Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy

Knopf. Oct. 2013. 320p. photos. notes. index. ISBN 9780307594013. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385350518. HIST
OrangeReviewStarIn 1941, Japan was a resource-strapped country bogged down in a costly war with China. So why did it decide to initiate a war with the United States? Hotta (Pan-Asianism and Japan's War, 1931–45) explores every aspect of this question. She reveals that many high-ranking Japanese officials had real doubts about launching an attack on America. However, a combination of weak civilian leadership, outsize military involvement in government, extreme nationalism, and bureaucratic inertia forced Japan down a path of certain destruction. Her book gives colorful descriptions of the various characters involved, from the common Japanese soldier on the frontlines all the way up to the emperor himself.
VERDICT This is a fascinating read for anyone interested in Japan's involvement in World War II generally or its motivations for attacking the United States specifically. While scholarly and thoroughly researched, it's also a highly enjoyable read. Hotta writes the story with a novel's narrative drive, making it a real page-turner. Readers seeking a more concise exploration of this topic should consider Jeffrey Record's A War It Was Always Going To Lose: Why Japan Attacked America in 1941.
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