March 3, 2010 / 3:58 AM / 9 years ago

Book on atom bomb horrors halted over false stories

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A book about a handful of Japanese who survived both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atom bombs has been pulled from U.S. book shelves amid reports it is based on false accounts and with doubts over the author’s past.

A young girl folds her hands in prayer as Japanese paper lanterns are floated down Motoyasu River, near ground zero, for the atomic bomb victims of Hiroshima August 6, 2002. HREUTERS/Eriko Sugita

Barnes and Noble said it had removed Charles Pellegrino’s “The Last Train From Hiroshima: The Survivors Look Back” from its shelves after reports that some stories in the book are false, the latest in a string of non-fiction books proven inaccurate.

Pellegrino, a controversial U.S. author of several books about science and archaeology, told The New York Times last week that he was duped by one of the book’s sources, Joseph Fuoco, who died in 2008, but he would correct future editions of his book.

Fuoco’s account that he was a flight engineer on one of the two planes that dropped the bomb at the end of World War Two was discredited by historians.

But Henry Holt & Co., the publisher of the book that enjoyed strong reviews and a film option from “Avatar” director James Cameron, told the newspaper it would stop printing and shipping copies as it was suspicious about whether two other people quoted in the book, Rev. John MacQuitty and Father Mattias, existed.

The publisher also has questions about 56-year-old Pellegrino’s claims to being Dr. Pellegrino after earning his doctorate from Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, dating back to 1982.

Pellegrino claims on his website that the university stripped him of his PhD during a row over a evolutionary theory but it was later reinstated.

But the university has told the New Zealand Herald that Pellegrino has no such degree and it is investigating.

Doubts have also emerged about his claims to have been a “founding member” of the Challenger Center for Space Science Education.

When “Last Train from Hiroshima” was released in January, Pellegrino billed the book as the result of lengthy research, including extensive interviews with the survivors and those who dropped the weapons.

Pellegrino estimated that 300 people reached Nagasaki by train from Hiroshima after the first bomb fell on August 6, 1945. Of those some 90 percent were killed in the second attack, leaving around 30 who survived both bombings.

New York Times critic Dwight Garner, who initially gave the book a glowing review, had to re-evaluate his judgment.

“At first, it seemed that Charles Pellegrino was duped by a fantasist, but now it looks like he may have been one himself,” Garner told DailyFinance. “It’s another occasion where you wish publishers employed fact-checkers. His book reads like a dream. Sadly, it may have, in part, been one.”

The book was still available Tuesday for purchase on Spokespeople for Henry Holt and Co. could not be immediately reached for comment.

The book is the latest in a string of non-fiction books to come under scrutiny for fabrication including James Frey’s memoir “A Million Little Pieces,” works by Holocaust survivors Herman Rosenblat and Mischa Defonseca, and a memoir of life in a gang-ridden ghetto by Margaret B. Jones.

Reporting by Christine Kearney, editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Belinda Goldsmith

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