A former history professor, Tom Miller
is a novelist and essayist. His most recent
novel is Full
Court Press (2000). His reviews
and essays have appeared in numerous books,
journals, and newspapers, including The
Encyclopedia of Southern History, American
History Illustrated, the Chicago
Tribune, and the Des Moines Register.
He also is a former Army officer and Vietnam
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Review by Tom Miller
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Despite the fact that World War II began for America in the Pacific, the Pacific theater has traditionally taken a back seat to Europe. Where, for example, is the Band of Brothers for the Pacific? This European bias has obscured the enormity of our accomplishment in rolling up the Japanese Empire and the bloody ferocity of the combat. At Tarawa, an observer noted that "uncommon valor was a common virtue." The same could be said of the Marines, sailors, and soldiers who fought from Guadalcanal to Okinawa. And, their courage and sacrifice have been honored by a small library of uncommon books. With more than a little awe and humility, I have tried to distill those into a list of ten that I believe best tell their story.
As always, my selections were guided by a couple of simple criteria: 1) with so few choices, general accounts tended to trump specific studies, and 2) intelligent and engaging always trumped intelligent and difficult. If you think we've missed something indispensable -- and surely we have -- let us know. Recommend a favorite title or your own list. With those caveats, apologies, and disclaimers, I give you the Top Ten World War II Pacific Theater Books (in alphabetical order):
At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor, by Gordon William Prange
Where it all began and controversial from the beginning. Prange devoted much of his life to investigating the attack, and the result is the most comprehensive account available.
Eagle Against the Sun: The American War With Japan, by Ronald Spector
A Marine veteran and a professional historian, Spector writes from first-hand knowledge of combat, and Eagle Against the Sun is the best one-volume history of the Pacific War. Honorable Mention: Samuel Eliot Morrison's fifteen volume History of United States Naval Operations in World War II.
Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle, by Richard B. Frank
Landmark. Decisive. Crucial. Guadalcanal was all that and more. Frank's is the best among a number of outstanding accounts. Honorable Mention: Guadalcanal Diary, by Richard Tregaskis.
The Making of the Atomic Bomb, by Richard Rhodes
This is the definitive study of the single most significant event of the twentieth century. Honorable Mention: Hiroshima, by John Hersey.
Once An Eagle, by Anton Myrer
The acclaimed novel of two wars and two very different Army officers. A favorite among military professionals, it has been on the Army Chief of Staff's list of recommended reading and the Marine Commandant's Reading List. It doesn't get much better than this. Honorable Mention: James Jones' From Here to Eternity or The Thin Red Line.
Stilwell and the American Experience in China, by Barbara Tuchman
Tuchman won the Pulitzer Prize for her study of General Stilwell and his long attachment to China. During World War II, Stilwell oversaw the building of the famous Burma Road and clashed with Chiang Kai-shek in his role as commander of American forces in China. A brilliant account of an overlooked theater.
Strong Men Armed: The United States Marines Against Japan, by Robert Leckie
Not to overlook the Army but the Pacific was primarily a Navy and Marine affair. And Leckie's volume is the definite history of the Marine's role in defeating Japan.
Utmost Savagery: The Three Days of Tarawa, by Joseph Alexander
A retired Marine officer and a scholar, Alexander has written a vivid account of one of the bloodiest battles of the war. Honorable Mention: Iwo Jima: Legacy of Valor, by Bill D. Ross.
War and Remembrance, by Herman Wouk
One of the two or three best novels of World War II. The sequel to Winds of War, which focuses on Europe, War and Remembrance follows the war as it unfolds in the Pacific.
With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, by Eugene B. Sledge
The best memoir of the Pacific War. Although Sledge doesn't report to the 1st Marine Division until after Guadalcanal, he remains with the unit until the end of the war. If someone is interested in making a Band of Brothers for the Pacific, this memoir would be a good place to start.
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