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What to do with “Last Train From Hiroshima?”

   March 2nd, 2010

Last Train from Hiroshima book coverI'm sure libraries across the country are asking this same question.

My library purchased Last Train from Hiroshima, but haven't put it out yet because we're divided over how to handle it. Based on revelations in the New York Times and Washington Post, I'm opposed to just shelving this book in non-fiction. There are a lot of requests for it, so I do want to make it available for people to read, but I would like to include a note of some kind stating there are significant known inaccuracies in the book.

One argument is that it's not a library's place to censor books, and if people want to read it we should provide access. However, we do censor resources and information simply by the act of selection, and by choosing which websites to link to based on their factual accuracy and reliability.

Mainly I want to protect school kids and other unknowing people from taking portions of this book as fact - which is what the library is confirming by shelving it in non-fiction. But so far, neither the Charles Pellegrino (author) nor the Henry Holt (publisher) has issued an easy-to-print statement to include in the book. As of today, the book is still being promoted on the publisher's homepage, but the author has addressed the issue in a forum posting linked to from his website.

So, what are libraries doing with this book? Shelving it as usual? Not shelving it at all? Including a note inside or on the cover? Putting it in fiction? We still have Million Little Pieces in non-fiction, but I think there's a difference between a memoir and a book about World War II.

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16 Responses to “What to do with “Last Train From Hiroshima?””

  1. lesbrarian Says:

    Another similar question that occurs occasionally: what if anything should libraries do with books that contain plagiarism? For example, Alex Haley’s Roots had a bit of plagiarism in the Middle Passage scenes. (And that’s another title whose classification is iffy: Fiction? Biography? Dewey something?)

  2. Brian Says:

    There’s a note in PW that Holt is canceling publication of Last Train in its current incarnation and copies can be returned for credit. I’m not sure how your library orders books, but that might be something to look into. A new copy, explicitly stating the errors or with included corrections would solve the problem of clarity. Wouldn’t do much for those already waiting for it though.

  3. Jeff Scott Says:

    That’s interesting. I just heard this morning that publication was cancelled so I’m surprised you have a copy. I thought you were supposed to return it to the publisher for a refund?

    This will, of course, trigger the usual rounds of fake books, Million Little Pieces, some biographies/memoirs. I’m just glad Holt put a stop to it rather than having us make a decision locally.

  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    I hadn’t seen the mention in Publisher’s Weekly and thus missed the part about sending copies back for credit. I didn’t see a schedule for a revised edition, so having the return-for-credit option just poses another question: keep the inaccurate copy because people are curious, or have nothing at all until the revised edition is released.

    I agree that the publisher is doing the right thing offering credit, but a full-out recall might be better. Maybe we should sell our copy on eBay.

  5. Jeff Scott Says:

    That’s a good point. People will want it for the curiosity factor, but it would probably be easiest to just return it for credit. You are right, you have something very rare there 🙂

  6. tom Says:

    we have 3 copies with a wait list of 25 people. we’ll probably keep them. but one of the articles made it sound like the most important revelations in the book are fake, so yeah, it could actually be harmful to keep copies on the shelf. what? America also A-bombed Toronto in WWII? Hitler and eleanor roosevelt took dancing lessons together? so we’ll probably dump them after a few months.

  7. Anne Says:


    I think merely by including something in our collections, that somehow lends credence to it. For instance, I’ve become aware of a parenting book that for the most part, is all about how to “train” your child by hitting them with switches – all based on biblical teachings. They go so far as to tell you how to select a “rod” for a child under the age of one – if we keep this in our collection, are we then legitimizing child abuse?

    The same goes for books that are known to be innacurate…

  8. What to do with “Last Train From Hiroshima?” | ilibrarynews.com Says:

    […] Full post […]

  9. Mary Jo Says:

    A Million Little Pieces is in fiction in our library.

  10. Sheila Says:

    On a similar note, how has your library handled “Brother Eagle, Sister Sky”?

  11. Brian Herzog Says:

    Our Children’s Room shelved Brother Eagle, Sister Sky in the picture book section, which (for us) doesn’t distinguish between fiction and non-fiction. Also, The Education of Little Tree is in our Children’s Room fiction section.

  12. Cari Says:

    I just saw this on Publib, so it sounds like a lot of people are talking about it. I haven’t seen it, so I’m guessing our other cataloger did it, and I’m not sure that she knew about this. I’ll have to take a look when I get in tomorrow. We have Million Little Pieces in biography. But we do still have some plagiarized things on the shelf (Opal Mehta comes to mind). Because some people might still want to read the stuff so they can understand the controversy.

  13. HotStuff 2.0 » Blog Archive » Word of the Day: “hiroshima” Says:

    […] to do with “Last Train From Hiroshima?” [web link]Swiss Army Librarian (02/Mar/2010)“…purchased last train from hiroshima but […]

  14. Tara Says:

    What did you do with Edmund Morris’ bio of Ronald Reagan, Dutch? That is pretty fictitious. (My library system will be sending our copies back. They are currently checked out to customers but as they return..)

  15. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Tara: our copy of Dutch is in with the biographies. I hadn’t heard of fictional nature of this book, so I’m going to look into moving it. Thanks for the tip.

  16. Best of PubLib 03.14.10 « Best of Publib – Public Library Discussion and Publib Listserve Analysis Says:

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