Professor John W. Dower has won the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction for Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II.
The news was a pleasant surprise to Professor Dower, who'd heard rumors in literary circles that he was not serious contender.
"My surprise quickly turned to joy and I danced around the house with my wife for a minute or two," said Professor Dower, who has held the Elting E. Morison Professorship in the Department of Humanities since 1996. "Then I went back to preparing for my classes like a good MIT professor."
The book previously won the Bancroft Prize in American History, the John K. Fairbank Award for Asian History, the National Book Award for Non-Fiction and the PEN-New England L.L. Winship award. It also received the $10,000 Mark Lynton History Prize awarded by the Neiman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University and the School of Journalism at Columbia University for work that "exemplifies the literary grace and commitment to serious research demonstrated by J. Anthony Lukas, Pulitzer Prize winner in 1968 and 1986." Each Pulitzer Prize winner receives $5,000.
Professor Dower is the second MIT faculty member to be so honored. Institute Professor John Harbison won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1987.
"He'll find that this is very good for his life," said Professor Harbison. "There will be a steady increase in opportunities for his work. He will reach a wider and more inclusive audience."
"John Dower is an historian of the highest caliber who has rightly earned nearly every major prize for Embracing Defeat. He brings great distinction to MIT, its history faculty and the wider humanities. He is a treasure," said Philip S. Khoury, dean of the School of Humanities and Social Science and professor of history.
Embracing Defeat, jointly published by W.W. Norton and the New Press, portrays Japan and Japanese-American relations between August 1945 and April 1952 and explores the still-rippling impact of Gen. Douglas MacArthur's top-down occupation policies on modern Japanese political and economic life.
Professor Dower, 65, came to MIT in 1991 and has spent part of each decade since the 1960s working and studying in Japan. He has written widely on modern Japanese history and culture and on US-Japan relations. His 1986 book, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (Pantheon), won several prizes, including the National Critics' Circle Award for nonfiction in the United States in 1986 and the Masayoshi Ohira Memorial Prize in Japan.
Professor Dower has been widely recognized for his scholarly and innovative use of visual materials and of other expressions of popular culture in reexamining Japanese history. He has published books on Japanese design and Japanese photography as well as on the collaborative "Hiroshima Panels" by two Japanese painters, Iri Maruki and Toshi Maruki. In 1986, he was executive producer of Hellfire: A Journey from Hiroshima, a documentary film on the art of the Marukis, which was nominated for an Academy Award. His 1979 book on that topic, Empire and Aftermath: Yoshida Shigeru and the Japanese Experience, 1878-1954, became a best-seller in Japanese translation.
Professor Dower is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He received the BA from Amherst College and the MA and PhD from Harvard University. At MIT, he was the Henry R. Luce Professor of International Cooperation from 1991-96. Courses he teaches cover the full range of Japanese history from ancient to modern times. His expertise in visual representation is reflected in courses such as as "World War II in Asia: Film, Fantasy, Fact" and "Japan in the Age of the Samurai: History and Film."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 12, 2000.