Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan 
Herbert P. Bix 
Harpercollins, $35 (cloth)
After the end of World War II, Japan's Emperor Hirohito was not called to the Tokyo war crimes trial. Instead, countless of his associates in government and the military (sometimes coached by lawyers for the Allied Powers) produced testimony that deflected any blame from the Showa Tenno and onto the military. Hirohito remained a figurehead until his death in 1989, and he went to the grave generally seen as the victim of a rapacious military. Since then, however, documents have come to light indicating his direct involvement in Japan's conduct in Asia and the Pacific. Drawing on these sources—often revealing startling facts—Bix describes how a tentative young emperor took greater control of an expanding war with the goal of capturing all of East Asia. The military first pulled Hirohito into the war effort by fabricating an attack by Chinese forces in Manchuria. Though at first reluctant to act and angry at his failure to control the military, Hirohito quickly saw that to stay in power he would have to work with the generals. Hirohito's shy, passive public image was not entirely inaccurate, Bix argues, but that persona covered up his fierce will for self-preservation and his political cunning. In the end, the book makes a compelling argument that postwar Japan might have fared better had the man who held "divine responsibility" for the fate of the nation owned up—at any time during the next forty years of his reign—to his role in the war.
—Landon Thorpe
Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory 
David W. Blight 
Belknap Press at Harvard University Press, $29.95 (cloth)
In this book, David Blight tries to understand the past and also how we remember it; more importantly, he realizes that our memories grow into our history. In Race and Reunion, Blight demonstrates this phenomenon by examining how Americans treated their own recent history during the first fifty years following the Civil War. The sheer bloodiness of the war and its myriad intimate losses demanded, for the living, some kind of greater meaning. Blight shows how the task of remembering came down to two competing desires: sectional healing and racial justice. Many Americans found meaning in a vision of reconciliation, a happy ending in the form of renewed national unity and strength. But for others, especially former slaves struggling to make a new place for themselves, the Civil War had not settled enduring debates about equality; emancipation, with its new human geography, created its own set of difficulties and questions for the nation. Those questions were not answered, at least in the short term, as the sentiment of reunion promised greener, or perhaps just easier, pastures. And so America began to turn its back on race. We know, from our own memories, the result: America's geographical fragments grew together while its races grew apart.
—Susan McWilliams
Banvard's Folly 
Paul Collins 
Picador USA, $25 (cloth)
For this book, Paul Collins set up camp in library basements to excavate the lost quirks and quacks of history. The forgotten souls he unearthed are intriguing as much for their once-dazzling fame as for their current anonymity. Banvard's Folly is a collection of mini-biographies of bona fide artists and brilliant charlatans, linked by the thread of ephemeral notoriety. Whether proven failures or proven irrelevant, these men—and one woman—were stubborn in the pursuit of invention, money, respect, and renown. Among them: Alfred E. Beach, who proposed building a pneumatic subway line in nineteenth-century New York; Jean Francois Sudre, who developed a language using musical notes as a means of universal communication; and John Banvard, who built a "Three Mile Painting" of the Mississippi shoreline. In picking apart the often comical ebb and flow of these characters' renown, Collins renders their outlandishness—though by compressing centuries of fact into bubbly narration, he teeters precariously toward historical fiction. Collins calls himself a "collector of obscurity," but in truth his research scrutinizes what he calls "the only real sin in America … failure." "Vivas to those who hav fail'd!" cried Walt Whitman.Banvard's Folly shows how we can chase history's spotlight, even when its shine proves elusive.
—Mercer Hall
The Other Boston Busing Story: What's Won and Lost across the Boundary Line 
Susan Eaton 
Yale University Press, $26.95 (cloth)
The title of The Other Boston Busing Story is misleading in that the book tells not one, but a multitude of stories about the participants of METCO, a voluntary school desegregation program in the Boston metropolitan area. Via METCO, African-American students have been commuting to suburban schools, sometimes riding buses for two hours each way, for the past 34 years. In the book, 65 former participants recount their past and present conceptions of race, education, socioeconomic status, and—although they don't label it as such—social and cultural capital. Their experiences show that, overall, METCO has had a positive effect in the long run on students in the program, even when it did not appear to help at the time. In particular, METCO participants learned to be fluid "cultural translators" of both white-dominated and black-populated worlds much earlier than those who were not bussed. The sheer volume of participant testimony and author commentaries in this book errs on the side of exhaustiveness, as some material begins to lose poignancy when it is repeatedly drilled into the reader. Nevertheless, this book clarifies key issues involved in forming a multicultural society via school desegregation and should facilitate constructive debate on education policy.
—Celina Su
Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books 
H. J. Jackson 
Yale University Press, $27.95 (cloth)
The scribbles, symbols, notes, and questions that all of us, at one time or another, have written in our books are here explored in careful and scholarly detail. Marginalia examines these annotations as conversations between readers and authors, readers and themselves, and among readers of the same book, conversations that are significant both historically and psychologically. In explaining why readers mark up books, Jackson avoids the romantic notion that marginalia reveal a reader's spontaneous, innermost thoughts; the writer of marginalia, she argues, often seeks the approval of the next reader of the annotated book, "the silent audience that will sooner or later witness the performance." Jackson takes us through several case studies of marginalia—from Coleridge's many annotations to anonymous comments in library copies. Rather than trying to impose characteristics that unite all of them, she wisely lets each case study stand in its own uniqueness. Underneath its scholarly precision, Jackson's prose has a proselytizing edge; she urges us to think about the marginalia that we come across and hopes our libraries will preserve annotated books. But perhaps her most passionate plea is for us to ignore our prudish desire to keep our books pure and clean in their margins, to "throw off the mind-forged manacles and take a pencil to [our] books."
—Tara Neelakantappa
A Life in the 20th Century: Innocent Beginnings, 1917-1950 
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. 
Houghton Mifflin, $28.95 (cloth)
The subtitle of this book ought to be "Privileged Beginnings of a Precocious Scholar." By 21, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. had been to Exeter, taken a 'round-the-world tour, graduated from Harvard College, spent a year at Cambridge University, and published an important political biography. By thirty, he had been in the Harvard Society of Fellows, published The Age of Jackson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning best-seller, served in the wartime OSS, and won a faculty appointment alongside his father in the Harvard history department. And still, his most important achievements were before him, and won't be recounted until the second volume of this autobiography. Junior, as he was known, is the most influential American historian of the twentieth century, with the reading public if not with his guild. In this volume, he writes about his intellectual and political formation in the 1930s and '40s while providing high-quality gossip about his many friends and acquaintances in and out of Cambridge and Washington. He singles out Perry Miller, Felix Frankfurter, Bernard Devoto, John Kenneth Galbraith, Archibald MacLeish, Samuel Eliot Morison, Reinhold Niebuhr, Joseph Alsop, and Isaiah Berlin, and explains the history of the martini and the importance of the bow tie to a gentleman's wardrobe. Though not an intimate memoir, his book does two things very well. Schlesinger explains how his own times shaped his writing about politics and ideas in nineteenth-century America. And he vividly demonstrates what it meant to be a political liberal in America in the early years of the Cold War. No matter how committed to achieving an egalitarian society he and other liberals were, that goal was subordinate to the goal of defeating the Soviet Union and discrediting its supporters on the American left. Junior has remained a liberal throughout his 84 years; how he managed to do so should be the focus of his sequel.
—Philip S. Khoury