The Conquering Tide by Ian W Toll

The Conquering Tide by Ian W TollThe Conquering Tide: War in the Pacific Islands, 1942-1944 by Ian W. Toll
Published by W. W. Norton & Company on October 18, 2016
Genres: History
Pages: 688
Goodreads
three-stars

The devastation of Pearl Harbor and the American victory at Midway were prelude to a greater challenge: rolling back the vast Japanese Pacific empire, island by island.
This masterful history encompasses the heart of the Pacific War—the period between mid-1942 and mid-1944—when parallel Allied counteroffensives north and south of the equator washed over Japan's far-flung island empire like a "conquering tide," concluding with Japan's irreversible strategic defeat in the Marianas. It was the largest, bloodiest, most costly, most technically innovative and logistically complicated amphibious war in history, and it fostered bitter interservice rivalries, leaving wounds that even victory could not heal.
Often overlooked, these are the years and fights that decided the Pacific War. Ian W. Toll's battle scenes—in the air, at sea, and in the jungles—are simply riveting. He also takes the reader into the wartime councils in Washington and Tokyo where politics and strategy often collided, and into the struggle to mobilize wartime production, which was the secret of Allied victory. Brilliantly researched, the narrative is propelled and colored by firsthand accounts—letters, diaries, debriefings, and memoirs—that are the raw material of the telling details, shrewd judgment, and penetrating insight of this magisterial history.

Subtitled War in the Pacific Islands, 1942-1944, The Conquering Tide is a tour de force of American triumphalism covering the first three years of its involvement in the Second World War. If you didn’t pick up that vibe from the front cover, it becomes immediately apparent that this is a fairly one-eyed look at some choice pieces of American history, and the destruction of the Japanese empire.

The book covers the period from 1942-1944, although it is a little fuzzy around the edges for historical context, and broadly paints the picture of American military and industrial might on the warpath as it neatly rolls through the Pacific War with hardly as much as a How-ya-doing? The book does offer for context some insights into the Japanese mindset, through excerpts from diary entries, and interrogations after the war, but its main interest is in how much cigar chomping ass-kickery the Americans managed in this period.

This is an extremely long, extremely impressive book for what it does cover, including action-packed descriptions of naval and air battles between the opposing forces. It also captures a good feeling of both the generals and admirals doing the commanding, and the soldiers on the ground doing the dying. There are some particularly harrowing descriptions, especially of the battle of Guadalcanal, and the aftermaths of naval engagements. But if one were to read this book in isolation, you might be left with the impression that America was the only nation doing the fighting on the allies’ side. The British rate a mention only as being obstructions to American success in the Pacific, with their silly ideas of ‘Germany First’. And I know for a fact that the Australians were present in some of these places doing the fighting and the dying.

As I said at the beginning, this is a triumphant look at history through an American lens. However, I was left with the question of why the author stopped in 1944, as there was still plenty of fighting to do in 1945. We are left on the cusp of the final events of World War 2, including the bombing of Japan, the development and dropping of the atomic bombs. There were certainly enough work put into justifying the use of the atomic bomb, but the book never went there.

I would say that this book is a book of action, and is not afraid of getting down and dirty with the troops on the ground. But it should not be read, or understood, in isolation without the benefit of other points of view. I recommend the excellent book The Fleet at Flood Tide, which describes more of the naval action in 1944-1945 if that’s your thing. I ultimately found this book just a bit too on the nose.

three-stars
Rating Report
Writing
three-stars
Pacing
three-stars
Cover
four-stars
Overall: three-stars

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