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We Were Burning: Japanese Entrepreneurs And The Forging Of The Electronic Age Paperback – September 24, 1999


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Freelance journalist Bob Johnstone shatters the stereotypes of Japanese entrepreneurs as uncreative copycats and reveals the spirit, competitive zeal, and perfectionism that drive high-tech companies like Sony, Sharp, and Canon. "It is hard to imagine such faceless drones as brave risk takers, betting their companies on some new and unproven technology," Johnstone writes about the Japanese in We Were Burning.

The book documents how Japan launched the revolution in consumer electronics--often by seizing on technology initially developed in the U.S. and vastly improving it. For instance, it was an American company, RCA, that announced the creation of liquid crystal displays (LCD) in New York in 1968. Another American giant, Hewlett-Packard, pursued the technology and then abandoned it out of frustration by 1980. But Japan's Seiko and Sharp persisted in the development of LCDs: the devices now are now found in everything from watches to calculators and laptops to flat-screen TVs. The book profiles people like Sharp's Sasaki Tadashi, nicknamed "Doctor Rocket" for his boundless energy, and companies like Seiko, which began more than 100 years ago as a maker of clocks and watches. It also offers some insights about the future of such technologies as digital photography. At the same time, We Were Burning provides a historical and cultural context for Japan's incredible technological achievements. The book contains some valuable lessons for U.S. business managers. It's also worthwhile reading for people interested in the technology underpinning modern machines, including compact-disc players, laser printers, and multimedia computers. Johnstone, who has written for New Scientist and Wired and been a journalism fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is convinced that the entrepreneurial spirit of the Japanese people will pull the country back from any economic mess. "In the past, the Japanese have repeatedly demonstrated their resilience-- especially when their backs are against the wall." --Dan Ring --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The commercialization of semiconductor technologies, largely dominated by Japan, brought us such marvels as hand calculators, quartz watches, liquid crystal displays and TVs, camcorders and synthesizers, improved solar cells and lasers, light-emitting diodes, CD players and printers. Journalist Johnstone, who has written for Wired, is clearly well versed in the history of electronic technology and takes us device-by-device "from invention through commercial application." The narrative encompasses the evolution of dynamic firms such as Sony, Canon, Casio, Seiko and Sharp, and key research contributions of scientists from Bell Labs, RCA and other U.S. companies. Johnstone explains how brave, motivated visionaries in mid-level Japanese companies consistently managed to capitalize on discoveries of U.S. research that rivals were unable to bring to market. He flatly contradicts a prevalent view that Japanese industry owes its technological success to monolithic government-sponsored consortia that took perhaps undue advantage of the West. Rather, Johnstone identifies vital individuals and pivotal company policies, weaving material from about a hundred interviews into an account seasoned with biographical sketches and remarks from the oral histories that capture the flavors of research environments and entrepreneurial management. Comprehensive, smartly written and accessible to the lay reader, this book provides a definitive?virtually encyclopedic?account of how the Japanese consumer electronic industry won the world.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (September 24, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465091180
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465091188
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,380,361 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Bob Johnstone (Melbourne, Australia) is the author of Brilliant!: Shuji Nakamura and the Revolution in Lighting Technology; We Were Burning: Japanese Entrepreneurs and the Forging of the Electronic Age; and Never Mind the Laptops: Kids, Computers, and the Transformation of Learning. He has also contributed numerous articles on technology to Forbes, Nature, New Scientist, MIT Technology Review, Wired, and the Far Eastern Economic Review.

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
5 star
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4 star
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See all 11 customer reviews
Bob's comprehensive research and writing style made it easy to read and informative.
A. Huang
One bonus is the fascinating portrayal of leading edge developments at major US labs who then fumbled the transfer to products.
H. Brandt
Johnstone weaves this information into a well-written format that reminds one of a good novel.
Tustin Guy

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Tustin Guy on January 6, 2000
Format: Paperback
"We Were Burning" is an amazing book for those interested in the history behind today's technology. It is extremely well researched with many details previously unknown (or only hinted about) until now. Johnstone weaves this information into a well-written format that reminds one of a good novel. Also, the book is divided into logical chapters which allows those of us with particular technology interests to focus on the sections of most importance. (I have re-read "Doctor Rocket Goes to Disneyland" at least three times by itself.)
Also, the extreme importance of this book is that it offers a comprehensive history of Japanese electronic developments for the English-language speaker. Too often we hear the of the successes of the North American and European industries, but the important Japanese contributions and accomplishments are rarely detailed. Well, no more!
Buy this book! You will be glad you did!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 31, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I found this book totally fascinating. Johnstone's journalistic background serves him well --- he's a great writer, and this is a fun read. Far more important than that, however, is that the book turns on its head the notion that Japan's post-war high-technology industries were built or directed by faceless government bureaucrats. Johnstone demonstrates (I think extremely compellingly) that passionate, stubborn, visionary, engineers and scientists drove much of Japan's post-war success in technology. This book is their story. I loved it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By The Spectator2 on April 8, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the best books in the topics of research and development in microelectronics. I was so fascinated by the actual human stories of how unknown researchers and engineers were heavily involved in the process of great innovations through each carrier. In particular, as myself a research engineer, I came across one great common truth throughout the reading : g The great motivations for work are not inspired by financial richness but by individual curiosities leading to a far-sighted vision.h . Probably It may be a quite common sense among researchers and engineers. This book also brought about the fair-minded and objective look for research and development implemented by particularly USA and Japan. This vivid and unique approach could get one out from the stereo-type of idea about the general policies and individual attitudes of science and engineering at both countries. For example, the myth of MITI is not actually representing the great success of Japanese microelectronics industry. Japan could not have developed such highly creative products without having such highly-motivated personalities. However, one thing which I wonder is the difference between English original version and the Japanese one. Compared to two books, the Japanese version did not duplicate the exact same content of English version. Individual photos and some descriptions for example about the dispute between MITI and professor Nishizawa were carefully eliminated from the original English version without any excuse from the translator. I am quite curious to be aware whether the translator got a sort of permission to do so from Mr. Bob Johnstone, who is an author of this book. Otherwise, this book is highly recommended to everybody who wishes to understand the actual story behind the remarkable development of IC chip.
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By Lobsterfrosting on February 21, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a pretty good book about how the electronics industry has developed in Japan (mostly) and the rest of the world. I do not like the authors use of 'hole flow' which was unfortunately taught to me when I went to AT school in the navy. Hole flow is retarded if you know anything about the molecular level of electronics. Otherwise, this book is very good and interesting.
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Format: Hardcover
This book provides a great historical perspective on the developement of electronic technology in Japan and US. The author does a great job summarizing the events that has shaped today's electronics. I highly recommend this book to people interested in history of science or Japanese electronic industry.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This Book well brings back memories of my youth and my Dad's work with Mitsutomi at Hycom. It reminds me of his work an the fruits of his labor, the current proliferation of flat screens and Digital communications.
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