John Hersey was an American writer and journalist. He was born in Tientsin, China to Protestant missionaries Grace Baird and Roscoe Hersey, and learned to speak Chinese before he learned English. He returned to the U.S. when he was ten years old, and attended public school in Briarcliff Manor, New York. He went on to attend the Hotchkiss School, which is a boarding school in Connecticut, and eventually Yale University, where he played football. He completed his graduate studies at the University of Cambridge as a Mellon Fellow.
Hersey began his journalism career writing for Time, and spent much time in the field covering the fighting during World War II in both Europe and Asia. He accompanied Allied troops on their invasion of Sicily and survived four plane crashes. He published his most famous novel in 1944, called A Bell for Adano, telling the story of an Italian-American officer in Sicily during World War II.
After the war Hersey was in Japan, where he reported for the New Yorker on the reconstruction of the country following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Here, he found a document written by a Jesuit missionary who had survived Hiroshima, and this led him to visit the missionary and begin learning the stories of other survivors. The product of this research was Hiroshima, Hersey's most famous work of nonfiction journalism, detailing the effects of the bombing on six Japanese citizens.
In 1950, he published another famous novel, The Wall, which gave an account of the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto. Back in the United States, he became very interested in the American education system, and wrote a novel called The Child Buyer in 1960 which advocated for a more individualized system. He was Master at one of Yale's residential colleges, Pierson College, from 1965 to 1970, and spent a year as Writer-In-Residence at the American Academy in Rome. In 1985, he returned to Hiroshima to write a follow-up story, called Hiroshima: The Aftermath, which was also published in the New Yorker.
Hersey died in his winter home in Key West, Florida in 1993, and was buried near his permanent home in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.