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Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival

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In Bending Adversity, Financial Times Asia editor David Pilling presents a fresh vision of Japan, drawing on his own deep experience, as well as observations from a cross section of Japanese citizenry, including novelist Haruki Murakami, former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, industrialists and bankers, activists and artists, teenagers and octogenarians. Through their vo In Bending Adversity, Financial Times Asia editor David Pilling presents a fresh vision of Japan, drawing on his own deep experience, as well as observations from a cross section of Japanese citizenry, including novelist Haruki Murakami, former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, industrialists and bankers, activists and artists, teenagers and octogenarians. Through their voices, Pilling captures the dynamism and diversity of contemporary Japan. Pilling's exploration begins with the 2011 triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown. His deep reporting reveals both Japan's vulnerabilities and its resilience and pushes him to understand the country's past through cycles of crisis and reconstruction. Japan's survivalist mentality has carried it through tremendous hardship, but is also the source of great destruction: It was the nineteenth-century struggle to ward off colonial intent that resulted in Japan's own imperial endeavor, culminating in the devastation of World War II. Even the postwar economic miracle-the manufacturing and commerce explosion that brought unprecedented economic growth and earned Japan international clout might have been a less pure victory than it seemed. In Bending Adversity, Pilling questions what was lost in the country's blind, aborted climb to #1. With the same rigor, he revisits 1990-the year the economic bubble burst, and the beginning of Japan's "lost decades"-to ask if the turning point might be viewed differently. While financial struggle and national debt are a reality, post-growth Japan has also successfully maintained a stable standard of living and social cohesion. And while life has become less certain, opportunities-in particular for the young and for women-have diversified. Still, Japan is in many ways a country in recovery, working to find a way forward after the events of 2011 and decades of slow growth. Bending Adversity closes with a reflection on what the 2012 reelection of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and his radical antideflation policy, might mean for Japan and its future. Informed throughout by the insights shared by Pilling's many interview subjects, Bending Adversity rigorously engages with the social, spiritual, financial, and political life of Japan to create a more nuanced representation of the oft-misunderstood island nation and its people.


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In Bending Adversity, Financial Times Asia editor David Pilling presents a fresh vision of Japan, drawing on his own deep experience, as well as observations from a cross section of Japanese citizenry, including novelist Haruki Murakami, former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, industrialists and bankers, activists and artists, teenagers and octogenarians. Through their vo In Bending Adversity, Financial Times Asia editor David Pilling presents a fresh vision of Japan, drawing on his own deep experience, as well as observations from a cross section of Japanese citizenry, including novelist Haruki Murakami, former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, industrialists and bankers, activists and artists, teenagers and octogenarians. Through their voices, Pilling captures the dynamism and diversity of contemporary Japan. Pilling's exploration begins with the 2011 triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown. His deep reporting reveals both Japan's vulnerabilities and its resilience and pushes him to understand the country's past through cycles of crisis and reconstruction. Japan's survivalist mentality has carried it through tremendous hardship, but is also the source of great destruction: It was the nineteenth-century struggle to ward off colonial intent that resulted in Japan's own imperial endeavor, culminating in the devastation of World War II. Even the postwar economic miracle-the manufacturing and commerce explosion that brought unprecedented economic growth and earned Japan international clout might have been a less pure victory than it seemed. In Bending Adversity, Pilling questions what was lost in the country's blind, aborted climb to #1. With the same rigor, he revisits 1990-the year the economic bubble burst, and the beginning of Japan's "lost decades"-to ask if the turning point might be viewed differently. While financial struggle and national debt are a reality, post-growth Japan has also successfully maintained a stable standard of living and social cohesion. And while life has become less certain, opportunities-in particular for the young and for women-have diversified. Still, Japan is in many ways a country in recovery, working to find a way forward after the events of 2011 and decades of slow growth. Bending Adversity closes with a reflection on what the 2012 reelection of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and his radical antideflation policy, might mean for Japan and its future. Informed throughout by the insights shared by Pilling's many interview subjects, Bending Adversity rigorously engages with the social, spiritual, financial, and political life of Japan to create a more nuanced representation of the oft-misunderstood island nation and its people.

30 review for Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival

  1. 5 out of 5

    Smiley

    I didn’t mean to read this book enjoyably since I first had a Penguin paperback some months ago but I decided to trade it in at the DASA BookCafe in Bangkok due to its small fonts. However, early last month there I came across this hardcover, its presence challengingly astonished me so I decided to have it hopefully for my casual reading, at least its fonts are larger and its 29 illustrations more illuminating. From the author’s journalistic writing style, I found reading its 6 parts and 16 chap I didn’t mean to read this book enjoyably since I first had a Penguin paperback some months ago but I decided to trade it in at the DASA BookCafe in Bangkok due to its small fonts. However, early last month there I came across this hardcover, its presence challengingly astonished me so I decided to have it hopefully for my casual reading, at least its fonts are larger and its 29 illustrations more illuminating. From the author’s journalistic writing style, I found reading its 6 parts and 16 chapters arguably knowledgeable on Japan’s practical resilience/leadership in terms of her economies, high technologies, politics, etc. and formidable fortitude famously admired by foreigners as well as probable jealousy by counterparts worldwide. One good thing about this book is that it has not been written from his ideas or imagination alone, rather he has written from gathered data, opinions, ideas and so on from innumerous Japanese locals, informants and interviewees. I think this excerpt may help you decide, that is, to read or not to read: that is the question. “Pilling meets everyone from students to prime ministers in his quest to understand the history and values of this extraordinary country. Bending Adversity is a superb work of reportage and an essential book even for those who feel they already know Japan well.” (inner front cover)

  2. 4 out of 5

    Patrick McCoy

    Over the years I have read many books about Japan from foreign pundits, some good (classic books by old Japan hands such as Ian Buruma and Donald Richie among the best of those) and some not so good (TR Reid's Confucius Lives Next Door and Pico Iyer's The Lady and the Monk for example). Nonetheless, I was compelled to read David Pilling's latest addition, Bending Adversity (2014), in that he analyzes and discuses the country in light of the last triple disaster of the earthquake, tsunami, and nu Over the years I have read many books about Japan from foreign pundits, some good (classic books by old Japan hands such as Ian Buruma and Donald Richie among the best of those) and some not so good (TR Reid's Confucius Lives Next Door and Pico Iyer's The Lady and the Monk for example). Nonetheless, I was compelled to read David Pilling's latest addition, Bending Adversity (2014), in that he analyzes and discuses the country in light of the last triple disaster of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown of 2011. In Part One: "Tsunami", he discusses the triple disaster of 2011 in chapter one and in chapter two looks at the concept of "Bending Adversity"-a term that he as adopted to explain the resilience to catastrophic events in Japan over the years. Part Two: "Double-bolted Land" is comprised of a historical overview of Japan and its society as well as a discussion of Japan's relationship with the outside world. These chapters are the ones you find in every book in Japan in that they are trying to create a context for discussing contemporary Japan in a historical context. Part Three: "Decades Found and Lost focusing on "bending adversity" in context of the rebound from the 1923 earthquake and WWII, and the economic collapse of the housing bubble in 1990. Part Four: "Life After Growth" is comprises of five chapters focuses on the post bubble years and subjects as China's economy overtaking Japan, the Koizumi years in the 2000s, the graying of Japanese society, the hiring "ice age" and decline of lifetime employment, and gender relations in contemporary Japan. Part Five: "Adrift" looks Japan's precarious relations with China and Korea as well as the wrestling with the pacifist constitution and the role of Japan's self defense forces which Shinzo Abe challenges in his first term. Part Six: "After the Tsunami" focuses on Tohoku after the devastation through personal stories and a discussion of weak government vs. strong citizens. And in the Afterword he muses on whether or not these tragedies resulted in Japan reassessing its society and their place in the world. Pilling does an especially excellent job of explaining economics and politics since the post bubble years-especially the Koizumi years. He interviews scores of everyday citizens, but also cultural figures like authors Haruki Murakami, Natsuo Kirino and the Prime Ministers who ruled Japan in the last two decades. There are savvy observations of Japan and its society through as well. And he discusses all the major media stories of the last few decades such as the Afghanistan hostage, women as an untapped resource, nationalism and its effect on its Asian neighbors, and Japan's strange victim mentality in relation to WWII among others. Obviously much of the material was reused from articles he wrote for the Financial Times, I think he did an excellent job of explaining what has happened economically, politically and socially in Japan since the bubble.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Joanka

    3,5 stars It took me ages to read this book so that gives an impression it may not be very good. Which would be a lie – because it is. Pilling managed to present a very complex and detailed image of Japan, full of respect but he also doesn’t shy away from criticism. The book consists of several topics that are discussed in great detail. I loved the ones about society, be it the reaction of people after the latest tsunami or Fukushima explosion, or the attitude different people adapt towards life i 3,5 stars It took me ages to read this book so that gives an impression it may not be very good. Which would be a lie – because it is. Pilling managed to present a very complex and detailed image of Japan, full of respect but he also doesn’t shy away from criticism. The book consists of several topics that are discussed in great detail. I loved the ones about society, be it the reaction of people after the latest tsunami or Fukushima explosion, or the attitude different people adapt towards life in the times of the lack of previous economic stability. Pilling avoid generalizations or at least overgeneralizations and gives voice to Japanese people themselves. What a fascinating account it is! There are, however, also chapters about history (which was rather boring as I knew most of it and felt it being presented in a rather chaotic way) and economy that almost won against me – unfortunately it was so difficult and boring for me that I nearly gave up. I do understand its importance and yet the only brighter parts were when Pilling wrote about individuals and their influence on economy or economy on them… Otherwise all the numbers and statistics managed to put me to sleep every single time. If you are interested in Japan, I guess you will be really satisfied with this book. If you work or live there, I’m more than sure you should give it a try.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Karl-O

    Japan provides delicious opportunities to compare east with west, old with new, gaudiness with elegance, etc. as cases and examples of these different categories are intensely present in Japan and throughout its culture. While this review may be a little more than such a comparison, I can guarantee that Pilling’s book does a much more interesting job. One major theme here is how Japan defies categorization. The author convincingly argues that this is a source of strength and resilience for the J Japan provides delicious opportunities to compare east with west, old with new, gaudiness with elegance, etc. as cases and examples of these different categories are intensely present in Japan and throughout its culture. While this review may be a little more than such a comparison, I can guarantee that Pilling’s book does a much more interesting job. One major theme here is how Japan defies categorization. The author convincingly argues that this is a source of strength and resilience for the Japanese, hence the book's title. To demonstrate his point, he uses the beautiful example of the Ise Shrine, often called the most sacred shrine in Japan. This Shinto shrine dates back to the third century AD, but every 20 years since its inception it is dismantled and built anew to the exact specifications. As you may have guessed, the shrine cannot be categorized as “new” or “old”. But it is safe to assume that it will virtually endure forever, or at least much longer than any usual shrine. I believe the example can also be used to illustrate how the Japanese are comfortable with the Buddhist idea of impermanence. Less abstract examples are ubiquitous especially in the domain of religion. While in many surveys the Japanese turn out to be, of all things, atheists (ironic given that they talk about yaoyorozu no kami, which translates roughly into "8 million gods"), a very well known saying by the Japanese is that they are born Shinto, marry Christian and die Buddhists, showing little queasiness in adhering to many belief systems at once. Followers of Shugendō, a syncretic religion widely practiced in Japan, proudly tell how their belief incorporates elements of Shinto, Taoist and Buddhist thought. I happened to be in Tokyo last week (the reason I read the book) and was recommended to visit an exhibition called The Universe and Art. In the exhibition halls, solemn Buddhist mandalas were at home with scrolls of the tale of Princess Kaguya along with futuristic robots promising a future of delicious and convenient VR sex. I couldn't help think that in societies where everything needs to be categorized and defined, such a wide-array showcase would be unthinkable. This resiliency is extensively demonstrated by Pilling in the domain of politics and economics, and more specifically in the relation of the 2011 Tsunami and the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima. But, if I give the impression that the book is nothing but praise to the extraordinary resilience of the Japanese, then let me correct the impression. While Pilling clearly likes Japan, he finds issue with many aspects of the Japanese society such as: - The prevalent conservatism and isolation mentality of the Japanese (many proudly call their country shimaguni, meaning island nation); - Japan's extreme bureaucracy that hinders social and economic progress; - Japanese employment practices that require workers to dedicate most of their waking hours to work and rewards them based on seniority rather than merit; - Women participation in the workforce and more alarmingly the high rates of sexual harassment; - And last but definitely not least, Japan’s troubled relation with its history A British MP on visiting Japan in the early 2000s and seeing the high standard of living the Japanese enjoy told the author “If this is a recession, I want one”. In a world obsessed by GDP growth and investment returns, a deep examination of life in Japan today could be a good exercise in getting one's priorities in order, and this book does a very good job in that vein.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Gavin Smith

    Any reader of Bending Adversity who has also read John Dower's Embracing Defeat will have a very hard time not comparing the two books. The titles share a structure and David Pilling makes several references to Dower's work. In the acknowledgements, he refers to Dower as his 'hero'. Unfortunately, this comparison does not serve Bending Adversity well. Dower's book has a fantastically clear focus on historical detail and context that cuts through the noise of both war-time propaganda and historic Any reader of Bending Adversity who has also read John Dower's Embracing Defeat will have a very hard time not comparing the two books. The titles share a structure and David Pilling makes several references to Dower's work. In the acknowledgements, he refers to Dower as his 'hero'. Unfortunately, this comparison does not serve Bending Adversity well. Dower's book has a fantastically clear focus on historical detail and context that cuts through the noise of both war-time propaganda and historical revisionism. I'm sure Pilling wasn't trying to compete with one of the best regarded books about modern Japan but I'm not sure what he was trying to do either. In a way, I found much of Bending Adversity indicative of trends that I find frustrating in modern journalism generally. Because it is structured around a series of interviews that Pilling conducted when working in Japan for the Financial Times, so much of the book reads as hearsay. An interview subject will spout some of the same old cliched nonsense (be it pro or anti-Japan), and Pilling will respond with some balancing ideas, but there is never any real investigation or examination of the facts. As a result, the views within spill all over the place, from one extreme to the other, from flowery cliche to Let's-get-real seriousness. The result is some very muddy water. This problem is only compounded by the lack of any real focus or point to the book. Pilling starts off by looking at some different disasters and their aftermaths, but he never really draws any connections or conclusions from one disaster to the next. How could he when he's really just recycling interviews that don't share his wider scope? Also, the phrase "I'm reminded of a story a friend told me..." really has no place in serious journalism despite appearing here several times. Overall, I wouldn't recommend Bending Adversity for anyone that already has a degree of familiarity with Japan. It will only frustrate you by covering the same ground as better books in a more haphazard way. It might make an ok primer for someone just beginning to look at the country (or for fans of Haruki Murakami since he appears many times throughout).

  6. 4 out of 5

    R K

    “Most Japanese don’t have any sense of direction. We are lost and we don’t know which way we should go. But this is a very natural thing, a very healthy thing. It’s time for us to think. We can take out time.” There is always a bit of hesitancy when picking up a book about a country/culture that the author is not native to. There is always this fear of whether the author will do a good job in discussing the culture of the country without bias seeping in. This is especially true in books deali “Most Japanese don’t have any sense of direction. We are lost and we don’t know which way we should go. But this is a very natural thing, a very healthy thing. It’s time for us to think. We can take out time.” There is always a bit of hesitancy when picking up a book about a country/culture that the author is not native to. There is always this fear of whether the author will do a good job in discussing the culture of the country without bias seeping in. This is especially true in books dealing with Japan. I’ve noticed that authors either take one side over the other. Either the book ridiculously admires Japan or ridiculously admonishes it. David Pilling does something new, something I think all books discussing country and culture. Pilling remains unbiased throughout the entire book. He stated in his book that he will continuously provide both sides of the argument regardless of topic-- and we go into some pretty hefty topics. There are moments where even Pilling gets uncomfortable with what is being told to him, but he knows that he has to provide both sides of the coin, otherwise you have no argument. And I think that does a good job of presenting Japan in a well-rounded way. In fact, I would suggest this book to anyone who wants to understand Japan better. It’s a good starting point because it creates a sturdy foundation of knowledge in an easily understandable way. Regardless of whether you branch off into other books or veer away, you’ll leave this book with a better understanding of a nation that has been secluded for a long time. Pilling’s book circulates around the Fukushima Explosion, so it’s pretty recent. He uses the explosion as the starting point to go into a nation that has continuously picked itself up from the ground to the point where the act has become a sort of art. “A country we often think of as strong collectively but weak individually had shown itself to be the exact reverse. Japan, it turned out, was a nation of strong individuals and a weak state. Japan is a country of good soldiers but poor commanders.” One very important thing that Pilling brings up in this book that I’ve never encountered in any other nonfiction book (but it got me wondering why), is the idea of Westernization. It is something he discusses in the introduction and the section on Japan’s history and it’s a big culture shock. Most countries that are not European nor North American are misunderstood, and they have been for centuries. Japan is no exception too. Japan has been isolated and secluded from the rest of the world by way of its Island remoteness and cultural seclusion. The only exception to this isolation were the Dutch merchant ships, and they too were only allowed to trade at the port in Nagasaki to prevent their culture from spreading too much. So it wasn’t until 1853 (probably the height of colonialism, mind you) that Japan entered the rest of the world. The man responsible for opening up Japan was Commodore Mathew Perry from the US, and he arrive with his flock of boats to push the nation into doing trade with the rest of the world. Regardless of how you see it, you cannot deny that the first people to see Japan and the Japanese were white men. And the first people Japan was to see outside of itself (and China) were white men. The men were religiously Christian (regardless of which division) and the Japanese were primarily Shinto and Buddhist. So you could argue that at the height of colonialism where nations were continuously and purposely destroying, edifying, altering, controlling, subjugating other nations, misunderstanding Japan was inevitable. It probably didn’t help that Japan was quite closed off in discussing itself with foreigners. One argument is that Japan saw itself as above the rest of the world, and so interaction was not necessary. The other argument is that, to be brought into the world when there was colonialism everywhere; to see Asia struggle against Europe no doubt sent fear into Japan. It didn’t want to be colonialized. Review Continued Here

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lynda

    Having read a number of books on Japan, I was hoping to encounter fresh and new perspectives in 'Bending Adversity'. The author broke down the book into 6 parts, of which I can only comment on the first three parts. Part One 'Tsunami' is a good read and very moving. Part Two 'Double-bolted Land' felt like a regurgitation of several books on the history of Japan with no original analysis. Park Three 'Decades Lost and Found' really started to feel like a poorly constructed section. It talks about Having read a number of books on Japan, I was hoping to encounter fresh and new perspectives in 'Bending Adversity'. The author broke down the book into 6 parts, of which I can only comment on the first three parts. Part One 'Tsunami' is a good read and very moving. Part Two 'Double-bolted Land' felt like a regurgitation of several books on the history of Japan with no original analysis. Park Three 'Decades Lost and Found' really started to feel like a poorly constructed section. It talks about history, the founding of Sony and Honda, some Japanese films, and the views of Japan by some Japanese people or those familiar with Japan, and so on and so on. The section hops from one topic to another, and bounces back and forth between past and present. I browsed the latter 3 sections and concluded that this book is a collection of the author's views on Japan combined with the views of some people he knew while working in Japan and written in the style of a personal memoir while filling more pages about the tsunami, history, culture, sociology, and politics of Japan that could be better learned by reading other books. While I think it may be possible for someone to write a book using this approach, this book did not succeed in grabbing my attention simply because it felt like the author was trying too hard to cover too much. Is it about the tsunami, Japan in post-WWII, modern Japan, Japan sociology, Japan culture, a memoir of a person's experience living in Japan, or about Japan through the eyes of its own people? For readers who want all of that in one volume, maybe this book is for them. For readers who have read other books dedicated to specific topics of Japan, for example, on the tsunami there is Richard J. Samuel's excellent '3.11: Disaster and Change in Japan'; on Japan in the immediate aftermath of WWII, there is John Dower's scholarly work 'Embracing Defeat'; for a comprehensive overview of Japan's history, there is W. G. Beasley's 'The Japanese Experience' and 'The Rise of Modern Japan', or Ian Buruma's quick-read 'Inventing Japan' which acts like an appetizer from which readers may go on to read other books on Japan's history (in which the author indicates was his intent).

  8. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    I have a lot of respect for books that refuse to make generalisations and broad judgements, as is the case here. On the other hand, I find lack of clear structure in non-fiction somewhat frustrating, which also applies. Pilling reflects on Japan’s past and present, only briefly touching on its future, with a reluctance to settle for easy answers. He considers Japan’s so-called ‘lost decade(s)’ of very low economic growth, its politics, and how the population handled the tsunami and Fukushima cat I have a lot of respect for books that refuse to make generalisations and broad judgements, as is the case here. On the other hand, I find lack of clear structure in non-fiction somewhat frustrating, which also applies. Pilling reflects on Japan’s past and present, only briefly touching on its future, with a reluctance to settle for easy answers. He considers Japan’s so-called ‘lost decade(s)’ of very low economic growth, its politics, and how the population handled the tsunami and Fukushima catastrophes in 2011. I found his economic commentary especially thoughtful, perhaps not surprisingly as he was Asia editor of the Financial Times. The discussion of culture and society, as seen by an outsider, was suitably guarded and deeply ambiguous. As books in which Westerners claim to wholly understand China or Japan after spending a couple of months there seem terribly arrogant, this approach was welcome. It doesn’t leave the reader terribly enlightened, however. Japan has changed in the past two decades, and also stayed the same. The economy has performed badly in some ways and not so badly in others. Democratic engagement has waxed and waned. Of course, the same could be said of the UK or any country - nowhere can be reduced to simple cliches. What I found muddled, though, was the book’s structure. It drifted about from interview to reportage to history, without each chapter having a clear theme. I found the content readable, yet hard to pin down. All that I could finally conclude was that Japan is a complicated and distinctive place, which I could already have inferred. Nonetheless, there is some useful context for the conflict with China over tiny islands, Japan’s current economy, and the experience of women in Japanese society. All very interesting stuff, I just wish it had been edited into a more systematic chapter structure. The fact that I work in academia may be showing here.

  9. 5 out of 5

    e.

    Beyond insipid repetitions about what is virtuous and wise or malicious and vice about Japan. Scratches the surface of wide-spread opinions to reveal a nation as is -with all its contradictions. A must-read if not a first-read about Japan's history, sociology, economy, and contemporary politics. Beyond insipid repetitions about what is virtuous and wise or malicious and vice about Japan. Scratches the surface of wide-spread opinions to reveal a nation as is -with all its contradictions. A must-read if not a first-read about Japan's history, sociology, economy, and contemporary politics.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    Journalist David Pilling provides a succinct and engaging account of Japan's post war history. Pilling charts Japan's economic rise after the Second World War and its eventual demise during the economic stagnation of the "Lost Decades." The book is structured around chapters related to the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. The ability of the Japanese people to rebuild after numerous disasters is truly inspiring. What is disconcerting however is the inability of the country to adopt more open i Journalist David Pilling provides a succinct and engaging account of Japan's post war history. Pilling charts Japan's economic rise after the Second World War and its eventual demise during the economic stagnation of the "Lost Decades." The book is structured around chapters related to the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. The ability of the Japanese people to rebuild after numerous disasters is truly inspiring. What is disconcerting however is the inability of the country to adopt more open immigration policies and fully recon with the atrocities the country committed during WW II. Pilling effectively argues that while the economy may never reach peak boom levels, the country should not be written off to the sidelines of history. Given current issues with neighbouring countries including Chine and South Korea, Prime Minister Abe's tumultuous relationship with Donal Trump and Japan's growing influence as a proponent of globalization it appears that the country and its people show few signs of decline. This book provides an engaging overview of modern Japan, analyzing the impact of history and Japanese political, social and cultural issues. Strongly recommend for those hoping to get grasp on this magnificent and fascinating country.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ed

    The 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis make a compelling starting point for this discussion of Modern Japan - and Pilling takes in history, economics, politics and national soul-searching to try to make sense of what he found as correspondent to the FT for Japan. This book would likely serve many in the UK as a useful introduction to Japan - it is contemporary, it is very accessible and easy to read, and it presents itself as a reasonably balanced, down-the-middle investigation from a fo The 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis make a compelling starting point for this discussion of Modern Japan - and Pilling takes in history, economics, politics and national soul-searching to try to make sense of what he found as correspondent to the FT for Japan. This book would likely serve many in the UK as a useful introduction to Japan - it is contemporary, it is very accessible and easy to read, and it presents itself as a reasonably balanced, down-the-middle investigation from a foreigner into Japanese culture. When I was done reading the book it felt like Pilling had clearly described lots of interesting parts of recent Japanese history to me with a slight focus on business, economics, finance and politics above, say, art, sociology and anthropology. I would definitely recommend this - I think it was a great way for me to learn the next little bit of detail about a fascinating place.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Karl

    Review originally posted at http://karlocallaghan.com/2015/05/01/... 2015/05/01 Bending Adversity – Japan and the Art of Survival: Book Review Currently based in Hong Kong, David Pilling is the Asia Editor of the Financial Times . He was Tokyo Bureau Chief from 2002–8. After the earthquake in 2011, he came back to Japan on a number of occasions. This book covers the recent history of Japan interlaced with interviews with Japanese from all walks of life. Bending Adversity takes its name from Pilli Review originally posted at http://karlocallaghan.com/2015/05/01/... 2015/05/01 Bending Adversity – Japan and the Art of Survival: Book Review Currently based in Hong Kong, David Pilling is the Asia Editor of the Financial Times . He was Tokyo Bureau Chief from 2002–8. After the earthquake in 2011, he came back to Japan on a number of occasions. This book covers the recent history of Japan interlaced with interviews with Japanese from all walks of life. Bending Adversity takes its name from Pilling’s loose rendering of a Japanese proverb introduced to him by the husband of Japan’s former High Commissioner for the UNHCR, Ogata Sadako: wazawai wo tenjite fuku to nasu. 災いを転じて福となす。 (Literally: Turn calamity into good fortune) It is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand Japan in the current age. Starting in the small coastal town of Rikuzentakata a mere 40 kilometres from where I spent the first three years of my life in Japan, Pilling recounts the story of a hotel general manager and the fateful day that changed his life and the lives of 23,000 other inhabitants of the town. He talks of the miracle Lone Pine that stood while 70,000 others fell on that fateful Friday in March. The before-and-after photos and words on a page don’t fully capture how harrowing the difference is. The first time I went to “Takata” as the locals would call it was on my second weekend in Japan in early August 1997. I remember eating at the small fast food restaurant near the beach some eighteen years ago, which he describes from photographs: An entire Mos Burger restaurant, Japan’s equivalent of McDonald’s, floats across the valley like some unmoored boat, its red roof and ‘M’ logo distinctly visible as it sweeps towards the hospital. By the time it gets there, it has been ripped in two. I remember walking in amongst the trees remarking how huge Japanese crows were (like ravens), and how their voices sounded like grown men’s; picking up a stray volleyball as I walked on the beach, passing it back to some high school kids. Later that evening, I remember sipping beers, eating barbecue meat and camping out under the stars with my new-found teacher mates on the JET Programme. I went back there a few times over the years – to see the annual taiko festival, to watch a traditional street festival where men pulling floats would bash into them into one another, and to eat ramen after running in Ofunato further along the coast. After I moved further north, I didn’t go back there again. Not until six months after the disaster. I saw the Lone Pine with my own eyes in September 2011 when I went to volunteer with All Hands. I couldn’t help but feel sad at seeing nothing but flat land where houses had once been. And a single tree where a forest had once stood. In much the same way that we show signs of aging (not linearly but in sudden leaps and bounds) Japan has lurched forward and re-defined its direction through various events. Pilling goes back in time to chart Japan’s forced opening by Commodore Perry’s Black Ships off Yokohama, which brought about the Meiji Restoration but didn’t spell change in the shimaguni (island country) mindset. He also tells the story of expansionist Japan aspiring to be like the Western colonial powers around the turn of the 20th Century; the 1923 Tokyo earthquake; and the devastation of WWII; through the miracle years of growth, surviving not one but two oil shocks in the 1970s; through the bursting of the Bubble in 1990. Writing only a year after the earthquake, Pilling doesn’t go so far as to say that 2:46pm on March 11th 2011 was a turning point in history, though he does examine how Japan has defined itself through some very testing episodes. Based on interviews with Murakami Haruki among others, he picks out 1995 (the year of the Kobe earthquake and Sarin gas attacks) as a decisive post-war turning point for Japan, which really spelled the end of the boom years. Still, the image of Japan in the West is of a waning economic power overshadowed by China. Yet, Pilling reminds us towards the end of his narrative that [t]hough we have got used to the idea of Japan’s inexorable economic decline, it remains quite comfortably the third-largest economy in the world, the size of the combined economies of Britain and France and three times the size of India’s. And this in spite of the cataclysmic events of March 2011. According to the World Economic Outlook Database (April 2013) he notes that Japan had a per-capita GDP eight times the size of China’s (or four times in per-capita purchasing power parity terms). The Tokyo conurbation alone is home to about 37 million people, which is more than the population of whole countries including Canada, Finland or Australia to name a few. I have called Japan home for nearly eighteen years now. And like Pilling, I can attest that there is still much hope in this beautiful country.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kati Heng

    I’m always a bit hesitant with books that offer sweeping generalizations of an entire group of people, whether it be based on gender, race, age, generation, nationality, etc., ESPECIALLY if the person writing that book is outside the demographic in question. So for this book: David Pilling’s originally a Brit, spent years working/living in Japan, and still acknowledges the impossibility of summarizing a population. That said, this book’s entirely a compliment to the people. Sure, it points out so I’m always a bit hesitant with books that offer sweeping generalizations of an entire group of people, whether it be based on gender, race, age, generation, nationality, etc., ESPECIALLY if the person writing that book is outside the demographic in question. So for this book: David Pilling’s originally a Brit, spent years working/living in Japan, and still acknowledges the impossibility of summarizing a population. That said, this book’s entirely a compliment to the people. Sure, it points out some aspects of the culture Americans/Brits might think “weird,” but overall, it leans to the fact that Japan is a country of contradictions, of people unwilling and unable to be easily packaged and explained. Starting with the horrors of the 2011 tsunami that destroyed cities along the coast and set off a horrible nuclear reaction, Pilling explains why yes, the country may be down at the minute, but if the past offers any evidence, this nation is far from out. Think about it – both Germany and this island nation lost WWII; Germany’s never made quite the same economic impact as before the war; Japan’s doing just fine, innovating electronics, cars, etc. like the rest of us aren’t even there. Basically, I loved this quote Pilling ended on, which really sums up the spirit of this whole thing the way a last sentence SHOULD every time: “Two ‘lost decades’ and its manifold problems notwithstanding, reports of Japan’s demise are exaggerated.”

  14. 4 out of 5

    Tom Ewing

    A chewy book on modern Japan since the growth bubble popped and it turned from example to cautionary tale. Not so fast, says Pilling, if this is a country in decline, it's a gentle downhill trundle and there's still lots to admire about Japan (as well as plenty to frown at, not least the rise in war revisionism). Pilling is a reporter, and the best sections of the book find him simply exploring the post-Tsunami devastation, letting survivors tell their stories. When left to his own analytic devi A chewy book on modern Japan since the growth bubble popped and it turned from example to cautionary tale. Not so fast, says Pilling, if this is a country in decline, it's a gentle downhill trundle and there's still lots to admire about Japan (as well as plenty to frown at, not least the rise in war revisionism). Pilling is a reporter, and the best sections of the book find him simply exploring the post-Tsunami devastation, letting survivors tell their stories. When left to his own analytic devices, he's even-handed to a fault - every aspect of the country has its good and bad elements, and Pilling enjoys complicating others' judgements more than making his own. That's surely fair and useful - every society is more complex than it looks to outsiders - but makes for a less sparky book.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Richard Janzen

    A very timely look at Japan during the past few decades. Analysis, interviews, historical references, economics, geopolitics....all combined to provide insight into what has happened to Japan since the burst of the bubble, and what challenges it is facing now. In particular, this book discusses the impact of the 2011 tsunami / nuclear meltdown and the challenging relationship with China. This book helped me to understand the politics and economics of the country a little better, and to further c A very timely look at Japan during the past few decades. Analysis, interviews, historical references, economics, geopolitics....all combined to provide insight into what has happened to Japan since the burst of the bubble, and what challenges it is facing now. In particular, this book discusses the impact of the 2011 tsunami / nuclear meltdown and the challenging relationship with China. This book helped me to understand the politics and economics of the country a little better, and to further clarify my thoughts on Japanese society. Worth the read.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tobias

    Fine account blending history and reportage of how Japan has struggled to overcome multiple challenges since the early 1990s. The review of Japan's history prior to 1990 was probably a bit overlong, but nevertheless Pilling has written perhaps the best social, political, and economic history of the post-bubble era. Perhaps best of all is his willingness to let others do the talking, including both notable Japanese - Murakami Haruki, Funabashi Yoichi- and ordinary Japanese voices. Fine account blending history and reportage of how Japan has struggled to overcome multiple challenges since the early 1990s. The review of Japan's history prior to 1990 was probably a bit overlong, but nevertheless Pilling has written perhaps the best social, political, and economic history of the post-bubble era. Perhaps best of all is his willingness to let others do the talking, including both notable Japanese - Murakami Haruki, Funabashi Yoichi- and ordinary Japanese voices.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Vikas Datta

    Incisive account of a nation and people that pride themselves on being different and exceptional but are they? Well, in some respects, both not as much they think they are... Mr Pilling in this masterful blend of travelogue, history, and social, political and economic commentary paints a vivid picture of today's Japan. Incisive account of a nation and people that pride themselves on being different and exceptional but are they? Well, in some respects, both not as much they think they are... Mr Pilling in this masterful blend of travelogue, history, and social, political and economic commentary paints a vivid picture of today's Japan.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Gilang Rangga Paundra

    Interesting book about Japan but I think too many repetitive here. The author has clear prose and still neutral in analyzing Japanese problem. This book broaden my understanding about Japan and I hope more books about Japan coming too.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jo

    What a fascinating read! It was another one of those books that stimulated endless discussion in our household, with me reading out paragraphs - “did you know this?”, “hey, listen to this”, “what do you think of that?”. I’ve read other books on Japan, and have visited several times, so have a basic framework of understanding, but this was my first delve into its story re political economics and I feel better informed for reading it. The book wasn’t quite what I expected, I’m trying to work out w What a fascinating read! It was another one of those books that stimulated endless discussion in our household, with me reading out paragraphs - “did you know this?”, “hey, listen to this”, “what do you think of that?”. I’ve read other books on Japan, and have visited several times, so have a basic framework of understanding, but this was my first delve into its story re political economics and I feel better informed for reading it. The book wasn’t quite what I expected, I’m trying to work out why … my route to the book was via another book about consumerism where Japan’s experience was quoted, asking questions about whether economies can be sustainable and societies ‘happy’ without a commitment to perpetual ‘growth’, what might that look like? There was much to think about along those lines in this book, but it was much more. In any case, following the apparent success of ‘Abenomics’, Japan (at the point this book was published) appeared to be back in a growth model, and this was largely seen as empowerment, progress and recovery, despite the pressing global questions about sustainability. I enjoyed the journalistic style of the book, the way it drew on interviews with a wide range of Japanese people, influential and ordinary, and gave complex human voice to a fascinating diversity of opinion, experience, and ways of understanding ‘how things are’ and what they could be. I appreciated the overarching narrative of resilience in the face of hardship and disaster, and the cultural comments on the pluses and minuses of the Japanese outlook and how people have adapted and changed, or not, as the case may sometimes be. What really intrigued me though, was how strange it felt - sitting here in another lockdown - to read about this world that was so vibrantly real before the pandemic, and which now feels somewhat surreal. Totally disrupted. My edition has a very necessary ‘Afterword’, written in 2019, reflecting on the impact of Abe, and Trump, and the dynamics surrounding the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo. It all seems so innocent and unsuspecting of what was just around the corner! I get the feeling that over these next few years these kinds of books will divide into ‘before’ and ‘after’, and there will be one heck of a lot of work ahead to integrate the experience of this pandemic meaningfully into the narrative. I imagine for this particular book a new edition with an additional section would flow pretty well … I would actually rather like to read this author’s reflections two or three years down the line. Thank you, Mr Pilling.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    I listened to an audio book version. This book has received mixed reviews, which I suspect has depended on what various readers were expecting to get from it. I was looking for a complement to Dower's excellent Embracing Defeat and a book that would move away from the American obsession with Japan during the 1930s/40s (to the exclusion of everything else about the country) and provide some perspective on the nation in the decades since, especially in regard to its economic development. Pilling is I listened to an audio book version. This book has received mixed reviews, which I suspect has depended on what various readers were expecting to get from it. I was looking for a complement to Dower's excellent Embracing Defeat and a book that would move away from the American obsession with Japan during the 1930s/40s (to the exclusion of everything else about the country) and provide some perspective on the nation in the decades since, especially in regard to its economic development. Pilling is an apt author to address that need, and he does so very well here. As other reviewers have noted, Pilling invites comparison to Dower and together they provide about as good an overview of Japan post-1945 as we're likely to get given the limited options available in English. As always, it's frustrating to consider how many superior books there probably are in Japanese that haven't been translated and probably never will be. But the reader does come away from Bending Adversity with a broad sense of how Japan has evolved in recent decades. While its value as a book on Japanese culture is limited, Pilling is at his best when dealing with business and economic history, and given the importance of those areas to Japan post-1945, the book is well worth the reader's time. The audio version I listened to was read by Timothy Andres Pabon and was quite good. Pabon has a natural speaking voice, and he entirely avoids the maddening uptalk that Edward Lewis used in his reading of Dower's Embracing Defeat.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Abhinav Yadav

    2120, Sunday, 16 May 2021 In my life, it all happened just by serendipity that I got an opportunity to stay in Japan for two years. Those two years were the most beautiful, organized, and planned years of my life. I am highly impressed by the meticulous and painstaking attitude of Japanese people. Having lived in Japan for a considerable period and natural inclination to understand and know about the things around me, I first picked the book Embracing Defeat by John Dower. The book covered the hi 2120, Sunday, 16 May 2021 In my life, it all happened just by serendipity that I got an opportunity to stay in Japan for two years. Those two years were the most beautiful, organized, and planned years of my life. I am highly impressed by the meticulous and painstaking attitude of Japanese people. Having lived in Japan for a considerable period and natural inclination to understand and know about the things around me, I first picked the book Embracing Defeat by John Dower. The book covered the history of Japan from 15 August 1945 to March 23, 1952 (dates purely from memory, can't rely on it!). The book seemed distant for me to connect with but still gave important timelines for various events in the history of Japan. In fact, when I was preparing to embark for Japan, I started with Bending Adversity but never managed to make a good start. While in Japan, I picked other works like Norwegian Wood and Embracing Defeat. After returning, I was in a hangover with the orderliness, cleanliness, and the mindfulness of every being of Japanese. I wanted to know more about them - either through NHK videos or books. This book covers important milestones of Japan from 1995 to 2012. It is more easier to relate with the contemporary challenges and problems of Japanese people. It is a good book for anyone wishing to understand Japan more closely! [image error]

  22. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    If you’ve ever wanted the opportunity to say, “Wow! Japanese economic policy is really interesting!”, here is your book. Pilling does more than cover The tumultuous state of Japanese economics, however; this book is an in-depth look as to where Japan is today and how it got there. Heavily researched, Pilling seems to have interviewed almost everyone in Japan, looked at every piece of data, and have read every article to not say what Japan should do, but to reveal it as it is— flaws and all. He o If you’ve ever wanted the opportunity to say, “Wow! Japanese economic policy is really interesting!”, here is your book. Pilling does more than cover The tumultuous state of Japanese economics, however; this book is an in-depth look as to where Japan is today and how it got there. Heavily researched, Pilling seems to have interviewed almost everyone in Japan, looked at every piece of data, and have read every article to not say what Japan should do, but to reveal it as it is— flaws and all. He originally sought to find out how it bounces back from great destruction, but it felt like he had so much info, he gave up that purpose and is just telling us all he learned. What I found most interesting is how it’s people defined themselves versus the rest of the world, how they became a belligerent nation, how they deal with their past as both the oppressor and victims, and how the role of women is slowly changing. You know there are some issues when the best thing a Japanese woman can do for herself is leave the country. If you’re looking for a primer on Japanese culture, this might be overkill, but if you want an even-handed account of Japan as a whole, this book is for you.

  23. 5 out of 5

    AJ Payne

    Audiobook. This was an enjoyable and pretty in depth look at Japan over the past 150 years, focused on how they have changed and adapted to the different circumstances they found themselves in (both self made and externally imposed). The sociologist in me loved the parts about Japanese people and society and how they behave in different situations and the good and bad things in Japan. The part of me that dislikes economics (which is a big part, and is one of the main reasons I will never be wealt Audiobook. This was an enjoyable and pretty in depth look at Japan over the past 150 years, focused on how they have changed and adapted to the different circumstances they found themselves in (both self made and externally imposed). The sociologist in me loved the parts about Japanese people and society and how they behave in different situations and the good and bad things in Japan. The part of me that dislikes economics (which is a big part, and is one of the main reasons I will never be wealthy) thought there was a bit too much talk about that. But then, that is the overarching narrative of Japan since the 1950s so necessary... just not always my cup of tea. I also learned a lot about the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear meltdown disaster of 2011 that I heard the wave tops of in the news then but never really looked into the details. That was enjoyable and fascinating. The author uses that story as a window into Japanese government, politics, and society and I think it works.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    Bending Adversity is a good overview of Japan's recent political history. Pilling does not offer any particularly new insight or detail that people who follow Japan closely would be greatly interested in, but it is still refreshing to hear his informed views and a few new anecdotes. While Pilling's narrative is fair and accurate, he avoids taking any stances on the contentious political issues facing Japan, and does not provide a fully balanced perspective. For example, Pilling does a good job b Bending Adversity is a good overview of Japan's recent political history. Pilling does not offer any particularly new insight or detail that people who follow Japan closely would be greatly interested in, but it is still refreshing to hear his informed views and a few new anecdotes. While Pilling's narrative is fair and accurate, he avoids taking any stances on the contentious political issues facing Japan, and does not provide a fully balanced perspective. For example, Pilling does a good job briefly covering the problems with hyper-nationalism in Japan and its effect on damaging relations with China, but he does not highlight the degree to which China and Korea exploit the views of revisionists in Japan at the expense of more popular views and Japan's 70-year track record of peace and aid. Pilling also does not fully put into context the basing issues on Okinawa, accurately describing the resentment many locals have towards the American presence there, but not covering the strategic importance of the base to both Japan and the US, making it unlikely that the protesters will prevail. Overall, this book would be best appreciated by somebody who is not familiar with Japan's recent history. Those who area already very familiar with Japan should probably skip it.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Colin

    Well written and timely, even if it is 7 years old. From what I've read about Japan's recent struggles, including economic recession, post-tsunami destruction, Fukushima nuclear disaster, I see US heading down the same path of stagnancy, potential deflation of prices, loss of jobs and inflationary monetary policy as well as continuing loss of trust, respect for ruling government parties. On top of that, the younger generation sees jobs drying up. Many are stuck in temporary jobs with no benefits Well written and timely, even if it is 7 years old. From what I've read about Japan's recent struggles, including economic recession, post-tsunami destruction, Fukushima nuclear disaster, I see US heading down the same path of stagnancy, potential deflation of prices, loss of jobs and inflationary monetary policy as well as continuing loss of trust, respect for ruling government parties. On top of that, the younger generation sees jobs drying up. Many are stuck in temporary jobs with no benefits, living with their parents, getting lost in video games, fantasy and not getting married, nor starting families. Japan has wrestled with this for more than 20 years. In reading this, I feel like I'm reading about the next two decades in the US.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Clara Loh

    So much focus of the earthquake/tsunami in Japan 2011 was focused on the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. This book gave so many alternate perspectives on "what else" and sheds new light on the effects of the disaster on the lives of Japanese. It also goes further to give a glimpse into Japanese society and psyche, even mentioning that it is not possible to do so. The abundance of historical references also help to build a foundation for those who don't know Japan that well from various angles - econ So much focus of the earthquake/tsunami in Japan 2011 was focused on the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. This book gave so many alternate perspectives on "what else" and sheds new light on the effects of the disaster on the lives of Japanese. It also goes further to give a glimpse into Japanese society and psyche, even mentioning that it is not possible to do so. The abundance of historical references also help to build a foundation for those who don't know Japan that well from various angles - economical, political, social etc. The book was also sectioned into themes which allows one to savour certain chapters and skip or glimpse through chapters of less interest. Overall, really enjoyed the book that was packed full of goodness.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Andy

    A history of Japan mostly focused on the period from the stock market crisis in the late 90s until the recent tsunami and nuclear meltdown at Fukushima (2011). The author investigates the nature of Japanese culture and how the events of Meiji restoration (1868) through the rise of imperialism and militarism, culminating in defeat during WWII, influenced the current views and behaviours of their society. An interesting and informative account, relating facts and events in a way that attempts to r A history of Japan mostly focused on the period from the stock market crisis in the late 90s until the recent tsunami and nuclear meltdown at Fukushima (2011). The author investigates the nature of Japanese culture and how the events of Meiji restoration (1868) through the rise of imperialism and militarism, culminating in defeat during WWII, influenced the current views and behaviours of their society. An interesting and informative account, relating facts and events in a way that attempts to reasonably assign cause and effect to national traits and why the Japanese people are seemingly unintegrated into either Asia proper, or the West.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    I used to see it on a shelf a few times and which slowly interested me till I decided to pick up a copy cause I had nothing else to read, and I’m glad to have to read it. prior to reading it I had a vague knowledge about its financial crisis? but didn’t know it went on for two decades. and also the former prime minister " junichiro koizumi" who I had heard about before? but in a book about North Korea to with the Six-party talks part of that book which slight mentioned him being unconventional c I used to see it on a shelf a few times and which slowly interested me till I decided to pick up a copy cause I had nothing else to read, and I’m glad to have to read it. prior to reading it I had a vague knowledge about its financial crisis? but didn’t know it went on for two decades. and also the former prime minister " junichiro koizumi" who I had heard about before? but in a book about North Korea to with the Six-party talks part of that book which slight mentioned him being unconventional compared to previous prime ministers and where this book expanded on it for me in the samurai with a quiff part.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    Pilling succeeded in presenting Japan in all of its facets, both good and bad, admirable and lacking. I learned more about he nation of Japan from this very readable book than probably any other book on this subject. I think I would only be able to start understanding this complex people and their country only by visiting and staying for a period of time longer than I'd be able to afford. The book was written in 2014 and then updated in 2019, so it is very up to date. Pilling succeeded in presenting Japan in all of its facets, both good and bad, admirable and lacking. I learned more about he nation of Japan from this very readable book than probably any other book on this subject. I think I would only be able to start understanding this complex people and their country only by visiting and staying for a period of time longer than I'd be able to afford. The book was written in 2014 and then updated in 2019, so it is very up to date.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Allison Piehl

    I absolutely loved this book. Pilling balances foreign perceptions of Japan, Japanese views of their own country and culture, and his own experiences in the country to produce a captivating analysis of the country's modern political, economic, and social situation. It is both realistic and optimistic. His position with the Financial Times, as well as his journalist's spirit, give him excellent access to a wide variety of interviewees, from Haruki Murakami to small business owners along the tsuna I absolutely loved this book. Pilling balances foreign perceptions of Japan, Japanese views of their own country and culture, and his own experiences in the country to produce a captivating analysis of the country's modern political, economic, and social situation. It is both realistic and optimistic. His position with the Financial Times, as well as his journalist's spirit, give him excellent access to a wide variety of interviewees, from Haruki Murakami to small business owners along the tsunami-ravaged coast. This book reads like a well written New York Times Sunday Edition deep dive that goes on for 318 pages - and please know that I mean that as a terrific compliment. I enjoyed every word.

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