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"Pacific Crucible", A Book Review

Discussion in 'The Pacific and CBI' started by George Patton, Feb 15, 2013.

  1. George Patton

    George Patton Canadian Refugee

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    "Pacific Crucible" by Ian Toll chronicles the first six months of the Pacific War. It can be 'broken down' into three parts:
    1. Pre-War: an extensive background on the Pacific (going all the way back to Matthew Perry), American/Japanese strategies and their evolution, biographies of the key commanders, etc
    2. Late 1941/Early 1942: Pearl Harbor and other American/Commonwealth defeats
    3. Mid-1942: the Coral Sea/Operation MO and Midway.
    In about 550 pages of text, this book presents a very good overview of the first part of the Pacific naval war.

    The Good:
    -Very well written. Toll doesn't write in a strictly academic manner, but also doesn't resort to slang and mannerisms. Its a very 'readable' (yet still intellectual and professional) piece of work.
    -Doesn't skim over much information, and *tends* not to belabor a point (see "Other Thoughts" for more on this)
    -Provides a good "big picture" view of the first six months of the war, from grand strategy to first-person accounts. The early Pacific War isn't my main area of focus, so I found quite a few interesting bits of information in the book as well, such as Yamamoto's archetypical pre-war lifestyle, humorous stories of Churchill at the White House, and the rather shocking results of a pre-Midway war game where the Japanese admirals ruled out several successful American attacks as 'completely implausible'.
    -Links the actual fighting with the 'the big picture' (ie: grand strategy, politics, global relations, etc), with relatively equal weighting. There's not very many books I've read that give both of these equal weighting, instead tending to focus on either one or the other.
    -Clearly communicates the attitudes of the time, both 'in the service' and 'at home'.
    -Discusses Japanese and American blunders with equal weighting, and essentially without bias.
    -While this book aims to present a detailed overview of the entire naval war, it still covers the important actions (Pearl Harbor, the Coral Sea, Midway, Doolittle, etc) very well, and more importantly does not 'dumb these down' significantly.
    -Toll did his homework: there's quite a few first-person accounts, and essentially everything he writes about is backed up by the extensive list of citations and research notes at the back of the book.

    The Bad:
    -Toll belabors some points, specifically almost everything related to Alfred Thayer Mahan. While his ideas undoubtedly had an important impact on naval thought at the time, it really isn't necessary to use the term "Mahanian" as frequently as he does.
    -I found some parts to be rather dry, but these were few-and-far-between. Overall this was a very good, enjoyable read.

    Other Thoughts:
    -This book could have focused less on the 'prelude' to combat and more on the actual fighting. Some of the former where the parts I found to be 'dry', but in hindsight I suppose that these are important components of a book that tries to present a complete history of December 1941-June 1942.
    -There's a few instances where he belabors points. Namely, most things related to Mahan. This is no big deal (usually he just throws in a line like "the Mahanian concept of ____"), but it gets annoying after a while.

    Conclusion:
    -I was very impressed with this book. I didn't have high expectations when I picked it up - I saw it at an airport bookstore beside the book written by Patreaus' mistress and one about some music star - but for 30 bucks I couldn't resist. It turned out to be one of the best 'overview' books I've read in years. Despite a few dry spots, I enjoyed all 550 pages (not counting the citations, endnotes, etc) of it. Anyone -- regardless of their knowledge level -- should find it interesting. It doesn't gloss over any important events, nor does it simplify them, but at the same time assumes no prior knowledge. I highly recommend it, and I look forward to Toll's future books.

    Rating: 5/5
     
    lwd, belasar and Slipdigit like this.
  2. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    It may be he intends a multi volume history of the Pacific War, if so his "Prelude" section fits better in the grand scheme of his intent.

    Whatever his plans, another great review!
     
  3. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    You are correct belasar, "Pacific Crucible" is the first volume of a three-volume series, so if the "prelude" seems overly long, it cannot be considered out of place. Understanding why the war was fought is just as important as understanding the battles.

    I look forward to reading the rest of the series.




    George Patton, I was surprised you had not recognized the author. His first outing "Six Frigates" got a lot of positive press.
    Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy: Ian W. Toll: 9780393330328: Amazon.com: Books
     
  4. George Patton

    George Patton Canadian Refugee

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    I forgot to mention that (I really shouldn't be posting these long messages late at night!). Toll mentioned that he will be following this up with two other Pacific War books. It's been about six years since he released "Six Frigates", so hopefully his next Pacific War installment won't take that long.

    Before I read Pacific Crucible, I never heard of Ian Toll. I'm not particularly interested in pre-1860s history, so it likely went 'under my radar'. I read through some of the reviews for Six Frigates that he included in the book, and it too seems like a good read.
     
  5. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member Patron  

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    Thanks for the review. I've been looking at this book for a month or so. Your review just pushed me over the edge.
     
  6. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member Patron  

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    I just finished reading Toll's Pacific Crucible. I found it very readable, while providing excellent material tying military, political, and social issues together. A very good book to tie both Japanese and American viewpoints of the same battles. I enjoyed it.
     
  7. George Patton

    George Patton Canadian Refugee

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    Glad to hear that you enjoyed it Lou. As I said, I found it to be an excellent book.
     

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