PositiveThe Wall Street JournalWhat makes his latest work stand out is not the facts he presents, or his angle in recounting them, but the voice he employs ... Mr. O’Connell’s story is written more like a sardonic summer read than a solemn chronicle. He sprinkles sports metaphors liberally through his book ... At times Mr. O’Connell slashes through episodes—particularly those involving love affairs, eccentricities or lapses of judgment—with the irreverence of a Monty Python knight skewering a famous historian ... But Mr. O’Connell’s cheeky tone disguises a serious attitude toward research. He dutifully dives into footnotes of biographers such as Jean Edward Smith, and does a creditable job mining his protagonists’ published papers and memoirs ... While his approach sometimes begets sweeping conclusions subject to interpretation or dispute, Mr. O’Connell does a solid job delivering the details faithfully. A delicious blend of insight, wit and history, Team America is a punch-packed introduction to four great military minds and the zeitgeist that produced them.
PositiveWall Street JournalAfter establishing backstories for the captains, their ships and key officers, Messrs. Keith and Clavin turn to the hunt. In a piece of detective work out of a Patrick O’Brian novel, Winslow narrows down the likely routes Semmes could take ... The battle plays out in a rousing shot-by-shot narrative that covers the book’s final quarter ... The book’s prose is highly accessible ... To the Uttermost Ends of the Earth, completed after Phil Keith died last year, is entertaining from beginning to end, though its pace is slowed at times when delving into the backstories of other ships and characters ... It is a welcome addition to the lore of navies whose sailors braved storms and shrapnel in a war for America’s destiny.
PositiveWall Street JournalMr. Holland ably sets up his main characters: men he had the good fortune to interview, or those who left detailed diaries, letters and reminiscences behind ... Christopherson, Skinner, and a handful of tankers form a cadre of characters around whom the story revolves. Others join the regiment and die without leaving any emotional ripples. Tears are briefly shed, but the story, like the regiment, pushes on without looking back ... The book’s widened scope at times restricts its depth. This is what author and reader sign up for when tackling a midsize unit immersed in complex operations. On the other hand, as a unit history, Brothers in Arms tells a superb story of World War II’s destruction with a breadth that small-unit narratives cannot match.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalCrosscuts between London and the convoy are thankfully kept to a minimum as Mr. Hastings focuses on the hazards, mundane and terrifying, of naval warfare ... Like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings,Operation Pedestal is the story of desperate warriors shepherding a frail cargo through all the fire and steel their enemy can hurl. Mr. Hastings paints a portrait of naval combat with an artist’s brush guided by more than a half-century of combat reportage. Compassionate toward men who braved bombs, torpedoes, fire and a cruel sea, he showcases the Royal Navy—along with the merchant vessels it guarded—at its finest hour.
Ian W. Toll
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... while his is an American story, Mr. Toll writes insightfully about the enemy home front, making fine use of Japanese sources and dropping hints of the demons possessing—and devouring—the other side ... Though Twilight of the Gods spans a little over a year, this is the longest volume of Mr. Toll’s trilogy. In some ways its story is the most morally complex, treating life-and-death decisions made on the cusp of victory and defeat ... factual, though not overly judgmental ... The author’s strength lies in teasing out vivid details of the complex air and naval operations ... Mr. Toll weaves a brilliant final act depicting one of humanity’s epic tragedies. This book and its predecessors set a high bar for historians of the Pacific War.
William C. Davis
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... a finely researched volume that spotlights the good, bad and ugly of a polyglot army stumbling to war ... A star of Mr. Davis’s show is New Orleans itself. Taking full advantage of the sights, smells and sounds of the Crescent City ... Mr. Davis follows the movements of forces with the disciplined eye of an academic historian. He traces skirmishes in December 1814 down to individual trenches ... The book’s initial pacing is detailed and at times a bit slow; the advance of the two opposing armies to the battlefield unfolds deliberately, and the assembly of forces, early skirmishes and preparatory bombardment run to 232 pages ... When the armies make first contact, the tempo accelerates, and Mr. Davis’s accounts of small fights won by hot blood and cold steel are thrilling ... The battle royale, spanning three chapters, hits like a burst of grapeshot ... The strength of Mr. Davis’s chronicle is its meticulous research and the way it frames the Battle of New Orleans in the context of a vibrant, evolving, occasionally vicious South. Slow in some parts, electric in others, The Greatest Fury is one of the most comprehensive looks at a fight that became a punctuation mark in the tale of Manifest Destiny.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... lean and effective ... As in his earlier works, like Blood and Champagne and The Liberator, Mr. Kershaw’s strength is his ability to place characters within their settings and tell their stories honestly ... Focusing on a well-chosen selection of warriors, The First Wave brilliantly sweeps the arc of fire that was the Sixth of June.
Daniel C. Guiet and Timothy K. Smith
RaveThe Wall Street JournalThe narrow focus of Scholars of Mayhem allows us to follow Jean Claude Guiet’s journey intimately ... A true-life mix of James Bond, Lawrence of Arabia and Casablanca, Jean Claude’s story of resistance and heroism is beautifully told. Scholars of Mayhem packs the punch of an armored division and adds weight to the fresh titles taking on the Normandy landings 75 years after Eisenhower opened the Longest Day.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalFor the technical purist, Sand and Steel provides wonderful insight into war on the Western Front ... a detailed chronicle that hard-core World War II buffs will relish ... plays to Mr. Caddick-Adams’s strength, telling a story of machines, logistics and events that decided the fate of France.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalAt its heart, Normandy ’44 is a pleasantly straightforward history, embracing tactics, logistics and the bayonet end of combat. Mr. Holland glides up and down the chain of command, from Eisenhower, Montgomery and Bradley down to the Poor Bloody Infantry who stood at \'the coal-face of battle\' ... Detail and scope are the twin strengths of Normandy ’44. While emphasizing GI and Tommy less than Messrs. Kershaw and Milton, Mr. Holland effectively balances human drama with the science of war as the Allies knew it.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalBy drawing additional characters into Mr. Smoyer’s story, Spearhead sacrifices some of its intimacy. Reflecting the ephemeral nature of wartime acquaintance, noncoms and lieutenants, civilians and infantry, enter and exit perfunctorily throughout the book’s middle third. Introduced with a sentence or two not long before their deaths, most leave little emotional mark in the reader’s mind ... Except for the dead, Spearhead does not portray a fundamental transformation in most of its major characters: They do their duty. They live, they fight, they kill. Sometimes they die. Mr. Smoyer is the book’s exception ... lays out a tale not too different from hundreds of memoirs by men lucky enough to have survived the war’s slaughterhouse. Its real value lies in its gripping action narrative. As Mr. Makos coaxes Mr. Smoyer and his tank family through a thrilling series of close calls, Spearhead unfolds as a thoroughly enjoyable battle story, and a tribute to the everyman warrior.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalMessrs. Reynolds and Pechatnov combine correspondence with incisive commentary to elucidate the good, bad and ugly of the grand alliance ... The Kremlin Letters provides fresh glimpses into the mind of Stalin and his apparatchiks during the war’s middle stages ... The Kremlin Letters paints a disturbing picture of an alliance of convenience that dissolved as victory neared ... Illuminating and insightful, The Kremlin Letters is an indispensable resource.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalMr. Groom paints a vivid portrait of men caught between the vise jaws of military necessity and political reality. Anecdotes about their personal lives, such as Stalin’s tumultuous family relationships and FDR’s struggle with polio, bring color to leaders we remember through black-and-white photographs and newsreels. Churchill is a character tailor-made for Mr. Groom’s style, and he captures the English lion’s genius for inspiration in bold, beautiful strokes ... Stalin, by contrast, rarely betrays warmth or humor to offset the monstrous qualities for which he is infamous ... Mr. Groom illustrates Stalin’s darkest side through the dictator’s twisted relationship with his bloodthirsty secret police chief ... In a fine telling of the \'what,\' some of the book’s \'why\' can feel a bit rushed ... The story line jumps a bit, and at times its arc can seem \'like a box of chocolates\' ... At its best, Mr. Groom tells an enthralling story of three nations, each wary of the others, and of three men who set aside deep differences for a common cause.
James M. Scott
RaveThe Wall Street JournalBattles in World War II’s Pacific Theater tended to be more savage than those in Western Europe. The struggle for Manila was the cruelest of them all ... A month after Pearl Harbor, Japanese troops swarmed down Manila’s boulevards, bayonets fixed. Gen. Douglas MacArthur quickly abandoned the city, then the archipelago, vowing to return. For three grim years, Manila’s citizens endured starvation, disease, humiliation, rape and repression as they waited for MacArthur to fulfill his promise ... Mr. Scott does one of the finest jobs in recent memory of cutting out the middleman and letting the participants—hundreds of them—tell their harrowing bits of a kaleidoscopic wartime tragedy. The result is an eloquent testament to a doomed city and its people. Rampage is a moving, passionate monument to one of humanity’s darkest moments.
Craig L. Symonds
RaveThe Wall Street JournalTackling the major fronts one by one, he splices the big picture with vignettes of sailors, pilots, merchantmen and submariners battling to tether (or tear apart) the land theaters on which armies fought. Though Mr. Symonds doesn’t claim primacy of naval warfare during the great cataclysm, his montage of battles, geography and technology makes the case for naval power as a prerequisite for global power projection in general and the Allied victory in particular ... He navigates the narrow channel between oversimplifying the story and slowing the book’s pace by describing every turn of a rudder, making the narrative’s 647 pages enjoyable without being rushed ... In capitals from Tokyo to London, war at sea was a numbers game: Construction schedules, losses and ship tonnage determined where and when the belligerents would strike. Mr. Symonds presents these abstract considerations in a clear and uncluttered way ... A thoroughly enjoyable read, World War II at Sea sweeps its glass across the world’s oceans and deftly recounts battles that shaped the course of history’s greatest war.