Annal: 1999 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for History

Results of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the year 1999.

Book:Embracing Defeat

Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II

John W. Dower

The first definitive history of the transformation of Japanese society under American occupation after World War II. This major new work by America’s foremost historian of modern Japan draws on a vast range of Japanese sources to offer an extraordinarily thorough, complex, and rich analysis of how shattering defeat in World War II followed by over six years of military occupation by the United States affected every level of Japanese society-in ways that neither the victor nor the vanquished could anticipate. Here is the history of an extraordinary moment in the history of Japanese culture, when new values warred with old, and when early ideals of “peace and democracy” were soon challenged by the “reverse course” decision to incorporate Japan into the cold-war Pax Americana. Embracing Defeat chronicles not only the material and psychological impact of utter defeat but also the early emergence of dynamic countercultures that gave primacy to the private as opposed to public spheres-in short, a liberation from totalitarian wartime control. John Dower shows how the tangled legacies of this intense, turbulent, and unprecedented interplay of conqueror and conquered, West and East, wrought the utterly foreign and strangely familiar Japan of today.

Book:Empire Express

Empire Express: Building the 1st Transcontinental Railroad

David Haward Bain

After the Civil War, the building of the transcontinental railroad was the nineteenth century’s most transformative event. Beginning in 1842 with a visionary’s dream to span the continent with twin bands of iron, Empire Express captures three dramatic decades in which the United States effectively doubled in size, fought three wars, and began to discover a new national identity. From self—made entrepreneurs such as the Union Pacific’s Thomas Durant and era—defining figures such as President Lincoln to the thousands of laborers whose backbreaking work made the railroad possible, this extraordinary narrative summons an astonishing array of voices to give new dimension not only to this epic endeavor but also to the culture, political struggles, and social conflicts of an unforgettable period in American history.

Book:The First World War

The First World War

John Keegan

The highest praise greeted the hardcover publication of this engrossing, brilliant book—THE definitive story of the Great War, the war that created the modern world, unleashing the terrors of mechanized warfare and mass death, and establishing the political fault lines that imperil European stability to this day.

Keegan takes us behind the scenes of the doomed diplomatic efforts to avert the catastrophe; he probes the haunting question of how a civilization at the height of its cultural achievement and prosperity could propel itself toward ruin with so little provocation; his panoramic narrative brings to life the nightmarish engagements whose names have become legend—Verdun, the Somme, Gallipoli—as with profound sympathy, he explores the minds of Joffe, Haig and Hindenburg, the famed generals who directed the cataclysm.

Book:Freedom from Fear

Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945

David M. Kennedy

You can think of Freedom from Fear as the academic’s version of The Greatest Generation: like Tom Brokaw, Stanford history professor David M. Kennedy focuses on the years of the Great Depression and the Second World War and how the American people coped with those events. But there the similarities end—and, in terms of the differences, one might begin by noting that the historian’s account is over twice the size of the journalist’s.

Whereas Brokaw made use of extensive interviews, Kennedy relies on published accounts and primary sources, all…

Book:The Holocaust in American Life

The Holocaust in American Life

Peter Novick

A prizewinning historian offers a groundbreaking look at the changing fortunes of Holocaust memory in America and provocatively questions the prominent role it now plays in our political and cultural life.

In recent years the Holocaust has become an important and prominent symbol in American life. It is a cornerstone of how Jews understand themselves and would have others understand them as well as a moral reference point for all Americans, embodied by Washington’s Holocaust Museum, now a national shrine and the repository of lessons all must learn.

While ordinarily historical memories are most vivid in the immediate aftermath of events and fade with the passage of time, in the case of the Holocaust the reverse has been true. During the decades following World War II the Holocaust was not much talked about—even by American Jews. Historian Peter Novick explores with piercing insight the reasons for this long silence, describing…[more]

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