John W. Dower was born in 1938 in Providence, Rhode Island. He received his B.A. in American Studies from Amherst College and his Ph.D. in History and Far Eastern Languages from Harvard. From 1971 to 1986, he taught history at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and from 1986 to 1991 he was the Joseph Naiman Professor of History and Japanese Studies at the University of California, San Diego. Since 1991, he has been the Henry R. Luce Professor of International Cooperation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Dower's 1986 book, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War, won several prizes in the U.S., including the National Book Critics Circle Award for non-fiction, as well as the Masayoshi Ohira Memorial Prize in Japan. His 1999 book Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II won the Pulitzer Prize, the Bancroft Prize, and the National Book Award. It has been hailed as a major contribution to studies of the postwar Occupation era and will be published in Japanese by Iwanami.
Another theme in Dower's scholarship has been the linkages and discontinuities between prewar and postwar Japan. He examined political and international aspects of this in Empire and Aftermath: Yoshida Shigeru and the Japanese Experience, 1878-1954. First published in 1979, this study of Japan's most famous political leader became a best-seller in Japanese translation and recently has been issued in both English and Japanese paperback editions. Dower's most recent book, Japan in War and Peace (1994) contains twelve essays on a range of prewar and postwar topics.
Dower is also strongly interested in film and other expressions of popular culture in reexamining Japanese history. He has published books on Japanese design and photography, as well as on the collaborative "Hiroshima Murals" of the painters Iri and Toshi Maruki. In 1986, he was executive producer of a documentary film about the Marukis, titled Hellfire: a Journey from Hiroshima, which was nominated for an Academy Award.