Americans have been present in the Pacific since the dawn of the Republic. At the time of George Washington’s inauguration in 1789, the country consisted of just 13 states huddled along the Atlantic seaboard, but in the geography of sail navigation Boston and New York were just as close to China as were London, Liverpool, and other European ports. More importantly, the United States was by far the largest whaling country in the world, and with the Atlantic increasingly “fished” out, the whales were in the Pacific. The “Canton trade” with China and the whaling grounds of the northern Pacific made the nascent United States the second most important trading country in Asia (after England).

The tsunami in question is of course the one generated by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake—the one which destroyed 650km of Japan’s coastline, killed about 18,500 and swamped the Fukushima power station. It was a disaster by any standard. But Parry has a rather different take. He emphasizes how well-prepared Japan was, and he certainly makes a convincing case that the death and destruction would have been much worse in any other nation.

In his new book Asia Betrayed, John Bell Smithback sets out to prove that British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (with the connivance of US President Franklin Roosevelt) through treachery and deceit lured the Japanese militarists to attack and invade British, Dutch and American possessions in the Far East so that the United States could become a full belligerent with Britain against Germany.

Scientists don’t write autobiographies. That’s strange, really, because in most cases they’re obliged to record everything they do in some sort of laboratory notebook for either patent or publication purposes. Here, though, we have an exception. In Confessions of a Hong Kong Naturalist, Graham Reels recounts 12 years of wading watercourses, slogging through swamps and beating about in the bushes of Hong Kong.

Writers of all stripes tend to dislike discussing their formative years and experiences. Getting to grips with the job of translating one’s understanding of a subject into something publishable tends to be painful enough, without then raking over the process in retrospect. This can lead to a sense, however, that somehow writers arrive fully-formed, with a gift for observation and understanding which requires little practice or refinement. This feeling can be particularly acute in regard to those who write on China, the “university in which no degree is ever granted”, to adapt Stanley Karnow’s phrase, where the gulf between ignorance and understanding often appears so vast.