Pacific Rising

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Simon Winchester, the Pacific correspondent for the MANCHESTER GUARDIAN WEEKLY and the Asia-Pacific editor of CONDE NAST TRAVELER, has successfully used his extensive experience, journalistic acumen, and far-reaching curiosity to create an enlightening and highly personal examination of this daunting subject. Winchester takes a humanistic approach to his subject, using statistics sparingly and only when necessary to validate an assertion. As a result, he provides a view of the Pacific Rim far richer and more revealing than those based on import/export numbers, cultural stereotypes, or carping on the lack of American competitiveness.

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Instead, we are presented a vast mosaic of the history, politics, religions, social conventions, and even national psyches that characterize the fifty-six countries in the grand Pacific mosaic. The book begins with Perry’s arrival in Japan and quickly rollercoasters into topics as diverse as plate tectonics, geopolitics, militarism, commerce, and migration before the ride is over.

Especially valuable in understanding the enigmatic power of the Pacific are Winchester’s discussions of the influence of Confucianism, the history of the yen, the connective role of Chinese migration, and the transformation brought about by rapidly evolving communication systems and advances in transportation.

Equally enlightening is the book’s determination to look beyond the well-known superstars such as Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan and include lesser-known but nonetheless important players such as Australia, Indonesia, the Hawaiian Islands, and the coastal countries of South America.

In the end, Winchester neatly ties this sprawling and ambitious package up with two cities that perfectly represent the dichotomies of the Pacific Rim: Los Angeles and Tokyo. Deftly he illustrate the extremes at the opposite ends of this east-west axis: Los Angeles, a sprawling megalopolis sinking under the weight of the present, and Tokyo, a dynamo fueled by its obsession with the future.

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