The Iconoclast

Shinzo Abe and the New Japan

August 2020 9781787383104 504pp, 8pp b&w illus
October 2023 9781805260370 504pp, 8pp b&w illus
EU Customers


Shinzo Abe entered politics burdened by high expectations: that he would change Japan. In 2007, seemingly overwhelmed, he resigned after only a year as prime minister. Yet, following five years of reinvention, he masterfully regained the premiership in 2012 and, until his resignation in 2020, dominated Japanese democracy as no leader had done before.

Abe inspired fierce loyalty among his followers, cowing Japan’s left with his ambitious economic programme and support for the security and armed forces. He staked a leadership role for Japan in a region being rapidly transformed by the rise of China and India, while carefully preserving an ironclad relationship with Trump’s America.

The Iconoclast tells the story of Abe’s meteoric rise and stunning fall, his remarkable comeback, and his unlikely emergence as a global statesman who laid the groundwork for Japan’s survival in a turbulent century.


‘Comprehensive and engaging.’ — The Economist

‘In exhaustive detail, [Harris] describes a career of setbacks, half-successes and frustrated ambitions.’ — The Times

The Iconoclast is a definitive, must-read biography of Abe, and will be the standard English-language work on his life and times for years to come.’ — The Japan Times

‘Journalists, scholars – anyone interested in the political evolution of the leading democracy of East Asia – will need to add The Iconoclast to the reading pile.’ — Asia Times

‘Important and outstanding.’ — The Critic

‘Reflecting on the past and speculating the future, the book contains rich insight about Japan under Abe’s government as well as in the coming post-Abe era, which will help us envision Japan’s future.’ — Nikkei Asian Review 

‘Offer[s] in non-specialised language accessible to a general reader detailed coverage of Abe’s family ties to politics, entry into politics, rise to the premiership, and style and substance of governing.’ — Pacific Affairs

A superb biography of Abe Shinzo, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, 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

‘For more than a decade, Shinzo Abe has been the doorknob of international politics — largely unnoticed but functionally crucial. Throughout a period of tumult, both international and domestic, he 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 Shinzo, 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, New York Times

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 S. Harris is Deputy Director of the Indo-Pacific Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. He is a regular commentator on Japanese politics for broadcast media and major world publications, which have included The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and Foreign Policy.

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