What If

Jonathan Dresner, our most active member here at Frog in a Well has an interesting posting at Cliopatria on the 1000 top OCLC library books by purchase. Dresner looks at the placing of history books in general, and has this to say about Japan related (or at least sounding like they are) books:

Only one Japanese author made the list, “Murasaki Shikibu” for Tale of Genji (#668); but Japan was also the subject of Sullivan and Gilbert’s Mikado (#878), Hersey’s Hiroshima (#333) and Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (#883) (no, it isn’t, I know that).

I haven’t gone through the whole list myself so I can’t say whether there are other entries, but if so, what do we think about this?

For those of us who study Japanese history or the region in general, what 4 books which are set in Japan, are on Japan or about the region might we wish had made the list? Almost all the candidates that immediately come to mind which had a big impact on my own interest in Japan I have since come to feel might be problematic or are too academic to be interesting to the average library patron. I will say, however, that Hersey’s Hiroshima left a profound imprint on me and I’m fairly comfortable with its inclusion.


  1. You beat me to it: I was just working on a separate entry for here. That’s OK.

    My quibble with Hiroshima is that it’s not really there because it’s about Japan: it’s there because it’s about the results of one of the most dramatic US actions of the 20th century.

    What’s missing? Let’s start with Japan’s Nobel Laureates in literature, Oe and Kawabata, not to mention some Chikamatsu (Shakespeare was all over the list, but other dramatists got really short shrift). How about some Haiku books: arguably Japan’s most important contribution to world poetic literature?

    Japanese historians have won two Pulitzer prizes in the last ten years, how about them? Reischauer’s Japan and its peoples is old enough and venerable enough that it ought to be pretty widely distributed by now.

    Pirsig’s Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance is the only book which is even remotely about Buddhism…

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