Most helpful positive review
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 11 December 2007
I'm a third of the way through this, and it's already clear that this is one of those historical works that manages to tell its epic story with an electrifying intensity and vividness. I cannot put this book down. It paints a vast panorama out of an intricate web of tiny details, giving the reader the illusion of a God's eye view, that simultaneously embraces all levels of scale, from the global down to the individual. The depth of research is hugely impressive. At times you are inclined to suspect that Toland must know the name and background of everyone that was in the Pacific theatre at the time. Strategic, political, economic, and convincingly, cultural aspects, are all woven together in a format that is almost cinematic. Diplomacy, espionage, intrigues and major military encounters, by land, air and sea, all give the narrative a terrific pace.
As history, I think it needs to be taken rather cautiously as it is clearly pro-Japanese. It does however also try to convey the mindset of the ordinary Japanese and their justifications for their part in these events. It depicts the very curious relationship between the Emperor and his household and the cabal of militant warlords who governed on his apparent behalf. Issues of taboo, honour and obligation, having no parallel in Western political structures led to a complex situation whereby the militarist elite could claim to be operating in the service of the Emperor's divine will and with his blessing. Meanwhile the same conventions rendered the Emperor and the moderates around him impotent to materially influence the course of affairs. Indeed, Hirohito was only able to insist upon the final surrender in the face of the atomic threat by breaking the taboos that had defined his role for centuries, and effectively abandoning his divinity by intervening in earthly affairs. The book is at particular pains to portray Hirohito as a man of peace who was frustrated by the arrogance of Hull and Roosevelt, and their failure to understand the subtleties of his position.
As a source of facts and a description of events it is an excellent book, but I would want to read alternative accounts before fully accepting its judgements on the characters portrayed and their motives. This was written in 1972. It's about 900 pages long, so it's a big tome. Also, one must keep track of a lot of unfamiliar Japanese names. If that is acceptable then this will appeal to anyone interested in 20th Century history, or even just a darn fine read.