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Embracing Defeat | [John W. Dower]

Embracing Defeat

This illuminating study explores the ways in which the shattering defeat of the Japanese in World War II, followed by over six years of American military occupation, affected every level of Japanese society. The author describes the countless ways in which the Japanese met the challenge of "starting over", from top-level manipulations concerning the fate of Emperor Hirohito to the hopes, fears, and activities of ordinary men and women in every walk of life.
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Publisher's Summary

Pulitzer Prize, General Nonfiction, 2000

National Book Award, Nonfiction, 1999

In this illuminating study, Dower explores the ways in which the shattering defeat of the Japanese in World War II, followed by over six years of American military occupation, affected every level of Japanese society. He describes the countless ways in which the Japanese met the challenge of "starting over", from top-level manipulations concerning the fate of Emperor Hirohito to the hopes, fears, and activities of ordinary men and women in every walk of life. He shows us the intense and turbulent interplay of conqueror and conquered, West and East, in a way no Western historian has done before.

This is a fascinating portrait of an extraordinary moment in history, when new values warred with the old, and early ideals of demilitarization and radical reform were soon challenged by the United States' decision to incorporate Japan into the Cold War Pax Americana.

©1999 John W. Dower; (P)1999 Blackstone Audio Inc.

What the Critics Say

  • Winner of the 1999 National Book Award for Non-Fiction

"A magisterial and beautifully written book....A pleasure to read." (New York Times)
"An extraordinarily illuminating book....Surely the most significant work to date on the postwar era in Japan." (Wall Street Journal)
"The writing of history doesn't get much better than this....[Dower] deftly situates the political story within a rich cultural context....The book is most remarkable, however, for the way Dower judiciously explores the complex moral and political issues....Dazzling." (Publishers Weekly)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.5 (123 )
5 star
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3.6 (45 )
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Story
3.5 (44 )
5 star
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3 star
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2 star
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Performance
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  •  
    Keith R. Finch Tokyo, Japan 10-09-07
    Keith R. Finch Tokyo, Japan 10-09-07 Member Since 2003
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    "Pulitzer Prize Winner!"

    Hey, why doesn't the description of this book even mention that it won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000? This is a great history that dives into all aspects of Japan under the occupation. It goes way beyond the usual touchpoints of MacArthur, the Emperor and the Constitution to look at things like what (and how little) people ate, the black market, popular magazines, intellectual life, and the sudden reversal in American racist attitudes toward the Japanese when the war ended and democratization, rather than extermination, became the goal. I'd give it a five-star review except that the narrator simply cannot pronounce the Japanese terms properly, or even recognizably in a lot of cases, and there are a lot of Japanese terms in the book. So minus one star for the narrator.


    11 of 11 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Roy Beaumont, TX, United States 05-06-09
    Roy Beaumont, TX, United States 05-06-09 Member Since 2005
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    "Life in Defeat"

    John Dower in "Embracing Defeat" tells the story of the occupation of Japan following the war and how the Japanese life was changed. I came to this book as one who wanted to be informed and frankly expected a dry history. I was disappointed. This is a wonderful, englightening, and engaging story.

    Dower has done the listener a real service by sheding light on the behavior of American forces and the Japanese alike. The transition made by every strata of Japanese society is here in chronological order. He takes the hands of readers and walks them through daily life during that period. He does not white wash the American side nor the Japanese response.

    Dower's description of the stark poverty and starvation among the Japanese is eye opening. As the society was opened, he shares how individuals grew and took advantage of conditions and changes offered them. I was facinated by the ambivalence of the Japanese to their new way of life and how they adapted. Audible listeners will be as well.

    Well written and Dower thanks various individuals who helped with the editing in the forward. The reading is fine, but could be a little more animated. The text is peppered with Japanese language followed by English translation. I found that an informative approach.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Charles Monterey, CA, USA 09-20-08
    Charles Monterey, CA, USA 09-20-08
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    "The Narrator lets the Author Down"

    This is an amazingly complete and fantastically researched history, delving deeply into many elements of late-war and postwar Japan that I knew little or nothing of. The extensive use of Japanese sources adds a most interesting element to the book.

    The narration, however, was well below the quality of the author's work. I do think it would be a challenging book to narrate -- with many Japanese terms -- but that doesn't excuse the many instances of surprising pronunciation of even English terms and the many instances of inappropriate verbal emphasis.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Arthur Philadelphia, PA, USA 02-22-08
    Arthur Philadelphia, PA, USA 02-22-08 Member Since 2004
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    "Superb history"

    Dower does a fantastic job of research. The story of post-war Japan is much more complex than I would have suspected. His history explains a lot about current Japan - the pacifism, the conflicts over Japanese textbook depictions of WWII, and the close ties to the USA. I liked his stories of everyday life, as well as his description of the development of the innovative Japanese post-war constitution and the retention of the Emperor system. I highly recommend this to anyone who wants to understand modern Japan. The reading is also top-notch.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lois BOSTON, MA, United States 02-05-10
    Lois BOSTON, MA, United States 02-05-10 Member Since 2009
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    "If you are interested in history..."

    Having just returned from Japan, I found this book very interesting. It tells the story of the years after WWII and nurtures an understanding not only of how Japan evolved, but also how those years have lead to our current relations with Japan. For those not especially interested in history it will probably drag and be too full of detail, but I found it very informative and thought provoking.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    B. Washburn Ohio 10-05-10
    B. Washburn Ohio 10-05-10 Member Since 2008
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    "Marvelous"

    This is just a fabulous book. If you have any interest at all in history or foreign cultures you'll love this.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Noah New York, New York 08-06-13
    Noah New York, New York 08-06-13 Member Since 2010
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    "Reader cannot pronounce Japanese names!!"
    What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

    Find a reader who can pronounce Japanese names!!


    Would you recommend Embracing Defeat to your friends? Why or why not?

    Yes...in paper form!


    What didn’t you like about Edward Lewis’s performance?

    HE CANNOT PRONOUNCE JAPANESE NAMES. It's just painful to listen to. It's like someone reading Lolita and pronouncing her name "LAHL-it-uh".


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    NJ Singapore 08-19-12
    NJ Singapore 08-19-12 Member Since 2005
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    "Historical narration as it should be"

    History is and should not be a chronicle of wars, battles, their plots and plotters. This book shows the way.

    Future generations will always wonder how economically and politically the world got shaped so radically and quickly post WW2. Nowhere the transformation was bigger and swifter than in Japan. The book provides a sweeping view of the changes in the first seven year of the war - how a starving nation, that agreed to total pacifism, that was still coming to grips with its own defeat and horrors it perpetuated, that had still not grieved its dead or punished those guilty, was on course to become a economic, political and technological giant - and not just a proper nation - in a handful of years.

    It's a story of the vanquished and its victors. The imposition of new ideas, that perhaps drew George W to dream something similar in Iraq. The contrast of what happened in Japan with the economic implosion of Weimar post WW1 or political turmoil of Afghanistan/Iraq post 2001-2 wars must have many more reasons than what is covered here but no such studies can begin without deep knowledge of generally less talked Japan of the 40s.

    The author systematically portrays the wide range of emotions the Japanese felt - from hopeless despair to destitution to guilt to anger towards the establishments (including the emperor) to genuflexion to victors to joy at new freedoms and progress. The book takes a highly unbiased view of the US's own attitudes and actions.

    The book is a great example of what sort of work deserve the highest awards. A masterclass on a highly important historic period and subject.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    Christopher SPRING HILL, FL, United States 01-23-12
    Christopher SPRING HILL, FL, United States 01-23-12 Member Since 2010
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    "Interesting history that is unknown to most"

    This book is interesting is that it covers a part of history unknown to most in the West. How exactly did Japan and the US go from being battle to the death enemies to allies in such a short period of time after the war? How was Japan able to rebuild itself into an economic world superpower so quickly after facing nearly completely destruction?

    This book provides an insight into the period of American occupation in Japan that I had not heard before. The author does a good job I believe of mostly staying neutral but there are certainly times when it slants towards the Japanese perspective -- however that is from the point of view of now when we know the outcome of the occupation. Overall if there is a bias it wasn't strong enough to really bother me.

    The book gives a great feel for how live was in the days / months / years after the war, how people lived, etc -- and from that standpoint it's very interesting. On the downside it sometimes get lost or seems to loose the big picture. The book seems to be more in sections of life or events as opposed to being more along a timeline. This can cause at times issues to overlap or for the author to giver conflicting points of view on the same event -- for example saying censorship pretty much cut off all voices of decent while later spending a chapter talking about something that happened because it was published and wasn't censored. This isn't a huge issue and maybe it was done on purpose -- not really sure.

    Anyways if you have even the remotest interest in this period of time this book is a very good read. I only knock off a star overall because I think the book needed more structure to carry you through the event as they happened.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    S. Stambler LOS ANGELES 01-19-11
    S. Stambler LOS ANGELES 01-19-11 Member Since 2009

    A professor at Dodge College, I teach Film Music. I spent 33 years in the movie business before teaching. I LOVE books and my girls. Ta-Da!

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    "Drier than a text book buried in 30 years of dust"

    I know. It won the pulitzer or was nominated. I have a feeling this would read much better than audio format as I'd like to take Edward Lewis to bed every night to help me fall asleep. I bought this based on some glowing reviews. I haven't finished, but will try to do so... I just wanted to warn the potential buyer that their credit might be better spent. Perhaps this review is unfair, but I can't get past the sleepy narration. The subject fascinates me. I wanted to love this book.

    2 of 4 people found this review helpful
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