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Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy

3.85  ·  Rating Details ·  506 Ratings  ·  93 Reviews
A groundbreaking history that considers the attack on Pearl Harbor from the Japanese perspective and is certain to revolutionize how we think of the war in the Pacific.

When Japan launched hostilities against the United States in 1941, argues Eri Hotta, its leaders, in large part, understood they were entering a war they were almost certain to lose. Drawing on material litt
Hardcover, First Edition, 320 pages
Published October 29th 2013 by Alfred A. Knopf
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Chin Joo
Feb 14, 2014 Chin Joo rated it really liked it
Shelves: ww2, history
Those who are interested in understanding of the events that led to Japan's fateful decision to attack Pearl Harbor will find this book an important one to read. It is one that is packed with information carefully written in an engaging way to provide great insights into how the Japanese eventually went into war with the US. What this book does is to show that such a momentous decision was not arrived in a clinical and logical fashion, rather readers of this book would not help noticing how illo ...more
May 31, 2014 Mike rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone

Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy

Since the age of the Thunder-Lizards (or at least the actors in the latex suits) I’ve been a fan of Japanese entertainment. When I eventually reached its shores on business trips I found that I enjoyed the people, culture, and land as much as I had the Monsters, Sci-Fi, and Anime. I’ve retained that affection and interest into what we call the Modern Era. For the last couple of years I have made pitiful progress in trying to learn a bit of the language.

Among the
Steven Z.
Jul 20, 2014 Steven Z. rated it it was amazing
The last half of 19th century was a period when European nationalism flourished and began to spread its influence eastward. The lessons of nationalism were absorbed in Asia, and Japan became an excellent pupil of western industrialization and expansion. Following the Meiji Restoration of 1868, Japan slowly remade itself by emulating the west. Unlike China, Japan had no difficulty in assimilating western institutions in order to develop into what they perceived to be a great power. By the 1890s J ...more
Brandon Abraham
May 03, 2014 Brandon Abraham rated it really liked it
Eri Hotta's Japan 1941 attempts to find answers as to why a nation's political and military leadership decided to embark on a mission which was virtually impossible to attain victory in service to an Axis alliance whose benefit to Japan was based on speculation and wishful thinking. Hotta's analysis emphasizes how Japan's parliamentary peak during the Taishō era gave way to increasingly militarist leadership in the 1930's, which subordinated the Japanese economy to the service of the military.

Diane Henry
Nov 03, 2013 Diane Henry rated it liked it
Shelves: wwii
2.5 stars. It's probably very difficult to try to re-create the thought-process of the major Japanese players leading up to Pearl Harbor and this is a valiant effort. Nonetheless, it was also a tough read. A huge number of people are introduced (usually with an awkward description/ranking of what they looked like) and there are multiple, irrelevant narrative diversions. It's tough to keep track of who is who and why they matter. Still not sure what the point of the inclusion of the Soviet spy, R ...more
Feb 11, 2017 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Historians, diplomats, WWII gamers
Eri Hotta, a Japanese historian, tackles a subject that much of her country, even today, has difficulty talking about - the events leading up to Japan's disastrous decision to go to war with the United States. It's more an indictment than an apologetic - you can sense Hotta's desire to be as even-handed as possible while acknowledging that Japan's actions were short-sighted, ill-advised, and driven by petty egos, intercultural blunders, miscommunication, arrogance, delusion, and multiple failure ...more
Jan 17, 2014 Bonnie_blu rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
The book is a thorough, exhaustive analysis of Japan's political, military, and social conditions leading up to the Pearl Harbor attack. I came away with a much greater understanding of why Japan decided to launch the sneak attack and go to war with the United States in 1941. Even though there were some unique circumstances that led Japan to this decision, there were also numerous circumstances that can be found in some current nations and that lend credence to the saying "Those who do not learn ...more
Jul 25, 2014 Brian rated it really liked it
We could learn a lot from Japan 1941. The US is currently embroiled in one two three four a lot of wars that nobody seemed to want, or support, and nobody has any idea how to end. Emperor Hirohito could've told us a few things about that.

Why did Japan attack Pearl Harbor? The standard economic explanations make superficial sense, until you realize that the US could (and basically did) beat Japan with one hand tied behind its back. This fact was not unknown to the Imperial High Command in late 19
Jul 24, 2015 Stewart rated it it was amazing
The surprise attack by Japanese naval forces on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, has been described and analyzed by dozens of books and depicted in several movies, almost all from the American perspective. The 2014 book “Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy” by Tokyo native Eri Hotta, who was educated in Japan, the U.S., and the U.K, gives the other side of the story.
The great question that students of World War II have asked is how could Japan, with the fraction of the population, resources, and manu
George Miller
Feb 22, 2014 George Miller rated it really liked it
This book covers the events and decisions that led up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor from the Japanese point of view. Japan's motivation to go to war with the US was based on the trade sanctions that the US placed on Japan because of their continued escalation of their wars of aggression with China and French Indo-China; these sanctions (the US cut off petroleum and steel exports to Japan)were impacting both Japan's economy and their war effort. I found it most interesting that the major ...more
Sep 12, 2013 Brita rated it liked it
Book Lust

I often wondered during history class in middle and high school, “What did the other side think of this war?” Americans frequently are restricted to being taught only about their own side of a war, which puts us at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to understanding our world. It is for this reason that I truly appreciated reading Eri Hotta’s Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy.

The book puts into perspective Japanese culture and politics in the years and months leading up to the bombing
Emmanuel Gustin
Sep 03, 2014 Emmanuel Gustin rated it really liked it
This exploration of Japan irrational decision to go to war in December 1941 does not provide a clear view of a decisive moment, because there was not such moment; instead there was an irresistible drift to disaster. As such Eri Hotta's book is almost as much a study of the psychology of very bad decision making, as a historical account.

It is of course very difficult to document and prove the state of mind of people long dead, who lived in a very different culture; and writing such an account is
Jean Poulos
Dec 28, 2013 Jean Poulos rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, audio-2014
Eri Hotta is an independent scholar specializing in Japan international relations. Hotta was born in Tokyo. She received her BA in history from Princeton University, master and Ph.D. from Oxford. She taught at Oxford from 2001-2005. What led me to read this book was it offered the view point of Japan leading up to the Pearl Harbor attack. Hotta makes two central points, 1). Japan’s leaders and its people were influenced by a belief that Japan was destined for international greatness---going to w ...more
Jan 09, 2014 Jake rated it it was amazing
Stunning. Reads like a thriller. Its about Japan's decision to go to war with the U.S. in 1941. As Hotta tells it, basically everyone knew that war would be a horrific mistake and that Japan would be destroyed. The main actors, prime ministers, diplomats, and military chiefs, all assured each other that they didn't want to go, but in public, each took the most hawkish line possible to avoid being seen as insufficiently patriotic by the public and their underlings. It reminded me of this fall's g ...more
Feb 01, 2015 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I should have read this kind of book years ago, because I never have understood why the Japanese did what they did. Ms. Hotta makes it very clear how the war started and even why it took the Japanese so long to give up at the end. It’s a sad story of no one taking responsibility in Japan at that time. I thought the book was a little hard to read because of the details on what appeared to be everyone who had anything to do with starting the war. This book explained why my father was a torpedoman ...more
Mar 21, 2015 Amanda rated it liked it
Shelves: history
What was scary about this book is how easily momentum and the inability to change one's mind once a statement was made led to a senseless act of war that Japan could then not support. Everyone knew they were making the wrong choice at some point, but no one was willing to say wait, perhaps we should exhaust every other option before committing our country to war. It seemed a series of bad decisions made by extremely fallible men who were unwilling to question each other openly and really test as ...more
Gerard Conway
Tragic reminder that going to war is a choice often made in cowardice and stupidity

For Americans, this book should humanize the foolish and self-blinded men who led Japan into war with the United States. It should also prompt some self-reflection. The parallels between the arguments made by the Japanese leaders who talked themselves into a war they didn't need to fight and mostly knew they couldn't win, and the American leaders who talked themselves into war in Iraq, are obvious and troubling.
Jan 03, 2014 Jonathan rated it did not like it
Shelves: wwii
Extremely hard and dry book to get through. I cant comment on whether or not the history is correct in terms of how much the Japanese vacillated on their decisions on if and how to attack. The author also seemed to suffer from the shotgun writing approach, covered many things that didnt necessarily have anything to do with the subject. Writing style left much to be desired for me.
Apr 10, 2014 E rated it really liked it
Very clearly written about a very specific part of WWII Japanese history, with details about lesser-known figures and attention to the counterfactual that drive home the essential point that Japanese-American armed conflict was never unavoidable but due to policy choices and the action (or inaction) of men with varying amounts of power.
Nov 02, 2014 Patrick rated it it was amazing
Shelves: japanese-history
A fascinating portrait of Japanese leadership, or lack thereof, in the months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. You can't help but get the feeling that these men simply had no tangible plan, but felt an incredible urge to do something. Hotta depicts all of this masterfully. One of the best history books I have read this year.
Lilly Mary
Mar 02, 2016 Lilly Mary rated it it was amazing
Gripping and deeply disturbing insights into decision making in Japan.
B. Cheng
May 10, 2017 B. Cheng rated it really liked it
Shelves: library-audio
Excellent read about why the Japanese knew going into the attack on Pearl Harbor that a war against the US was likely going to end in failure & yet there was still a push to war in hopes of a hail mary attempt at winning things through the only shot the Japanese thought they had.
Sarah Crawford
Jan 21, 2016 Sarah Crawford rated it really liked it
At first I didn't think this book would be that interesting but it turned out to be really, really interesting after all. It deals with the year leading up to Pearl Harbor and is a fascinating inside look at the discussions and decisions that the Japanese leaders made which led up to the act of war against the United States.
Basic Conclusions of the Book
1. Japan could have avoided going to war with the U.S.
2. The leadership in the military leaders consisted mostly of people who did not want to s
Apr 20, 2014 Nicolette rated it really liked it
Overall, a fascinating account of the disarray of the Japanese government and leadership during the years leading up to the Pearl Harbor "decision," which now appears to be more of a default action made in a vaccuum of apathy, fear, and ignorance of international politics. At first glance, Japan's decision to go to war seems hastily executed and even questionable, as has been portrayed in the general historical narrative. However, we must remember that history builds on the actions of the past, ...more
Dec 22, 2014 Ilya rated it liked it
Shelves: world-war-ii
The explanation of why Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor and the Philippines in general histories of World War II is as follows. Japan was waging a war of aggression in China since 1937 (if you include Manchuria, since 1931). The United States decided not to supply the aggressor with materiel, which was their right. Japan realized that it would have to either back down or attack on all fronts, in order to conquer the territories that would supply it with oil, rubber, jute, and wou ...more
Bill Kupersmith
Jun 04, 2014 Bill Kupersmith rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Before I read Japan 1941 (or more accurately, had it read to me on CD - thank you ICPL) - the only principal Japanese characters I could have named offhand were Tojo, Yamamoto, & Hirohito. Learned a lot & thoroughly enjoyed this book. Anyone interested in the Second World War or diplomacy ought to read it. There are no villains here, but also no heroes. The Japanese leaders seem to have stumbled into a war they couldn't possibly expect to win urged on by what we now call 'groupthink' &am ...more
Nov 20, 2013 Andrew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy chronicles Japan's long march toward war with the United States, through the eyes of men in power, and also through a variety of cultural observes such as a Soviet spy, a prominent Japanese novelist, and an ordinary Japanese soldier. More than that, this book explores how the war was anything but inevitable.

Hotta's main thesis is that the war between Japan and the US was brought about because of a lack of will (and unwillingness to accept responsibility) by variou
Oct 06, 2015 Alex rated it really liked it
Why did Japan bomb Pearl Harbor? Why risk war on another front when the one in China was already in peril - one that would eventually cost hundreds of thousands of lives? This question, in both Japan and the U.S. has been far too often ignored, and the answers given are overly simplistic. Hotta's book manages to tread a middle line between U.S. jingoistic cries of a sneak attack and Japanese tales of victimization of American bullying.

The author paints a vivid picture of incompetent actors in Ja
Mar 30, 2014 Jukka added it
Shelves: recent-reads
Japan 1941 by Eri Hotta

This book is very well done and has a fresh perspectives on a topic that has been pretty well plowed.

By pure chance i picked this book up the day before the day in December that Pearl Harbor was attacked. Of interest to me is the process which brings a country to war, especially when they for the most part see clearly that they will lose tragically and still can not stop. The governing system in Japan at the time was not one that could work together, so each separate piece
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