Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness (book review)


pearl harbor bookI received a complementary copy of this book for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor has been of interest to me for many years.  I have seen two movies on this fateful day in American history (the best being 1970’s Tora Tora Tora).  I took a Home of the Brave tour on a visit to Oahu in 2014 where we saw first hand Pearl Harbor and the other U.S. military installations bombed by the Japanese.  But I have learned so much more about December 7, 1941 from Craig Nelson’s excellent book Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness.

I liked how Nelson includes many stories of ordinary people thrust into history by the surprise attack.  Such as 22 year old flight instructor Cornelia Fort.  “Fort was giving a lesson to a student pilot when she saw two planes headed their way, one on course to crash directly into them,” Nelson writes.  “She yanked the yoke and punched the throttle, furious at another hotdogging Army Air Corps pilot. She looked down to get his registration number so she could file a complaint, which was when she saw the red balls on the wings and knew that ‘the air was not the place for our little baby airplane.’ She set down as fast as she could and ran into Andrews’ flying service, machine-gun bullets strafing the ground around her feet, yelling, ‘The Japs are attacking!’ Everyone on the ground laughed at this silly woman.”  Fort’s story was one of many first hand accounts in the book that were fascinating to read.

I learned that the U.S. had plenty of warning before the attack, yet ignored these ominous signs.  “At the end of March 1941, (American naval intelligence officer Ellis) Zacharias warned Hawaii’s Admiral Kimmel that when Japan decided to go to war,” Nelson relates, “It would begin with an air attack on our fleet on a weekend and probably on a Sunday morning; the attack would be for the purpose of disabling our battleships.”  Nelson also includes accounts of the internal debates and planning on the Japanese side leading up to December 7, 1941.

The Pearl Harbor attack was a national tragedy, where almost four hundred Japanese planes attacked the US Pacific fleet, killing 2,400 men and sinking or damaging sixteen ships.  Nelson also covers the aftermath of that day, including the decisive U.S. victory at Midway up to the eventual surrender by the Japanese.  Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness is a must read for any student of World War II.





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