Book Review: “Pacific Crucible” by Ian W. Toll

Posted November 8th, 2017 by Devin and filed in Review

Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942 by Ian W. Toll
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Overall a very enjoyable book. Toll covers ground that I’ve read many times before, but his telling is more compelling and readable that a lot of other titles. One of my favorite parts of the book is a framing method used early on that tells of the purposely long train trip that Admiral Nimitz took across the US, on his way to San Diego and then a flight to Pearl Harbor to assume command of the fleet. The scenes with him and the single orderly that accompanied him are extremely well drawn, even novel-esque.

Keeping with the personal tones and involvements, one of the more compelling parts of Toll’s narrative is the day-to-day life of the US Navy sailor in a steel warship in tropical climes. The heat, exhaustion, cramped quarters, poor diet. Everything that any sailor has ever encountered is mentioned here, but amplified by the onset of a war not fully prepared for.

Toll also covers ground that other authors do not. A detailed look at the culture of Japan that allowed the country to slide into authoritarian control by the military, and the training structure of the Japanese Navy sailors and airmen give a sobering look at their harsh lives. Also little covered in other books about the first six months of the war that mainly focus on the carrier battles, “Crucible” follows the activities and fate of the Asiatic Fleet, along with the fall of Singapore and the Philippines, giving a good accounting.

The book isn’t without faults, though. There are several mentions, while minor and of no concern to most people, that give me pause at the accuracy of other facts. Mention is made of the teak wood of the US carrier decks (it wasn’t). There’s an anecdote about a sailor frying an egg on the Lexington’s steel flight deck (it wasn’t steel, either). There are other minor things, not having to do with carrier decks, that are incorrect as well, but as I said, nothing major. To offset those oversights, there are other things, such as a fantastic section of radio chatter between the US carrier’s CAP fighters, that more than make up for any mistakes.

My only real quibble with the book is the statement that Samuel Elliot Morison is “The first and greatest historian of American naval operations in the Second World War”. While Morison is to be commended for the work he did during the war, and immediately after, in cataloging the US Navy’s involvement in the conflict, there is so much more recent and accurate research available that either modifies or contradicts Morison’s work. The good news is that other works such as “Shattered Sword” and Lundstrom’s “First Team” books are also mentioned in the text and bibliography.

A fine book, and a good starting place for someone that’s looking for an overall primer of how the war with Japan started, and the first six months of the conflict.

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