A non-native’s savvy study of Japan’s wide influence in ways both subtle and profound.

A nerd- and generalist-friendly look at how Japan shaped the post–World War II world, from toys to Trump. Alt, a longtime “localizer” of Japanese culture for English-language audiences, considers Japan’s pop-culture influence through two lenses. The first is product-based: He delivers deep, engaging histories of totems such as toy jeeps, which sparked an industry that helped the nation pull out of its postwar economic doldrums; manga and anime, which reflected the growing cultural ferment, especially among youth protesters; karaoke machines and Hello Kitty gear, which made sweetness profitable; and the Sony Walkman, a symbol of the nation’s knack for innovation and 1980s economic might. Alt has a collector-geek’s enthusiasm for all of these, but he also thoughtfully considers the social trends that produced them. (Hello Kitty, for instance, embodies “kawaii,” an unreconstructed adorableness that echoed the boom years and also inspired the likes of “Super Mario Brothers” and Haruki Murakami novels. Alt’s second lens has more of a social element: Exploring the country’s “lost decades” after the ’80s, he looks at how schoolgirl culture, certain anime films, video games, Pokemon, and the internet responded to the pall that had fallen upon an aging and economically strained society. Alt is particularly sharp in his writing about “otaku,” a subculture of hardcore anime fans who feel deeply disassociated from mainstream society, establishing a disenchanted mood that persisted even as the country’s fortunes improved. That attitude coalesced around the website 2channel, which in turn inspired 4chan, Grand Central Station for alt-right memes and Trumpy trends. It seems a bit of a stretch to reduce American habitués of dank online forums to a politically influential expression of otaku, but Alt does persuasively show how Japan’s economic fortunes influenced America’s, and his book neatly summarizes how the future “will be made everywhere else, with values borrowed from Japan.” A non-native’s savvy study of Japan’s wide influence in ways both subtle and profound.

Pub Date: June 23, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-984826-69-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020


For those satisfied with blame-the-victim tidbits of received wisdom.

The noted conservative economist delivers arguments both fiscal and political against social justice initiatives such as welfare and a federal minimum wage.

A Black scholar who has lived through many civil rights struggles, Sowell is also a follower of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, who insisted that free market solutions are available for every social problem. This short book begins with what amounts to an impatient declaration that life isn’t fair. Some nations are wealthy because of geographical advantages, and some people are wealthy because they’re smarter than others. “Some social justice advocates may implicitly assume that various groups have similar developed capabilities, so that different outcomes appear puzzling,” he writes. In doing so, he argues, they fail to distinguish between equal opportunity and equal capability. Sowell is dismissive of claims that Black Americans and other minorities are systematically denied a level playing field: Put non-white kids in charter schools, he urges, and presto, their math scores will zoom northward as compared to those in public schools. “These are huge disparities within the same groups, so that neither race nor racism can account for these huge differences,” he writes, clearly at pains to distance himself from the faintest suggestion that race has anything to do with success or failure in America. At the same time, he isn’t exactly comfortable with the idea that economic inequalities exist, and he tries to finesse definitions to suit his convictions: “The terms ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ are misleading in another and more fundamental sense. These terms apply to people’s stock of wealth, not their flows of income.” As for crime? Give criminals more rights, he asserts, as with Miranda v. Arizona, and crime rates go up—an assertion that overlooks numerous other variables but fits Sowell’s ideological slant.

For those satisfied with blame-the-victim tidbits of received wisdom.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2023

ISBN: 9781541603929

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Basic Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2023



Perhaps not magic but appealing nonetheless.

Want to get ahead in business? Consult a dictionary.

By Wharton School professor Berger’s account, much of the art of persuasion lies in the art of choosing the right word. Want to jump ahead of others waiting in line to use a photocopy machine, even if they’re grizzled New Yorkers? Throw a because into the equation (“Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?”), and you’re likely to get your way. Want someone to do your copying for you? Then change your verbs to nouns: not “Can you help me?” but “Can you be a helper?” As Berger notes, there’s a subtle psychological shift at play when a person becomes not a mere instrument in helping but instead acquires an identity as a helper. It’s the little things, one supposes, and the author offers some interesting strategies that eager readers will want to try out. Instead of alienating a listener with the omniscient should, as in “You should do this,” try could instead: “Well, you could…” induces all concerned “to recognize that there might be other possibilities.” Berger’s counsel that one should use abstractions contradicts his admonition to use concrete language, and it doesn’t help matters to say that each is appropriate to a particular situation, while grammarians will wince at his suggestion that a nerve-calming exercise to “try talking to yourself in the third person (‘You can do it!’)” in fact invokes the second person. Still, there are plenty of useful insights, particularly for students of advertising and public speaking. It’s intriguing to note that appeals to God are less effective in securing a loan than a simple affirmative such as “I pay all bills…on time”), and it’s helpful to keep in mind that “the right words used at the right time can have immense power.”

Perhaps not magic but appealing nonetheless.

Pub Date: March 7, 2023

ISBN: 9780063204935

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper Business

Review Posted Online: March 23, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2023

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