This Time-Life book is a collaborative effort by a rather substantial team of researchers and writers, so there is no single person one can point to as its author. The result is a nearly seamless work that only now and then repeats material in one chapter already mentioned in another. No matter. This book, despite being a product of the Time-Life mass market publishing machine, fills a very important gap amid the countless works that chronicle the Japanese role in World War II. It only occasionally ventures into discussions of the battles between the U.S.A. and Japan, battles sufficiently well documented in all those other books of military history. What it does explore, often in great detail, is what the war did to Japan itself; it looks at the effects of the war on the daily lives of the Japanese people, from the initial period when victory looked quite possible in the wake of Pearl Harbor to the devastating results that followed the series of losses that began to pile up in 1943. It describes how the "100 million" managed to survive and die when faced with massive shortages of food and the other necessities of daily life, and how the military refused to stop the war because it detested the idea of "unconditional surrender," which might have meant the end of the emperor system. Hirohito, interestingly, despite the debates that still go on regarding his responsibility for the war, is treated rather sympathetically; the book takes the position that he was both a victim of right wing militarists and too weak and ill informed to either prevent or stop the carnage. The writing is straightforward and direct, with numerous examples culled from the experiences of survivors to explain the suffering that went on, including that of the soldiers who were trained ruthlessly to give their lives in what was clearly a losing battle. The kamikaze fighters are given considerable space, and there is even material on the American POWs who were kept captive in Osaka during the horrendous bombing runs that destroyed that city in 1945.
As is true of all Time-Life books, the text is accompanied by exceptional photographs rarely seen in other sources. You truly sense the tragic lives of the Japanese during this incredibly difficult time as you see picture after picture of daily life.
The one thing that keeps me from giving this book 5 stars is its unexplained termination before the dropping of the A-bombs. We see the situation in Japan growing worse and worse, and are introduced to the political shilly shallying that went on as the government's peace advocates jockeyed for position in opposition to the war-crazy militarists, while the entire nation prepared for immolation in an American invation. At this point, the book ends, with no explanation of what came next, of how the dropping of the bombs forced Japan to submit, and of what the effects of those bombs were. We are told about what happened under the ceaseless firebombing of Tokyo, Osaka, and other cities, but not a word is written about Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Perhaps Time-Life treated this in another volume; it would have been helpful, however, if a coda of some sort informed the reader of this.