Sunday, May 22, 2022

book reviews

Curtis Peebles, Asteroids: A History (Smithsonian, 2000)
That this book is over 20 years old has to be taken into account when it butts up against then-current science, and some of the technical material is wearying, but as a history it's quite entertaining, recounting the early discoveries and the establishment of what these objects were, the gradual systemization of asteroid search in the late 19C, a loss of interest by astronomers in planetary astronomy in the early 20C, and its subsequent revival.
The most delightful chapter is on naming: early asteroids were named for female figures in classical mythology, but these quickly ran out: there were so many asteroids that names had to come from anywhere. There are asteroids named for famous scientists, for authors (there's a Shakespeare and a Tolkien). An asteroid was named San Diego as part of a campaign to keep that city from adopting a form of streetlight that would interfere with the stargazing at Palomar. The climax came in 1985 when some astronomers named an asteroid for their cat, which had served astronomy by keeping them company on lonely nights at the observatory. The controversy that ensued was not so much over naming an asteroid for a cat but for the cat's name. The cat's name was Mr. Spock.
A considerable space is devoted to impacts, but the ones discussed at greatest length (the Cretaceous extinction event, Shoemaker-Levy) were actually comets, while Tunguska, which used to be thought to be a comet but is now believed to be an asteroid, gets much less space.

John J. Stephan, Hawaii Under the Rising Sun: Japan's Plans for Conquest After Pearl Harbor (University of Hawaii, 1984)
This is a strange and disturbing book. I saw a reference to it in an alternate-history article, but this book isn't alternate-history, though it does discuss a surprisingly extensive early-20C literature, both Japanese and American, imagining future Japanese invasions of Hawaii.
The book's ostensible subject takes up a relatively small space: plenty of disputes among rather disorganized-sounding Japanese military planners as to whether they should attack Pearl Harbor, and then whether they should follow up in Hawaii or go off and attack Fiji and Sri Lanka instead. The Battle of Midway shows that the Hawaii-campaigners won the argument, and if the battle had succeeded it would have been followed by a full-scale invasion, details for which are given.
But the bulk of the book is about the ethnically Japanese in Hawaii, the immigrants (issei) and their US-born children (nisei). Stephan emphasizes their ties to Japan: many nisei went there for education; some didn't come back. Under Japanese law, all issei and most nisei were Japanese citizens, even if the nisei were also US citizens (issei weren't allowed to naturalize). Stephan says, in what he treats as a tone of sweet reasonableness, why shouldn't they be loyal to the country of which they were citizens, especially as the country of which they were resident discriminated against them?
But if that's true, it would justify all the hostile enemy-alien treatment that the US government meted out against the Japanese immigrants and their families after the war broke out, and is that really what Stephan is saying? He notes how many nisei showed their US loyalty by signing up with the US Army, but doesn't integrate that into what he says about the community.
Apparently there were issei so sure of Japanese superiority that they were convinced that the news of Japanese surrender in 1945 was a media hoax, and climbed the hills around Pearl Harbor to wait for the Emperor's brother to sail in and accept American surrender, which they expected to occur imminently. But regardless of any of this, the Japanese themselves considered nisei to be hicks and bumpkins - often a disagreeable surprise to nisei visiting Japan - and took very little intelligence data from them.
So this book left me in a muddle of uncertainty.

No comments:

Post a Comment