not an aberration but was emblematic of the author’s lifework.
The first line of [Treglow's] acknowledgments states: 'This is a study of John Hersey’s career, not a full biography.' I imagine all the manuscripts, royalty statements and editorial back-and-forths on offer at Yale led him to that decision, but it generated a torque that seems to have directed him to library stalls and away from the wider world, to the detriment of the book ... It’s annoying when reviewers say authors should have written a different book from the one they produced. But I can’t resist saying that if Mr. Treglown wasn’t going to do a full-scale biography he might have been better off writing a critical study of Hersey. His close readings of the author’s work are credible and smart, and he’s especially insightful on the way they reflect the author’s character.
Treglown covers it all as he parses Hersey’s ability to write blazingly forthright and incisive accounts of the physical and psychological damage caused by violence and other abuses of power. Treglown’s meticulous, richly interpretative reevaluation revitalizes our appreciation for the intensity, volume, variety, daring, and “moral imagination” of Hersey’s work, and for how essential and transformative writing can be when it’s strong, brave, conscientious.
Treglown’s focus is squarely on Hersey’s work, not his personal life, but the portrait that emerges of a deeply principled artist is all the clearer for it ... This scrupulously researched study not only reveals much about the man behind the work, it reminds media-wary readers of what constitutes good journalism and why it is essential.