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Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  179 ratings  ·  48 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 lit
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Hardcover, 352 pages
Published October 29th 2013 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2013)
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Chin Joo
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
Steven Z.
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
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.

S
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Mike
May 31, 2014 Mike rated it 4 of 5 stars
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 v
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Bonnie_blu
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
Diane Henry
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
Emmanuel Gustin
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
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Brian
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
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George Miller
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
Jean Poulos
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
Jake
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
Patrick
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.
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.
Jukka
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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Bill Kupersmith
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' & ...more
Jonathan
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.
E
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.
Nicolette
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
Pmacke
interesting study on the political state of japan in the year of pearl harbor ... sickening to think of all the young men who were sacrificed for a war in the pacific that never needed to happen ... the fact that it did happen, according to the author, is due almost entirely to japanese political incompetence, an institutionalized inferiority complex, a ridiculously weak grasp of international realities and the political and economic realities in america and a lack of leadership at every turn .. ...more
Paul
The edition I read, a hardcover by Knopf, contained photos from another book: interleaved with pages of relevant Japanese and Pearl Harbor attack photos were pages of photos of American actor Jack Nicholson at different stages of his film career. I haven't seen this mentioned in reviews, and now I feel I should have stolen my library copy ... it might have been the literary equivalent of the upside-down airmail stamp from the 1920s!

Eri Hotta's history is fascinating for anyone with an interest i
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Kevin Sheives
This was a well-written, smart book on an actually rather arcane topic of Japanese decision-making during that critical year. I thought the author didn't excellent job painting the picture of what was happening with in Tokyo, the warfront in China and in Washington. It was actually very sad to understand in greater detail the lack of leadership, courage, and candor within the top levels of Japanese leadership.

A little more upfront detail on Japanese history and government structure it would've
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JQAdams
This is an account of how the Japanese government kept making decisions that led them into a war that pretty much everyone knew would result in a devastating loss. It was interesting, though the experience of reading it was made peculiar by the fact that I had had the impression that the book was about what daily life was like in Japan before Pearl Harbor. With that misapprehension, I spent about three chapters wading through all the detail about government leaders and committee structures waiti ...more
C.R.
First off, I would actually read this book again. As has been mentioned, it is pretty packed with details that may or may not be necessary but the treatment by the author was done to, I think, push the point home that the war itself was avoidable. The writing was a bit scholarly but I felt that the style really pushed the point elegantly that there were many parties who were capable and informed enough to trust their apprehension and yet it was the unwillingness to be responsible for error that ...more
Andrew
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
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Brita
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
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Steve Meier
Reading about WWII Pacific theater and traveling in Japan I always asked myself the question, why did Japan attack the US at Pearl Harbor. This book provides excellent insight to the machinations of the Japan leadership and how they awkwardly stumbled towards war with the US. The author (Eri Hotta) provides details into the key actors in this drama and describes the sentiment of both the leaders and the populace. Very readable and balanced in the dynamics at play.
Jon
Fascinating, utterly maddening narrative of the absolute failure of Japanese diplomacy and leadership in the months leading to Pearl Harbor. Clearly a war that didn't have to happen but the "self delusion, irresponsibility, and ignorance" to quote another reviewer, of Japanese politicians cost untold lives and treasure to multiple nations. A worthy lesson in how not to conduct international diplomacy and national politics.
Dan
Thorough, interesting and compellingly structured, but clogged a little by the author's editorializing where it doesn't seem altogether necessary. (No brazen or cowardly thing is done in this book without Hotta wading in to tell us, directly, how brazen or cowardly it was. I wish she had trusted her own work more than that.)
Inknscroll
This book is about what Japan's mindset was in the 1930s & leading up to Pearl Harbor. "Japan 1941" doesn't condone their militaristic actions at all, & the review on BookTV was excellent. It covered a lot of Asian history that Western history doesn't cover. (I'll write more of a book review about it later.)
Jenny
This book attempts to answer the age-old question: Why did the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor? I'm not sure it provides a clear answer, but from what I could glean, there were a lot of Rumsfeld/Cheney/Wolfowitz types advocating an "attack first, think later" strategy.
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