Belatedly comes the very sad news of the death in New York City of James Montel Polachek, 75 years old, on April 27, 2020, of COVID-19. Born in New York, Sept. 4, 1944, educated at Harvard and Berkeley, Jim was quite simply brilliant, first as a violinist and pianist, potentially professional; as a linguist; then — his true calling — as an Asianist. An esteemed friend, he was my predecessor as terminal assistant professor (1978–84) of Asian history at Princeton. Harvard University Press published his field-defining magnum opus, The Inner Opium War, in 1992.
Truly a tortured soul, he married first Machiko Ichiura (divorced 1977) and then Elizabeth Allan (married 1981, divorced 1994). They produced two daughters. Sadly his enduring scholarship was paralleled by a fractured career (he turned, again with great accomplishment, to finance) that chillingly demonstrates how heedlessly our universities waste even the greatest talents. His daughter Jen Monroe, with him at the end, takes solace in his final escape from the devils that pursued him. We can only admire the raw courage he showed, wrestling them long and tenaciously enough to produce a truly great book: the supreme gift to his field, to his colleagues, and to his students today, and yet unborn.