Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 18 Jun 2018
The Dec 1941 raid on Pearl Harbor was the event that brought the United States into WW2. The suddenness of the attack and the resulting death of over 2,000 people decidedly ended the isolationist sentiment that was ran strong up to the day of the attack, and the US belligerence would ultimately lead the country to become a superpower in the modern world.
Author Craig Nelson's Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness, published in 2016, added to a long list of books dedicated to this raid. I had wanted to like this book. First of all, on the attack itself, the book was fairly comprehensive, covering everything from Minoru Genda's planning to Kazuo Sakamaki's capture, from Husband Kimmel's surprise to Kenneth Taylor and George Welch's flight. The author's extensive research was evident, shown through the multi-pronged approach via histories from official sources, memoirs of participants, and interviews. But at the same time, three flaws bothered me. First, not a significant amount of new information were found in this book, thus Nelson was ultimately rehashing information that had already been readily available. Then, I found the author to be unable to curb his tendency to stray off topic. Was Commodore Matthew Perry's intimidation directly relevant to the Pearl Harbor raid? Why did the author spend so many pages on the nitty-gritty details of Doolittle Raid? Finally, there were simply far too many factual errors (eg. "AH" running out of water), misrepresentations (eg. noting that station HYPO surviving Pearl Harbor intact was a Japanese "strategic error"), and even silly mistakes (eg. "George" MacArthur) for me to truly think the author treated his book project seriously.
I had reviewed this book in its audio book format. George Guidall did a fine job with the reading. I did note a few places where his volume and tone suddenly changed from one paragraph to another; I would place this on the production team rather than the reader.
Again, I had wanted to like this book. English language books on Pearl Harbor tended to be narrow-minded, generally presenting only the American view on this piece of history without consideration to the personalities and events leading up to the decisions made on the other side of the Pacific. Nelson's Pearl Harbor, uncharacteristically, tried to be comprehensive and inclusive, thus breaking the mold. But at the same time, the book had so many flaws that I found myself a bit frustrated from time to time. Sadly, I simply could not recommend this book. Fortunately, a wealth of excellent books about Pearl Harbor had already been published prior to this work.
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General Douglas MacArthur at Leyte, 17 Oct 1944