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James Zhan (London)

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Japanization: What the World Can Learn from Japan's Lost Decades (Bloomberg)
Japanization: What the World Can Learn from Japan's Lost Decades (Bloomberg)
by William Pesek
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £23.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Sneering and sloppy summary of Japan's major problems, 8 Feb. 2015
PROS

- Up to date. There haven't been many mass-market books about Japanese political economy over the past decade. This one brings us up to Abenomics (though of course less has changed in the meantime than one might have hoped).

- Concise overview. Summarises the big problems Japan (still) faces. Reasonable starting point if you want to grasp the basics quickly.

CONS

- Writing style. The sarcastic, superior tone irritated me so much it was an effort not to throw the thing in the bin. There's a bit of a 'whining gaijin' feel to it. It's also hackneyed -- a veritable Pandora's deluge of mixed metaphors, clichés and hyperbole. In my professional capacity as a copyeditor I would not publish writing like this.

- Unimaginative. Sets out the accepted wisdom, but doesn't offer much original insight.

- Thin, yet padded. Feels like it's been dashed off in a hurry. Glosses over troublesome details at times, digresses into tangential discussion of other countries at others. Disorganised, rambling and repetitive. (At least one paragraph is almost a word-for-word repeat of another earlier in the chapter.) I wonder if the book is actually just a bunch of the writer's op eds strung together.

- More op than ed. Wastes words telling everybody what they 'should' do. Clearly, if only Mr Pesek ruled the world we'd all be much happier.

- Unbalanced. Cherry picks the rotten cherries. Japan still has a lot going for it.

- Sources. Lots of quotations from the financial industry Westerners with whom the author presumably socialises -- a demographic notorious for being out of touch and subject to herd psychology. Don't see much evidence that he's spoken to Japanese politicians, civil servants, scholars, industrialists, civil society groups, voters et al.


Managing Your Academic Career (Universities into the 21st Century)
Managing Your Academic Career (Universities into the 21st Century)
by Wyn Grant
Edition: Paperback
Price: £24.99

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars UK-focussed, read it before you do a PhD, 11 April 2011
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This appears to be the only up-to-date book that introduces at a useful level of detail what academic employment is like in Britain. There are many books written by American authors, but the US has a very different system and much of what is written there doesn't apply to Britain.

The slightly misleading title made me think twice about buying this book. Don't expect specific advice about writing CVs, applying for jobs, doing or presenting research, or delivering lectures or seminars. That's not what the book is for. It's not inconceiveable that this book could help people who already have an academic career to 'manage' it better, but I'd be surprised if it told them much that they didn't already know by that stage.

The true target reader is somebody considering embarking on an academic career, who wants to know what the work and lifestyle are really like. The time to find this out, by the way, is BEFORE you start your PhD, not during or after it.

The book is based on the accumulated experience of its two authors (both long-serving academics) and a number of younger academics they interviewed, who are at earlier stages of their careers. It acknowledges the pleasures of an academic career, but doesn't sugar-coat the difficulties.

It will help you make up your mind whether an academic career is for you.


Storm
Storm
by Reg Grant
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Fun read, not to be taken too seriously, 3 April 2011
This review is from: Storm (Paperback)
This heavily dramatised historical novel brings the German Reformation and Peasants' War roaring to life. There's a predictable assemblage of Hollywood ingredients -- a love story, sword fights, chases, narrow escapes, conspiracies, magic -- and a slightly corny cast of monks, knights, Jews, gypsies, bandits, emperors and evil scheming popes. Luther of course features heavily, but this is not a biography. Many characters are historical, but many are not (and the author provides a helpful list of which are which). Storm isn't totally without value to those interested in 'real' history: seeing events from the point of view of individual people (even fictional ones) personalises them and makes them comprehensible in a way that detached academic history alone cannot. But mainly the book is just high-spirited fun. It's undemanding beach reading, ripe for a movie adaptation.


China: The Pessoptimist Nation
China: The Pessoptimist Nation
by William A. Callahan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £27.00

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Could have been entitled 'The birth of a Nazi China?', 3 April 2011
Prof. Callahan describes the menace of Chinese nationalism in chilling detail. This is the most detailed description yet of the ideas and practices of contemporary Chinese nationalism at the grassroots level: a comprehensive system of state indoctrination; school history textbooks that obsess over 'national humiliation' and don't even pretend to be objective; a nationwide Humiliation Day festival; glossy books of maps showing China's 'lost' territories (which encompass much of Asia); war memorials that demonise Japan; official promotion of militarism; gruesome photo albums of Japanese wartime atrocities; the preservation of ruins of colonial wars to keep historical grievances alive; big budget movies that blatantly reinforce racist stereotypes; and a seemingly insatiable appetite for revenge.

For anybody who has even a passing acquaintance with German history this could hardly paint a more disturbing picture.

The book's weakness lies in the author's lightweight attempt to make his mark in the realm of international relations theory. It would have been more powerful to let his impressively detailed descriptions speak for themselves. I found the repetitive (but thankfully brief) theoretical paragraphs irritating, unconvincing and superfluous. But the pretentious postmodernist jargon that clutters these sections doesn't intrude too much on the lucid style that delivers the book's main substance.


A Mighty Fortress
A Mighty Fortress
by Steven E. Ozment
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging, sympathetic introduction for the interested general reader, 3 April 2011
This review is from: A Mighty Fortress (Paperback)
This is the most accessible and engaging history of Germany I've read. (Okay, Germania: A Personal History of Germans Ancient and Modern was funnier, but highly idiosyncratic and best appreciated when you already know something of German history).

A Mighty Fortress is a popular history, written by a Harvard professor but squarely aimed (and aimed very well) at the interested general reader -- perhaps somebody travelling to Germany on holiday (yes, some people do!). It doesn't assume prior knowledge.

It is short enough not to be plodding and concentrates on the important things, without getting bogged down in detail -- i.e. the 'names and dates' for which history books are infamous are largely absent. Perhaps a few more annecdotes and a bit more detail on key figures (Luther, Bismarck, the great composers) wouldn't have been amiss, though.

I especially liked the way Prof. Ozment gives fairly even coverage to culture as well as high politics, giving a well-rounded history that dwells on Kant and Dürer as much as Charlemagne and Friedrich the Great.

The Third Reich features much less prominently than in many German history books, and that is no bad thing given it's disproportionate emphasis in Anglophone popular culture. On emotive matters such as the two world wars, Prof. Ozment is more sympathetic to the contemporary German point of view than any German writer today would dare to be, and most Anglophone writers would care to be. I enjoyed this fresh perspective.

Apparently the title, which I don't recall being explained in the book, comes from a hymn by Luther, 'A mighty fortress is our God'.


Chinese Nationalism in the Global Era (Politics in Asia)
Chinese Nationalism in the Global Era (Politics in Asia)
by Christopher R. Hughes
Edition: Paperback
Price: £28.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Original ideas and interesting anecdotes, but narrower in scope than similar books, 1 April 2011
This is a study of Chinese nationalist political *discourse*, not of Chinese nationalism in general.

But don't be put off by the word 'discourse'. Dr Hughes writes clearly and is easy to follow. He avoids the intellectual conceits and tiresome jargon that bedevils most self-styled discourse analysts and his work does elucidate the subject rather than obfuscate it.

The core of his argument is that it's a mistake to associate nationalism with any particular faction in Chinese politics or society. It isn't that the economic liberals, who favour `reform and opening' are less nationalistic, or that nationalism is associated particularly with the military, or the New Left, or conservatives, or the urban middle class, or whoever. On the contrary, they all invoke nationalism to justify their actions and generate support for their ideas. Reformers, for instance, argue that in the age of globalization it is only by opening up to the outside world that can China grow economically and become a strong country. In other words, opening up to the outside world is not because of tolerant open-mindedness, but rather to achieve nationalistic goals. The idea behind patriotic education is related: to inoculate Chinese society against the allure of western culture, and thus prevent the influx of foreign knowledge and ideas from the global economy from undermining their loyalty to the Chinese state.

The book assumes a degree of familiarity with Chinese politics, but also revisits a fair bit of ground already covered (in more detail) in books by Gries (China's New Nationalism: Pride, Politics, and Diplomacy (Philip E. Lilienthal Books) and Fewsmith (China since Tiananmen: From Deng Xiaoping to Hu Jintao (Cambridge Modern China Series)): the work of the major post-Tiananmen intellectuals, the context and discourse around the diplomatic incidents. The section on the content of patriotic education was new, and shocking, but is more recently covered in more detail by Callahan (China: The Pessoptimist Nation). Hughes book can certainly serve as an introduction for a newcomer to the subject of Chinese nationalism, but on balance I'd say Gries (China's New Nationalism: Pride, Politics, and Diplomacy (Philip E. Lilienthal Books)) and Shirk (China: Fragile Superpower: The Fragile Superpower) would do that job better. Hughes' book is relatively short and does not seek to present a comprehensive set of facts -- the significance of its arguments is most apparent once those are already known.


International Relations Theory: New Normative Approaches
International Relations Theory: New Normative Approaches
by Chris Brown
Edition: Paperback
Price: £22.19

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Erudite, concise and well-written - gives philosophical depth to the big questions in global affairs, 1 April 2011
The ideas in this book are as relevant now as they were when it was written. Since then we've seen globalisation accelerate and the topics of global justice, humanitarian intervention, nationalism and cosmopolitanism assume ever greater prominence in mainstream popular debate. Chris Brown explores the philosophical questions underlying different positions, and finds a basis for international ethics in established traditions of political theory. He does justice to the different positions, and refrains from pushing his own agenda -- a common flaw of more populist treatments of such emotive topics. He writes concisely, lucidly, and with obvious enthusiasm. His mastery of the literature is impressive. The book is short and readable, but so rich in ideas that it isn't a light read and demands one's full attention.

I'd recommend this to readers interested in (i) political theory -- many books on the subject limit themselves to the domestic sphere and fail to explore the international dimension, (ii) international relations -- many books on this subject refuse to recognise an ethical dimension to international affairs, despite making implicit ethical assumptions, and overlook the substantial body of relevant work that exists in other disciplines, (iii) global justice -- this book draws together and organises a disparate literature and the concepts and categories it establishes form the basis for subsequent discussion, (iv) globalisation/anti-globalisation -- all too frequently the mainstream debate remains superficial and fails to explore the deeper philosophical assumptions that underlie it.


China's Communist Party: Atrophy and Adaptation
China's Communist Party: Atrophy and Adaptation
by David Shambaugh
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Insights into a hidden world - you almost feel like a voyeur, 31 Mar. 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Prof. Shambaugh dispels the myth that China has reformed its economy without reforming its politics. In fact, China has had plenty of political reform -- just not of a sort westerners like.

The Chinese Communist Party is not a sitting duck waiting for a peasants' revolt to topple it. Far from convincing the Party that they are on the wrong side of history, the collapse of the USSR has given them an instructive lesson in how to avoid the same fate. This is a book about about the lessons they've learned, and how they're putting them into practice to ensure a red future.

It is not a book about Chinese politics in general, nor even about the government, but more specifically about how the Party, as an organisation, has reinvented itself in the twenty years since the Tiananmen incident. (It was fascinating to read that New Labour was one of its role models!)

It's non-technical and an easy read -- you don't have to be a China scholar to enjoy it.


The Audit Society: Rituals of Verification
The Audit Society: Rituals of Verification
by Michael Power
Edition: Paperback
Price: £26.09

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Required reading for auditors and those who have to deal with them, 31 Mar. 2011
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What is auditing? Why do we need it? What can it achieve? The answers given by the auditors are rather different from those of the public, and the fact that the public don't know more about auditing is very much in the interests of the handsomely paid auditors.

Prof. Power's ideas are carefully hidden under a dense thicket of jargon and abstraction. That's a pity, because his ideas are excellent. Prof. Power once worked as an auditor, but is clearly too reflective to have remained one for long. His insight penetrates the superstition and pseudo-science that continues to protect the auditing racket from proper public scrutiny and democratic supervision.

This book is horribly written, but worth persevering with if you want to know how auditing really works -- and how it really doesn't.

Five stars for content; one star for readability; average: Three.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 23, 2012 10:59 AM BST


Chinese Foreign Policy: An Introduction
Chinese Foreign Policy: An Introduction
by Marc Lanteigne
Edition: Paperback
Price: £27.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not just for students, 31 Mar. 2011
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A quick and easy read, giving an objective and no-nonsense overview of Chinese foreign policy. It might not be as exciting as a title like When China Rules The World: The Rise of the Middle Kingdom and the End of the Western World or The Coming China Wars: Where They Will be Fought and How They Can be Won, but if you're into that kind of thing this is worth a read as a sober and sensible antidote (to sensationalist fear-mongering) that will restore your sense of perspective. It's relatively comprehensive, despite its brevity, and a good compliment to most general introductions to Chinese politics, which seldom do justice to foreign policy.


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