On the night of Aug. 9, 1945, with the Japanese war effort in full collapse, Gen. Yoshijiro Umezu, a member of Emperor Hirohito’s all-important Supreme Council for the Direction of the War, told his colleagues in the presence of the emperor: “We cannot promise victory, but we are not yet defeated. We are aware that the war situation is difficult, but with the determination of one hundred million people and with further preparations, it might be possible to find life in death.”
In “Countdown 1945: The Extraordinary Story of the Atomic Bomb and the 116 Days That Changed the World,” Chris Wallace, the anchor of Fox News Sunday, has made a taut nonfiction thriller out of the dramatic days between Harry S. Truman’s succession to the presidency, following Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death on April 12, 1945, and the dropping of the first atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki less than four months later. Structured as a series of datelined vignettes and fashioned as a countdown, the narrative lopes through its well-chosen selection of historical moments. This is a deeply absorbing reading experience about the fateful final months of a conflict that deserves to be known in detail to all Americans. It is what a popular history book should be: propulsively paced; well researched in primary sources; and written with sympathetic imagination, bringing people to life in their important moments. It will encourage and enrich many conversations on its subject.