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This study of the Great Kanto Earthquake by scholar Charles Schencking, begins not as you might expect, with the cataclysmic temblor of 1923, but with the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011. In this latter event, optimism was predicated on the assumption that swift and decisive action would fulfill the old Japanese adage, “After disasters, prosperity.” In both instances, this proved illusory.

The lesson of this book then, is that post-disaster dreams often fall short. There is nothing new about such disillusionment. One thinks of Christopher Wren’s never-realized road and zoning plans for London after the Great Fire of 1666, or more recently, the global community’s dashed hopes that Haiti would be released from poverty, corruption and disease after its 2010 mega-quake.

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