Field of Science

A promising book falls apart

The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were such horrific and singular historical events that any new retelling of them deserves to be read seriously. It was with such thoughts that I picked up Charles Pellegrino's "The Last Train From Hiroshima". The first few pages were enough to glue me to my chair. In an almost poetically clinical manner Mr. Pellegrino describes the effects of the bomb on human beings in the first few seconds after the detonation. His accounts of people evaporating and the "iron in their blood separating" while their friends who were protected in "shock bubbles" that were mere feet away were absolutely riveting.

Yet in spite of this promising start I could not shake off the gnawing feeling that something was wrong. For instance I have read my fair share of atomic history and so I was astonished to not find absolutely any mention of William "Deke" Parsons in the book. Parsons was a physicist and naval captain who played a part in designing the 'gun type' Little Boy and was instrumental in arming the Hiroshima bomb on flight. Earlier his hands had almost bled from practicing the arming, which had to occur at a precise given time twenty five thousand feet up in the air on the 'Enola Gay'. There is a superb account of him in Stephen Walker's "Shockwave: Countdown to Hiroshima". In response to a comment I made on Amazon, Mr. Pellegrino replied that he did not mention Parsons simply because he has already been part of so many accounts, which to me does not seem a good enough reason for the exclusion. Apart from this omission I also noted Mr. Pellegrino's statement that Stanley Miller and his advisor Harold Urey won a Nobel Prize for their classic experiment pioneering origin of life research. Urey won a Nobel, but for his discovery of deuterium. Miller was nominated for the prize a few times, and in my opinion should have won it.

Alas, the riveting start of the book and the author's accounts have now virtually fallen apart. In two New York Times articles it has been reported that the most egregious error in the book consists of the story of one Joseph Fuoco who was supposed to be on one of the planes. Mr. Fuoco makes several appearances in the book, and I had found myself scratching my head when I read his accounts, having never heard of him before. The New York Times and other resources discovered that Mr. Fuoco never took part in the bombing missions. Instead the relevant man is one Charles Corliss who has not been mentioned in the book. Astonishingly, Mr. Fuoco seems to have completely duped the author as Mr. Pellegrino himself admitted; he submitted several photographs and letters to Mr. Pellegrino as proof of his role in the mission, including a letter of commendation from President Truman. Clearly Mr. Fuoco proved to be a remarkably facile con man.

But sadly, this and many other errors have cast serious doubt on the validity of the book. This is a pity since Mr. Pellegrino is an interesting writer who has written books on diverse topics ranging from Jesus's tomb to Atlantis . As of now the publisher (Henry Holt) has a blurb on the Amazon page saying that further printing and shipping of the book has been halted (which makes me cherish my first printing copy). Even Mr. Pellegrino's PhD. from Victoria University in New Zealand is being questioned. As usual, an otherwise fine author seems to have sullied his name by sloppy writing on an important topic.

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