Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb

Ronald Takaki

Little, Brown (1996)

Paper • ISBN 9780316831246 • US $17.99 • 208 page


The bombing of Hiroshima was one of the pivotal events of the twentieth century, yet this controversial question remains unresolved. At the time, General Dwight Eisenhower, General Douglas MacArthur, and chief of staff Admiral William Leahy all agreed that an atomic attack on Japanese cities was unnecessary. All of them believed that Japan had already been beaten and that the war would soon end. Was the bomb dropped to end the war more quickly? Or did it herald the start of the Cold War? In his probing new study, prizewinning historian Ronald Takaki explores these factors and more. He considers the cultural context of race—he ways in which stereotypes of the Japanese influenced public opinion and policymakers—and also probes the human dimension. Relying on top secret military reports, diaries, and personal letters, Takaki relates international policies to the individuals involved: Los Alamos director J. Robert Oppenheimer, Secretary of State James Byrnes, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, and others… but above all, Harry Truman.


“The until now unwritten story of the bombing of Hiroshima … explodes the myth of its ‘military necessity.”

Studs Terkel, author of The Good War


“Lively, complex, multi-dimensional, and wonderfully undogmatic.”

Michael Walzer, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University and author of Just and Unjust Wars


“Short, graceful, and generally evenhanded.”

New York Times Book Review


“A provocative addition to the unresolved debate over the dropping of the atomic bombs.”

Publishers Weekly


“Admirably concise … his strong emphasius on the deep roots of anti-Japanese racism, as well as President Truman’s psychological makeup, add new dimension to this tragic tale.”

John Dower, emeritus professor of Japanese history at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology and author of War Without Mercy


“An eloquent perspective on the atomic bombings, unusual for its simple focus on getting the facts right instead of blaming or exonerating those responsible for the decision.” 

Kirkus Reviews



A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America

A Larger Memory: A History of Our Diversity, with Voices

Double Victory: A Multicultural History of America in World War II

Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans


Ronald Takaki (1939–2009) was an award-winning scholar and writer, and a fellow of the Society of American Historians. A third-generation American of Japanese heritage, Takaki designed and led the Ethnic Studies Ph.D. program at the University of California, Berkley until his retirement in 2004. His many books address the history of racial ideas and diverse groups in the American past, including Strangers from a Different Shore and A Different Mirror. Takaki was the recipient of the Association of Asian American Studies Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.


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