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This title in other editions

The Great Wave: Gilded Age Misfits, Japanese Eccentrics, and the Opening of Old Japan

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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

When the United States entered the Gilded Age after the Civil War, argues cultural historian Christopher Benfey, the nation lost its philosophical moorings and looked eastward to "Old Japan," with its seemingly untouched indigenous culture, for balance and perspective. Japan, meanwhile, was trying to reinvent itself as a more cosmopolitan, modern state, ultimately transforming itself, in the course of twenty-five years, from a feudal backwater to an international power. This great wave of historical and cultural reciprocity between the two young nations, which intensified during the late 1800s, brought with it some larger-than-life personalities, as the lure of unknown foreign cultures prompted pilgrimages back and forth across the Pacific.

In The Great Wave, Benfey tells the story of the tightly knit group of nineteenth-century travelers — connoisseurs, collectors, and scientists — who dedicated themselves to exploring and preserving Old Japan. As Benfey writes, "A sense of urgency impelled them, for they were convinced — Darwinians that they were — that their quarry was on the verge of extinction."

These travelers include Herman Melville, whose Pequod is "shadowed by hostile and mysterious Japan"; the historian Henry Adams and the artist John La Farge, who go to Japan on an art-collecting trip and find exotic adventures; Lafcadio Hearn, who marries a samurai's daughter and becomes Japan's preeminent spokesman in the West; Mabel Loomis Todd, the first woman to climb Mt. Fuji; Edward Sylvester Morse, who becomes the world's leading expert on both Japanese marine life and Japanese architecture; the astronomer Percival Lowell, who spends ten years in the East andwrites seminal works on Japanese culture before turning his restless attention to life on Mars; and President (and judo enthusiast) Theodore Roosevelt. As well, we learn of famous Easterners come West, including Kakuzo Okakura, whose The Book of Tea became a cult favorite, and Shuzo Kuki, a leading philosopher of his time, who studied with Heidegger and tutored Sartre.

Finally, as Benfey writes, his meditation on cultural identity "seeks to capture a shared mood in both the Gilded Age and the Meiji Era, amid superficial promise and prosperity, of an overmastering sense of precariousness and impending peril."

Review:

"Conveying both rapture and disappointment with Japanese culture, Benfey draws a sophisticated portrait of the period's personalities." Booklist

Review:

"The close-up brilliance of Christopher Benfey's depiction of the early stages of the encounter between sophisticated representatives of the American Gilded Age and those of nineteenth-century Japan required an assured grasp of both cultures, their assumptions and envies, their gifts and weaknesses, their humor and lack of it. He has portrayed this mutual loss of virginity with grace, wit, and a range of reference that re-echoes the original astonishments and is a pleasure to read." W. S. Merwin

About the Author

Benfey teaches in the English Department at Mount Holyoke College.

Product Details

ISBN:
9780375754555
Author:
Benfey, Christopher E. G.
Publisher:
Random House Trade
Author:
Benfey, Christopher
Subject:
Asia - Japan
Subject:
Japan
Subject:
World History-Japan
Subject:
japan;history;non-fiction;art
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20040831
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
PHOTOS THROUGHOUT
Pages:
352
Dimensions:
8.02x5.32x.77 in. .58 lbs.

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Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Asia » Japan » Modern 1868 to 1945
History and Social Science » US History » Revolution and Constitution Era
History and Social Science » World History » Japan

The Great Wave: Gilded Age Misfits, Japanese Eccentrics, and the Opening of Old Japan New Trade Paper
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Product details 352 pages Random House Trade - English 9780375754555 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Conveying both rapture and disappointment with Japanese culture, Benfey draws a sophisticated portrait of the period's personalities."
"Review" by , "The close-up brilliance of Christopher Benfey's depiction of the early stages of the encounter between sophisticated representatives of the American Gilded Age and those of nineteenth-century Japan required an assured grasp of both cultures, their assumptions and envies, their gifts and weaknesses, their humor and lack of it. He has portrayed this mutual loss of virginity with grace, wit, and a range of reference that re-echoes the original astonishments and is a pleasure to read."
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