An excellent general history that chronicles the rise and fall of a bygone Japan.



A history of Japan, from its centralization in 1603 to the recent past.

The culmination of McClain’s (History/Brown Univ.) work is the Meiji Restoration, where a group of young officials “enlightened” the island country in the mid-19th century, bringing it into the Western-dominated system of international relations. The author shows how that revolution introduced industrialization and democratic reforms into Japanese society, changes that greatly benefited women and the peasantry while disenfranchising samurai and other members of the elite. He also shows, however, how cultural themes from the former government of shoguns—xenophobia especially—persisted in the nation well into the 20th century. The Meiji Restoration, as its name implies, was backward-looking. It sought to reconnect the Emperor with the Japanese people so as to create a population that was more patriotic—and therefore more likely to sacrifice itself in terms of hard work and service to a newly formed army of conscripts. Meiji leaders embraced Western-style reforms because they wanted to be independent of the unfair commercial treaties the West had placed upon them. When Japan finally developed the military power to modify the treaties—its victory over Russia in 1905 was the crowning achievement of the Meiji administration—the government proceeded to mimic the policies of the imperial states it once labeled barbarous. Japan’s invasions of Korea, China and, in WWII, much of Asia, were marked by a savagery that reflected its vision of itself as a superior culture. This superiority complex proved the country’s Achilles’ heel, though, as it gambled that the US, lacking a tradition of leadership by the military, would not rise to the challenge of a full-out Pacific war. McClain’s attention to postwar Japan focuses on the country’s relations with the US, its recently booming, and now faltering, economy, and the partisan maneuverings of the Liberal Democratic Party.

An excellent general history that chronicles the rise and fall of a bygone Japan.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-393-04156-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2001

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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