I’ve just finished the second book of Ian Toll’s massive new history of the Pacific War. This epic combines the best of historic research and readable narrative.
Join me for a brief look at will surely be one of the most important complete histories of this theater.
Trilogies seem to be all the rage these days. Many readers will be familiar with Rick Atkinson’s “Liberation Trilogy” that recounts the saga of the US Army in Europe during World War II; this new series covers the Pacific War in similar detail. I do have to add the qualification here; only the first two books “Pacific Crucible” and “The Conquering Tide” are currently available. I would expect the third book in a year or two.
The first book introduces us to the major players and provides background, before getting to Pearl Harbor and continuing through Midway. The second book starts at Guadalcanal and covers through the Marianas. The third book should start with the outcome in no doubt, but the scope and scale just keep getting bigger (The Philippines, Iwo Jima and Okinawa will be in that last book).
There have been a number of terrific books written in the last couple decades. Including a number that have added new perspectives and new research to our understanding of the war. The Pacific War Trilogy is the first complete history to incorporate much of that.
I have read hundreds of books on this subject matter, but Ian W. Toll makes it feel fresh and exciting. Not only is the narrative itself well crafted but the writer does an outstanding job of explaining how and why things are done the way they were. We get depth on personalities and decisions that shaped the history. I particularly enjoyed a lengthy write up on William F. Halsey and a detailed explanation of why he was so important to the 1942-43 campaign. Many readers will know he made some controversial decisions in the later part of the war, but his Campaign in the Solomons and isolation of Rabaul was genius. If you ever wondered why he got so much leeway later, this series will explain it!
I was also fascinated by the write ups of MacArthur, King, Nimitz and Spruance. Important Japanese figures are discussed. Carrier and Amphibious operations naturally get significant space. A whole chapter is devoted to the early war patrols of the submarine Wahoo; this was a watershed moment in the war of the Silent Service.
I won’t try to give a blow by blow account of the series, the basic flow of events is well enough known. This is exactly the sort of series that excites me most. I give it my highest recommendation for anyone who really wants an understanding of the whole Pacific War from the US point of view.