The Iconoclast: Shinzō Abe And The New Japan

Heir to a conservative political dynasty, Shinzō Abe entered politics burdened by high expectations: that, in ruling Japan, he would change it fundamentally. In 2007, seemingly overwhelmed, he resigned only a year after becoming Japan’s youngest postwar prime minister. Yet, after five years of reflection and reinvention, he masterfully regained the premiership in 2012, and came to dominate Japanese democracy as no leader had done before.

Abe inspired fierce loyalty among his followers. He sidelined political rivals by pursuing an ambitious program of reflating the economy and strengthening the armed forces and national security establishment. And, on the international stage, he staked a leadership role for Japan in Asia, a region being rapidly transformed by the rise of China and India. Abe’s stature only grew in the age of ‘America First’: he took steps to preserve an ironclad relationship with the mercurial US president, and while becoming an undisputed leader of the besieged world order.

In The Iconoclast, veteran Japan-watcher Tobias Harris tells the story of Abe’s meteoric rise and stunning fall, his remarkable comeback, and his unlikely emergence as a global statesman struggling to lay the groundwork for Japan’s survival in a turbulent century.

The Iconoclast will be published by Hurst Publishers worldwide in summer 2020 and is available for preorder now.

More information – including about requests for review or inspection copies – about The Iconoclast is available here. Information about distribution in North America – via Oxford University Press is available here.



“Harris has written the best guide yet to Japan’s subtle but important political shift towards ‘the new conservatives’—its origins, meaning, limitations and failures—of which the country’s longest-serving prime minister, Abe, is the prime exponent.” Bill Emmott, editor of The Economist, 1993–2006, chairman of the Japan Society of the UK, and author of Japan’s Far More Female Future

“Throughout a period of tumult, both international and domestic, Abe has remained a grimly determined steady hand, a conservative force in a world of radical uncertainty. In translucent prose, Tobias Harris is a subtle commentator on Japan and a remarkably sure-footed guide to the inner workings of its longest-serving prime minister in history.” David Pilling, Financial Times, author of Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival

“Harris has very skilfully told one of the great political comeback stories of our era—the fall and rise of not just Abe, but Japan itself. With colourful anecdotes and insightful analysis, the author shows us how Abe, a political blue-blood, pulled off the most remarkable second act in modern Japanese history by being an iconoclast. Harris tells how Abe challenged taboos and broke the mould to help Japan reclaim its confidence, and its rightful place in the world.” Martin Fackler, former Tokyo bureau chief, The New York Times

“A superb biography of Abe, as well as a remarkably detailed political history of Japan, from Abe’s grandfather Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke (1957–60) to Prime Minister Abe. Thoroughly researched, lucidly written. A great achievement.” Ezra Vogel, Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences Emeritus, Harvard University

“No political figure looms larger in Japan’s bid for national renaissance than the country’s longest-serving prime minister, Abe Shinzō. In The Iconoclast Tobias Harris offers a nuanced depiction of the many shades of Abe—from conservative cultural warrior to champion of globalization—and his uneven domestic and international legacy. In telling the story of one man, Harris captures the little appreciated pulses of change redefining Japan.” Mireya Solis, Director, Center for East Asia Policy Studies, The Brookings Institution

“The Iconoclast is a well-written and comprehensive chronicle of the politics and policies of Japan’s longest-serving prime minister.” Gerald L. Curtis, Burgess Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Columbia University

“Tobias Harris’s timely biography expertly uncovers the complex interplay between Abe’s pragmatism and nationalism at a pivotal moment for Japan in the changing international relations of East Asia. Judiciously blending a wealth of Japanese and English-language sources, Harris paints a portrait of Abe that combines historical drama, indis- pensable analysis of Japan’s postwar politics and a brilliant dissection of the strategic ambitions and policy achievements of this most influential of prime ministers.” John Nilsson-Wright, Senior Lecturer, Japanese Politics & IR, University of Cambridge, and Senior Research Fellow for Northeast Asia, Chatham House

“Harris delivers a gripping chronicle of the rise, fall, and rise again of Abe Shinzō, a ‘young politician uniquely burdened by history’. Crafting Abenomics, rebuilding the military, adroitly managing China and the US, Abe rightfully boasted that ‘I am back, and so is Japan’. The Iconoclast is an instant classic of Japanese politics and a must-read to understand how America’s most important ally has been transformed by its most skilful prime minister.” James Shinn, Senior Advisor, US Department of State

“In this crisp, readable and studiously fair biography of one of the world’s most underestimated leaders, Abe, Tobias Harris manages to bring to life Japan’s complex postwar politics, and the struggle to keep the country’s economic edge and nurture a new nationalism in an increasingly combustible region.” Richard McGregor, Senior Fellow at the Lowy Institute, Sydney, and author of The Party and Asia’s Reckoning

“A compelling portrait of Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, tracing both the world that shaped him and his place in history. The Iconoclast faces head-on the controversies that have marked Abe’s career and his determination to strengthen Japan’s geostrategic role and settle the country’s culture war.Tobias Harris is one of the most knowledge- able observers of Japanese politics, and his mastery of the subject is visible on every page.” Yoichi Funabashi, Chairman, Asia Pacific Initiative, former editor-in-chief, Asahi Shimbun

“Much anticipated political biography of a consequential politician by an astute Japan watcher. A vivid portrayal of the rise and the fall, and the resurrection of an unexpected global statesman. Harris has done a superb job in helping us understand who Abe Shinzō is and where he came from. His depiction of Abe is nuanced, reliable and engaging.” Toshihiro Nakayama, Professor, Keio University

“At a time when Japan’s security environment deteriorates amidst China’s aggressive military behaviour and North Korea’s nuclear development, Prime Minister Abe Shinzō has sought to secure Japan by upholding the international order alongside the US and other liberal democracies. Tobias Harris successfully examines Abe’s strategic vision with compelling insight into how his thinking evolved through- out his life.” Yoso Furumoto, Washington Bureau Chief, Mainichi Shimbun