Our Man in Tokyo

Our Man in Tokyo by Steve Kemper

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for Our Man in Tokyo:

Ohhhhh, so that’s why Pearl Harbor happened.

Quick synopsis:

The story of how Japan ultimately chose to attack the U.S. from the perspective of the American ambassador, Joseph Grew.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

The Japanese emperor was seen as infallible, so he was never allowed to make any decisions because then he might be wrong.

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

Mein Kampf was available in Japan. It was edited a bit for obvious reasons.

My Take on Our Man in Tokyo:

Growing up, history tends to drop Japan into World War II with the attack on Pearl Harbor. A more thorough history will mention the horrific actions in China, but otherwise, not much more ink is spilled on Japan in U.S. textbooks. Well, guess what? Turns out there is a lot more to the story!

Luckily, Steve Kemper is here to write a book about Japan before Pearl Harbor. And even luckier, Ambassador Joseph Grew was the diplomat in Japan during the ramp up to war. Grew is not a name you hear often, but he is absolutely vital in telling this compelling story. Kemper clearly had a lot to work with due to Grew’s diaries and documents which show a slow and disjointed march towards war. For me, a book needs two main things for it to be great. The story itself needs to be interesting and the author needs to tell it in a compelling way. Both are fully on display here. Japan was far from a country of bloodthirsty people hell bent on conquering the world. In fact, Kemper makes a hypothetical case that Pearl Harbor was far from a fait accompli.

Kemper is a very gifted writer. I consistently forgot that this book is a tremendous amount of political back and forth. This book could have easily felt like someone was reading Grew’s journals back to you. Instead, Kemper presents Grew’s words and provides insight which makes this book read like a thriller. It cannot be understated how much Kemper’s writing takes this book from good history to great read.

(This book was provided to me as an advance copy by Netgalley and Mariner Books.)


If you like World War II at all, this is a must read. It explains so much that you won’t find anywhere else. Buy it here!

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