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Account of Post-WWII Japan Earns MIT Professor Pulitzer

By Sanjay Basu


Japanese History Professor John W. Dower was one of two Massachusetts professors who won the Pulitzer Prize on Monday. Dower won the prize for his non-fiction book Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II, and was accompanied by Amherst College Professor Lewis Spratlan, who won the Pulitzer prize for his opera, Life Is a Dream.

Dower’s book examines Japanese-American relations between August 1945 and April 1952, and was written after the professor researched General Douglas MacArthur’s top-down influence on modern Japanese economic and political life.

Before winning the Pulitzer, Dower had already received five awards for the book: the National Book Award for Non-Fiction, the Bancroft Prize in American History, the John K. Fairbank Award for Asian History, the $10,000 Mark Lynton History Prize, and the PEN-New England L.L. Winship award.

Winning the Pulitzer was a surprise however, Dower told reporters, because rumors had surfaced that his book was not a serious contender for the award.

“My surprise quickly turned to joy and I danced around the house with my wife for a minute or two,” Dower told Tech Talk reporters.

This announcement made Dower the second sitting MIT professor to win the Pulitzer. Professor John Harbison of music won the award in 1987 for The Flight Into Egypt.

“He’ll find that this is very good for his life,” Harbison told Tech Talk reporters. “There will be a steady increase in opportunities for his work. He will reach a wider and more inclusive audience.”

Harbison himself recently received national acclaim after his opera “The Great Gatsby” was performed at the Metropolitan Opera House.

But even prior to winning the Pulitzer, Dower was widely recognized for his scholarship in Japanese History.

In 1979, his book Empire and Aftermath: Yoshida Shigeru and the Japanese Experience, 1878-1954 was a bestseller in Japanese translation.

War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War, which he published in 1986, won the National Critics’ Circle Award for nonfiction and the Masayoshi Ohira Memorial Prize in Japan, among other awards.

That year, he produced the documentary film Hellfire: A Journey from Hiroshima, which was nominated for an Academy Award.

Professor Dower is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He joined the MIT faculty in 1991 and was awarded the Elting E. Morison Professorship in the Department of Humanities in 1996. Related stories:

Post WWII History Earns Dower Honor
November 19, 1999