“Made in Japan” was once the mark of an inferior knockoff; now only an incurable chauvinist would draw that inference. How that change came about is one of the great stories of modern industry. Johnstone, who covered Japanese technology for New Scientist and Wired, begins by debunking the myth that Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) orchestrated that country’s rise to dominance in electronics. In fact, MITI’s bureaucratic foot-dragging kept Sony from becoming the first company to market a transistor radio (in 1954). Instead, it was a succession of brilliant entrepreneurs, most of whom are unknown in the West, who drove the Japanese electronics industry to its position of preeminence. They were helped, ironically, by the post-WWII disarmament pacts, which meant that their best and brightest engineers were concentrating on consumer products, not military projects. At the same time, the fledgling transistor technology was one in which Japan could compete on an equal footing with bigger, more developed nations—especially after antitrust legislation forced AT&T and other American companies to license their patents to Japanese manufacturers. A generation of visionaries arose. Among them were Morita Akio, one of the co-founders of Sony; Sasaki Tadashi, whose passion for miniaturization led to the first hand-held calculators; Yamazaki Yoshio, who helped perfect Seiko’s liquid crystal display watch; and Kuwano Yukinori, whose unofficial research into amorphous materials made possible the solar-powered calculator. Johnstone gives chapter-length profiles of these and other scientists and entrepreneurs, bringing these largely unknown figures to life. Many of them at first had trouble overcoming the pressures for conformity and subordination to authority so central to Japanese culture. But their example has paved the way for others, and Johnstone confidently predicts that their successes are only the beginning of a long legacy. Johnstone has a sharp eye for drama and a knack for making technical details understandable; this book is a welcome addition and corrective to the Western-dominated histories of recent technology.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 1998

ISBN: 0-465-09117-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1998

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...


Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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A readable, persuasive argument that our ways of doing business will have to change if we are to prosper—or even survive.


A well-constructed critique of an economic system that, by the author’s account, is a driver of the world’s destruction.

Harvard Business School professor Henderson vigorously questions the bromide that “management’s only duty is to maximize shareholder value,” a notion advanced by Milton Friedman and accepted uncritically in business schools ever since. By that logic, writes the author, there is no reason why corporations should not fish out the oceans, raise drug prices, militate against public education (since it costs tax money), and otherwise behave ruinously and anti-socially. Many do, even though an alternative theory of business organization argues that corporations and society should enjoy a symbiotic relationship of mutual benefit, which includes corporate investment in what economists call public goods. Given that the history of humankind is “the story of our increasing ability to cooperate at larger and larger scales,” one would hope that in the face of environmental degradation and other threats, we might adopt the symbiotic model rather than the winner-take-all one. Problems abound, of course, including that of the “free rider,” the corporation that takes the benefits from collaborative agreements but does none of the work. Henderson examines case studies such as a large food company that emphasized environmentally responsible production and in turn built “purpose-led, sustainable living brands” and otherwise led the way in increasing shareholder value by reducing risk while building demand. The author argues that the “short-termism” that dominates corporate thinking needs to be adjusted to a longer view even though the larger problem might be better characterized as “failure of information.” Henderson closes with a set of prescriptions for bringing a more equitable economics to the personal level, one that, among other things, asks us to step outside routine—eat less meat, drive less—and become active in forcing corporations (and politicians) to be better citizens.

A readable, persuasive argument that our ways of doing business will have to change if we are to prosper—or even survive.

Pub Date: May 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5417-3015-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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