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Final word on the year’s best reading

Okinawan music rhapsodized, bloody battles retold, thrilling tales unleashed and Japan's gloom exposed — our favorite books of 2010

by Anthony Fensom

Does Japan have a bright future? The pessimists, including apparently most Japanese, would likely answer in the negative amid widespread gloom over the nation’s Heisei Era problems of debt, deflation and demographics. An astute analyst of modern Japan, Tokyo-based academic Jeff Kingston’s latest work does not attempt to hide the varied socio-political ills facing the country, including increasing divorce, suicide and social disparities.

CONTEMPORARY JAPAN: History, Politics, and Social Change Since the 1980s, by Jeff Kingston. Wiley-Blackwell, 313 pp., $34.95 (paper)

But amid the gloom, there is evidence of a new society slowly emerging from the postbubble slump.

“Many countries would love to have Japan’s problems,” Kingston contends. Hope could yet be rekindled should the reformers succeed.

WHEN A BILLION CHINESE JUMP: How China Will Save Mankind — Or Destroy It, by Jonathan Watts. Scribner, 448 pp., $17 (paper)

China’s seemingly unstoppable economic rise has sparked both admiration and fear, with critics fearing the environmental implications of its growing resource demand. The Guardian’s Jonathan Watts presents a wide-ranging expose of a country that could be either “an environmentalist’s worst nightmare” or alternatively, as Beijing’s propagandists might hope, “the world’s first green superpower.”

Rapid industrialization has come at considerable cost, with China possessing 16 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities and an unenvied status as the world’s top greenhouse gas emitter. However, the West also has dirt on its hands, having outsourced much of its pollution to China.

CRISIS ECONOMICS: A Crash Course in the Future of Finance, by Nouriel Roubini and Stephen Mihm. Penguin Press, 368 pp., $27.95 (hardcover)

Known as “Dr. Doom” for his accurate but gloomy predictions, New York University economics professor Nouriel Roubini is credited with predicting the 2008 global financial crisis two years beforehand.

Co-written with historian Stephen Mihm, “Crisis Economics” is a study of the impact of crises on the international financial system and on how they might be prevented in the future.

No fans of the free market, the authors argue for tighter regulations on banks and riskier products such as derivatives, warning that the lessons from the recent economic turmoil and collapse have yet to be learned and that another crisis may be on the horizon.

Anthony Fensom is a freelance journalist and communications consultant.