Certainly one of the most beautiful books in my collection is the 1983 edition of Hiroshima by the Limited Editions Club (LEC). Designed by Ben Shiff, the book is absolutely the pinnacle of modern book making. From the second one sees and feels the jet black, softer than soft, aniline leather cover, to when one soaks in the vivacity of the silkscreens and the almost magical clarity of the text jumping from the luscious paper, you know you are witnessing art in book-making.
The blackness of the book certainly sets an appropriate somber tone for the subject. Those of you who read Books and Vines regularly know I am not a huge fan of most modern art, but such art represented by the silkscreens contained within Hiroshima seem to perfectly capture the horror that the situation on the ground surely represented, melting into the pages just as so much of Hiroshima melted away during and after the blast.
As most of you know, Hiroshima was written by Pulitzer winner John Hershey (1914-1993). His style, often called ‘New Journalism’, blended non-fiction reporting with stylistic devices usually found in a novel. Hiroshima is considered one of the greatest feats of journalism of the twentieth century. The story was first published in the August 31, 1946 issue of The New Yorker. It tells the story of the impact the bomb had on six random Japanese citizens. It is written in a stark and lean style and successfully humanizes what I personally still consider a sad, brutal, unfortunate but necessary and legitimate act. Though I have read Hiroshima a couple times, I will stick to my Books and Vines rule on not reviewing the book itself until I freshly re-read it.
A poem by Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989), also a Pulitzer winner, was written expressly as a preface for this edition. Warren was a major American author and literary critic of the twentieth century. His All the Kings Men is considered one of the great novels of the last century. He is the only person to have won a Pulitzer for both fiction and poetry. He was one of the founders of the literary theory called New Criticism, which was pre-dominant for much of the middle of last century (and one of which I still personally believe in as very useful).
Artist Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000), one of the twentieth century’s most famous and honored African American painters, provides eight silkscreens tipped in for Hiroshima. He describes his intent with the silkscreens “was to illustrate a series of events that were taking place at the moment of the dropping of the bomb”. Lawrence gained fame due to his modern figurative paintings, usually highlighting the African-American experience. His work is typically abstract, but also very realist, as you can see from the pictures below.
The fact that this edition is signed by three artists of the stature of Hershey, Warren, and Lawrence obviously adds to its appeal (and value).
Details of the LEC edition:
- Book designed by Ben Shiff
- Bound in black aniline leather at Robert Burlen & Son
- Printed by Bruce Chandler and Daniel Keleher at Wild Carrot Letterpress in Hadley, Massachusetts
- Text was handset in Foundry Optima Medium at the Golgonooza Letter Foundry, Ashuelot Village, New Hampshire
- Eight original silkscreens were printed in eleven colors at The Studio Heinrici Ltd., New York City
- Signed by John Hershey, Robert Penn Warren and Jacob Lawrence
- Limited to 1,500 copies (mine is #669)
- 9 1/14 inches by 12 3/4 inches
Below the following LEC pictures, I also have added some pictures of an Easton Press (EP) edition from a few years ago. Unfair to compare (as there is no comparison, in quality or cost), but I wanted readers to be aware the EP edition exists. Unfortunately typical of many EP Reader’s Choice titles, I do not like that it contains no illustrations, nor introductory context. EP often does a great job on many of their series, but I do wish a bit more effort went into their Reader’s Choice efforts. I will say, however, that I find the cover very inspired in an apropos manner and find the text eminently readable.
Hiroshima, Limited Editions Club, Pictures
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Hiroshima, Easton Press, Pictures