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BEST BOOKS OF 2011

Hope, and inspired work, from despair of March 11

by Anthony Fensom

Ayear of natural disasters in Japan — and elsewhere — has sparked some of the best writing on the nation seen in decades, as everyone from policy experts to ordinary citizens offered their views on the best route to recovery.

Among the best post-March 11 compilations providing kizuna (bonds of hope) was McKinsey & Company’s excellent “Reimagining Japan: The Quest for a Future That Works,” which urged wide-ranging economic and business reform, and Jeff Kingston’s powerful “Tsunami: Japan’s Post-Fukushima Future,” which showed the folly of ignoring past lessons, concerning both natural and man-made disasters.

Another more personal compilation was the emotional “2:46 — Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake,” a collection of survivor tales evoking both sadness and solidarity. Known on Twitter as “Quakebook,” the work was the brainchild of the anonymous “Our Man in Abiko,” a British teacher living in Chiba Prefecture. Entirely crowd-sourced, it started with a single tweet. “This book was conceived one week after the quake,” the introduction explains. “It was written, edited and completed in seven days to tell people’s stories while their feelings were raw, memories fresh and futures so uncertain.”

As well as raising funds for disaster victims, these and other similar works are worthy additions to the Christmas shopping list for anyone interested in the nation’s future, with a variety of views represented across business, government, sporting and other fields.

Policymakers should take note, too, as McKinsey & Company’s global managing director, Dominic Barton points out in “Reimagining Japan”: “For 20 years, Japan has drifted. To reimagine a brighter future, that must change.”

A worrying trend for readers has been the shrinking number of English-language bookstores worldwide — a trend likely to continue due to Amazon’s global buying power — and the growth of “celebrity” writing, with seemingly every B- or C-lister releasing a biography, cookbook or both.

While disaster may have been the tragic theme of 2011, in 2012 look for the emergence of more works on the rise of China and its implications for Japan, the United States and other members of the established order.

For those seeking a preview, perhaps revisit the “Japan as number one” books of the 1980s and the style will quickly become apparent.