A Chinese saying has it that "each step changes the mountain." Likewise, each major turn in history changes how we understand what went before: as Japan now continues in an economic funk that followed but did not wipe out the "economic miracle" of the postwar period, we need to rethink our histories once again to explain the origins of prosperity, the evolution of what it means to be Japanese, and the roots of obstinacy. Gordon's clearheaded, readable, and inquisitive narrative, aimed at students and serious general readers, accomplishes this task molto con brio. Head of Harvard's Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Gordon tells a sweeping and provocative story of Japan's political, economic, social, and cultural inventions of its modernity in evolving international contexts, incorporating inside viewpoints and debates. Beyond identifying the national stages (feudalism, militarism, democracy), the author innovatively emphasizes how labor unions, cultural figures, and groups in society (especially women) have been affected over time and have responded. Recommended both for general libraries and for specialist collections.
Charles W. Hayford, Northwestern Univ., Evanston, IL
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. Industrialization and democratization in Japan have been tempestuous, and as explored in Gordon's history, their causes and effects can make for a contentious discussion among the Japanese themselves. But to grasp the historical issues, outsiders need a reliable interpretive narrator such as Gordon, a Harvard University history professor. Opening with the decline of the shogunate in the 1800s, he delicately untwines the internal and foreign pressures that culminated in civil war and the "restoration" of the emperor in 1868. The restorers who held the power feared European colonization, and their industrial and constitutional reforms to resist such a prospect upset Japanese society at its roots--Gordon's work is replete with turmoil on farm and in factory. The response to change, by intellectuals and the populace, is one theme that Gordon tracks through the present; another is nationalism. Its predatory expression in World War II, disturbingly enough, still has its Japanese apologists. After the war, however, most Japanese were more concerned with postwar reconstruction than with history, creating Japan's economic ascent up to 1990. A judicious comprehension of two centuries of Japanese history. Gilbert Taylor
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