Pacific War Trilogy by Ian W. Toll

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.

~ Dave

About atcDave

I'm 5o-something years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I was an air traffic controller for 33 years and recently retired; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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45 Responses to Pacific War Trilogy by Ian W. Toll

  1. jfwknifton says:

    It’s great to hear such enthusiasm for a book. A very rare attitude nowadays! I felt the same about Ian Kershaw’s books on Hitler and Andrew Robert’s “Napoleon the Great”.

    • atcDave says:

      It’s always great to find another reader with a love of history!

      I will occasionally post book reviews here. Only when I’m enthused though. The Internet doesn’t need another self important blogger criticizing and nit picking every little detail!

    • navynick says:

      Don’t worry sir, enthusiasm for history is not uncommon these days. I’m in my 30’s and enjoying Ian Toll’s books, starting with Six Frigates. Conquering Tide was recommended to me by a Hungarian work colleague in his 20’s visiting from Budapest. As an aside, thanks for the book recommendations!

      • atcDave says:

        you’re really fortunate to have a co-worker who shares your interests. I can often find common points of interest through television (usually the latest on National Geographic Channel), but other readers are hard to find!

  2. A reader recommendation is good for me. Sounds like an ideal analysis of the pacific theatre. Thanks Dave

  3. dan luster says:

    I too enjoyed the first two books in this trilogy. When is the third book due out?

    • atcDave says:

      I still don’t see a date listed on Amazon. But given that the first two books were three years apart it may not be until 2018!

      That is one book I sure will look forward to.

      • Dan Wilson says:

        I see in Amazon when entering Ian Toll trilogy a 3rd book pops up for 1944-45 that looks to complete the set, “The Fleet at Tide” by James Hornfischer, different author and different publisher, any thought on that?

      • Kevin Dean says:

        Dan, I only have my 1Q16 response from Ian Toll where he stated that he would have a third volume spanning 1944-1945, but not until 2018.

      • atcDave says:

        It’s not the same series, Ian Toll IS writing a book three.

        But that said, I just ordered “The Fleet at Flood Tide”. James Hornfischer is an excellent writer. His “Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors” (Leyte) and “Neptune’s Inferno” (Guadalcanal) are outstanding books, so I’m looking forward to this. I expect Hornfischer to focus more on tactical and operational issues, while Toll will write more about strategy, intelligence and high leadership. But no doubt, there will be a lot of overlap between the two.

  4. Kevin Dean says:

    I, too, immensely enjoyed Ian’s first two volumes of the Pacific War trilogy. So much so, that I wrote and asked him when volume three would be out and he kindly responded that it would indeed be 2018. As an aside, try Ian’s “Six Frigates”, a wonderful read that will convey more on the history of our country during the early 1800’s than most other books dealing with this period.

    • atcDave says:

      Thanks for the update Kevin. You know I’m looking forward to it.

      I’ve been meaning to read “Six Frigates”, you just helped with motivation!

    • atcDave says:

      So I’m just finishing up “Six Frigates” and it really is terrific. Its pretty staggering to consider how many great minds honestly thought having no Navy at all was a viable option! I’ve read more in other books about the Barbary Wars and War of 1812; but this has so much about the political environment behind it all. And I’ve never read so much about the Quasi War before. That was fascinating.
      Just as in the Pacific War trilogy Ian Toll does a terrific job of bringing the characters and times to life, with the twist here that many of characters are our founding fathers.

      Great read.

    • Syd Kahre says:

      Thank you. I thought it would be late ’17, Can’t wait. The first two were outstanding. Friends who I lend books to keep asking.

  5. Michael Graddy says:

    atc:Dave
    …”My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.”
    Did you ever play the Avalon Hill version of Flat Top?
    In the late ’70’s, until I married in ’85, a friend and I played that game scores of times.
    Awesome game.
    Reading Ian Toll’s first two (of the triology) books really makes me want to play again.

    • atcDave says:

      I think so. I owned Victory in the Pacific by Avalon Hill and a massive game we never got passed set up! But later I got I game I think is what you’re talking about, that we played when we could get a whole weekend! Never as often as I would have liked.
      I remember a number of other games Tactics II, Battle of the Bulge, Bitzkrieg. So much fun.
      But by the time I was 15 or so all my buddies wanted to play D&D so I didn’t do as much war gaming for a decade until I had good ones on the computer.

      As an adult I’ve spent crazy amounts of time with Gary Grigsby computer games from Carrier Battles to PacWar to War in the Pacific. What I would really like to see is something the scope of PacWar (individual ships down to destroyers, aircraft at a squadron level, 1 week turns and somewhat absracted manufacturing and supply factors) but with more modern game play and graphics. War in the Pacific, with its 1 day turns and naming every pilot in the whole war goes a little too far in detail!

      And yeah, a good read like Ian Toll’s books makes me itch to play. And build models.

  6. jim says:

    Where is the third book. It’s almost 2019.

  7. jim says:

    Well the 2018 year is about gone and releasing a book now probably isn’t the best of ideas, but it would be nice to get this trilogy over with.

  8. coolrich59 says:

    I came across your blog while trying to find out any information about the third book from Ian Toll. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any info, but the good news is that I found your fine site.

    I just finished The Conquering Tide and enjoyed it as much as Pacific Crucible. However, I thought the Epilogue was a bit unusual. Mr. Toll wraps up the Marianas campaign and then adds an Epilogue discussing the Japan’s domestic political turmoil as it becomes more difficult for the authorities to pretend that their military catastrophes are really just a shrewd strategy to draw the Americans into a trap.

    • atcDave says:

      No doubt Japan’s politics were a bit bizarre! The Mariana’s Campaign forced the first major upheaval of the War. I think those politics get to be a bigger story in the year + not yet covered.
      It has been a long wait for that last volume. Hopefully we’ll at least get a solid date for it soon.

      Rich thanks for the comment! I’m glad you found the site too, don’t ever be shy to say something. I hope to start having more frequent updates in the next couple months.

      • Kevin Dean says:

        If you would like a very insightful look at the inner workings of Japan’s government during the war, and especially the events leading up to it,  consider reading Bergamini’s “Japan’s Imperial War Conspiracy”, two volumes. In 2017 the WSJ rated it as one of the five best books about WWII in the Pacific.Some interesting tidbits that are not given enough visibility in our understanding of the war: – Emperor Hirohito knew everything and was part of every major wartime decision.

        – Hirohito was furious with Yamamoto’s defeat at Midway and eventually had him liquidated by us, after setting him up in an obvious fashion, which Yamamoto fully understood.

        The review of the China incursion and war is also covered very well, far more so than in other books on this part of world history. It is out of print but some libraries have it and copies can be found, most probably, via Amazon.

      • atcDave says:

        Begamini’s Book is very interesting. I hesitate to recommend it without reservation. It can be hard to separate fact from heresay, since so much of it is based on interview rather than documentation. It’s more journalism than history.
        But all that said, he makes significant claims about Hirohito’s involvement in the war that influenced many later writers. Significantly, Hirohito knew about and was involved in nearly every major decision of Japan’s war. This is very much at odds with how things were presented right after the war (and the start of the Cold War era); but seems to mostly, or partly, accepted by current writers.
        Reading things now, especially when accounts do vary some and principal players are all long gone, it can be hard to sort out certain types of details. But clearly “Imperial War Conspiracy” is an important part of Pacific War history literature.

      • atcDave says:

        BTW, I think the incident you mentioned about Yamamoto actually undermines the author’s credibility. In order for it to be true, the Japanese (or just Hirohito?) would have had to know we had broken the JN-25 code. Yet with only periodic updates, the code remained in use to the end of the war.
        Some of this seems like the sort of conspiracy theories that pop up whenever people have a hard time accepting or understanding reality.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        My understanding was that the emperor’s level of involvement was downplayed so they could let the emperor stay in power as a way to ensure peaceful compliance with the occupation. They couldn’t very well tell the world the emperor was a war criminal and then decline to try him for the same things others were hanged for, so the myth of the detached emperor unaware of things done in his name was born as a compromise.

      • atcDave says:

        Yes, and I think that has become exactly the mainstream take on things.
        “Japan’s Imperial War Conspiracy” was probably the first (?) mainstream publication to rattle the cage a little from post-war orthodoxy. But as is so often the case, I think it may have gone a little too far the other way and vilified the man more than was fitting.
        I think the current prevailing thought is he knew about everything, and even encouraged a lot of aggressive behavior. But he wasn’t the prime mover on most matters of government or military policy.

  9. atcDave says:

    I’ve done a little searching around and it looks like the current release date for book 3 is “June 2019”.
    Hopefully this will stick!

    • coolrich59 says:

      Great news. I’m looking forward to it.

      In the meantime, I’ve shifted to the Civil War. I just finished vol 3 of Bruce Catton’s Grant trilogy “Grant Takes Command” and have (re)started Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals”.

      • atcDave says:

        Let’s just hope the date holds!

        The Civil War is definitely an interesting subject. Shelby Foote’s trilogy is amazing!

  10. coolrich59 says:

    Off topic, but wanted to let you and others know that Ian the Kindle version of Toll’s book, ‘Six Frigates’, is currently on sale at Amazon for $2.99. The Kindle version of this title is normally $10.99 and so this is a nice discount for Kindle addicts (like me).

  11. coolrich59 says:

    Definitely. Ian the Kindle sounds like it could be the name of a great Celtic warrior! 🙂

  12. Patrick Boyle says:

    I came across your page while looking for information on Volume III. I see this was posted in Jan 2016 and you had mentioned you found a tentative date of June 2019…still no Volume III. Any insight as to when the next volume will be available? I looked on Ian W. Toll’s blog page, but not much info there. Thanks for any info you are able to provide! The first two volumes were amazing! Have you read “Sunk in Kula Gulf”, by John J. Domagalski? Incredible account of the USS Helena (CL-50) and the fate of her survivors, of which my granddad was one.

    Patrick Boyle

    • atcDave says:

      Wow awesome family legacy. I have not read that book, but have read a lot about that part of the conflict. Enough to know the Helena was a good and capable ship, so that’s a great association in every way.

      I don’t know when we may see Vol 3. I do know this is now the single most trafficked page on my site so there are obviously many readers who want to know! But it doesn’t have a date currently attached to it that I can find. Hopefully we will see something soon.

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