Her affection for empire makes Jan Morris a curiously old-fashioned writer. She has written elegant, mournful studies of odd, amphibious cities ... Morris’s new book, Battleship Yamato: Of War, Beauty and Irony, is a culmination of all this. A study of a symbol, it is an allegory of imperial folly and decline that reads like a historical daydream: not about a city, but something almost as big ... This is not a book for military historians, political scientists or pacifists. Morris describes it at the start as an 'illustrated reverie,' and she writes as one enchanted by this grand spectacle.
Perhaps best known for her grand descriptive powers as a travel writer, Morris, now 91, has also written acclaimed works of history and biography ... The short, illustrated book Morris has written about the Yamato is what she calls 'a reverie' on the varied emotions that war summons up, including 'pride and splendour,' 'sacrifice,' 'squalor' and 'carnage.' I think it's safe to say that Morris has also written a reverie on accepting the inevitability of death ... This book itself signals yet another end: Certainly, it will be one of the very last books written about World War II by an author who saw active service in that war. That sobering fact only adds to the elegiac resonance of this magnificent little book.
This is an elegantly written work, a meditation on conflict and courage that verges on poetry ... The trouble with this slender volume is that too often the meditations seem like a stretch ... At times Ms. Morris is better at the history than the reverie ... 'If there is much misery to Yamato’s story, there is beauty too,' Ms. Morris writes, but the beauty is hard to divine here, expect perhaps in one of the book’s final images, an underwater view of the warship at its resting place. You can make out the chrysanthemum crest of imperial Japan, still visible in a photograph made seven decades after the sinking. Terrible beauty, indeed.