Ezra Vogel is a Harvard educated and based scholar on the Far East. He has published 10 or so books on the area, including ones on China, Korea, and "the four tigers." In 1979, when this work was published, it advanced the controversial thesis that America had already been eclipsed economically. Japan's success was primarily attributed to the flexibility and willingness of their governing institutions to do what worked, shorn of ideological considerations. And, they had an "industrial policy," with the government picking and supporting likely "winners," and closing down the "losers."
There is an old adage on Wall Street that when a company makes the cover of a popular news magazine, touted as a success, then it is time to sell it short. All the good news has been "fully discounted." Vogel's book was a bit too "cutting edge" to merit the same fate. Japan continued to flourish, as he indicated, for another entire decade, before its ludicrous real estate "house of cards" collapsed in 1989 (as one indicator, the land under the Imperial Palace in Tokyo was valued at more than all the land in California). Hum, real estate "games" does have a familiar ring.
Vogel is knowledgeable. He had been visiting Japan annually, for extended periods, for two decades prior to this work's publication. His first chapter is entitled the Japanese "miracle" and recounts how it quickly recovered from the utter devastation of World War II. In part, the "clean slate" allowed them to have a fresh look, and actually make changes in the way their society was organized, with very real poverty being a constant goad to pragmatism. He says that if there is a single factor that explains their success, it is a group-directed quest for knowledge. Although it has a strange ring to American ears, the phrase "dedicated government bureaucrat," specifically and in particular, those who worked at M.I.T.I. (Ministry of International Trade and Industry) and who ran their "industrial policy" were also an essential component to Japan's success. Vogel devotes chapters to their political institutions and practices (hint: they were no dysfunctional deadlocks), to their large companies that were promoted to be global competitors, as well as chapters on their basic education, crime control and welfare, key societal components whose smooth functioning supported their economic efforts.
A few of the key observations that I noted: Japanese society was far more equalitarian than America's in 1970, with an income ratio of 4.3 between the highest and lowest quintile in Japan compared to 7.1 in the USA( and that was 1970, long before the aggrandizement of the 1%); Japan had 10,000 lawyers compared to 340,000 in the USA; and perhaps most importantly, in the USA, "we have supported egoism and self-interest and have damaged group or common interests" (the Ayn Rand syndrome?)
Vogel was no Pollyanna; he identified the problems, but he was not prescient enough to predict the factors that would led to Japan's stagnation over the last two decades, and even suggest that China might eclipse Japan in turn. I do note his recent book, published in 2011, Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China might provide some insights. Overall, a solid achievement, that is now somewhat dated. 4-stars.