Childhood and Education
John Hersey was born on June 17, 1914, in Tianjin, China. His parents, Grace and Roscoe Hersey, were missionaries working with the Young Men's Christian Association. Hersey's first language was Chinese. When Hersey was 10, his family returned to the United States.
Hersey attended the Hotchkiss School, a private college-preparatory school in Connecticut. He graduated from Yale in 1936, then studied English literature at the University of Cambridge, and later worked for American novelist Sinclair Lewis.
During World War II (1939–45), Hersey served as a war correspondent for Time and Life magazines. His work took him to Asia, Italy, and the Soviet Union. Drawing on his experiences as a wartime journalist, Hersey published his first book before the war's end. After the war Hersey continued to write for magazines and became part of the faculty at Yale University.
Hersey's first novel, A Bell for Adano (1944), is set during World War II in a small, fictional Italian town. He shows how efforts to bring democracy to a people who have been oppressed prove to be more difficult than anticipated. Hersey was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for the novel in 1945.
Published in 1946, Hiroshima proved to be Hersey's crowning achievement. Drawing on his journalism skills, Hersey mined the memories of survivors for details that allowed readers to see the subjects as real people, each with human weaknesses and strengths. Borrowing techniques from fiction, Hersey uses words to paint a story so vivid the readers can visualize the events as they unfold.
Death and Legacy
Hersey's enduring legacy is his ability to provide a window to the unique horror of atomic war. Hersey took Americans to the warfront, showing that war impacted people much like themselves. With over 20 books and many articles to his credit, Hersey distinguished himself as a writer who brought history to life. He died in Key West, Florida, on March 24, 1993.