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Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal Paperback – March 6, 2012

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam; 2.5.2012 edition (March 6, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553385127
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553385120
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (359 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #39,308 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Hornfischer’s third outstanding book on the U.S. Navy’s surface forces in WWII will have a ready-made audience because its subject is the naval side of the Guadalcanal campaign of 1942. The campaign began when marines landed on that deservedly unfrequented island to halt the creation of a Japanese airbase that might threaten U.S. communications with Australia. The Japanese riposte inflicted a disaster on the U.S. Navy second only to Pearl Harbor, called the Battle of Savo Island. Over the next few months, the two navies went at each other hammer and tongs in what was probably the most intense naval campaign of the war. The Japanese had an ace up their sleeve in the Long Lance torpedo, the best in the world. The U.S. eventually counterbalanced the Japanese by learning (all too slowly) to use radar-directed gunfire to take back the night seas. The author offers balanced assessments of the leaders on both sides, but the real heroes are the American bluejackets, who too often paid with suffering and death for those leaders’ slowness to learn. And as in his first two books, the author’s narrative gifts and excellent choice of detail give an almost Homeric quality to the men who met on the sea in steel titans. --Roland Green --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


Selected as a Best Book of 2011 by Military History Quarterly

“A literary tour de force that is destined to become one of the . . . definitive works about the battle for Guadalcanal . . . [James D.] Hornfischer deftly captures the essence of the most pivotal naval campaign of the Pacific war.”—San Antonio Express-News

“Vivid and engaging . . . extremely readable, comprehensive and thoroughly researched.”—Ronald Spector, The Wall Street Journal

“Superlative storytelling . . . the masterwork on the long-neglected topic of World War II’s surface ship combat.”—Richard B. Frank, HistoryNet

“The author’s two previous World War II books . . . thrust him into the major leagues of American military history writers. Neptune’s Inferno is solid proof he deserves to be there.”—The Dallas Morning News

“The star of this year’s reading list is James D. Hornfischer, a military historian whose flair for narrative is rivaled only by his ability to organize the sweep of battle and assess strategy and tactics in layman’s terms.”—Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Outstanding . . . The author’s narrative gifts and excellent choice of detail give an almost Homeric quality to the men who met on the sea in steel titans.”—Booklist (starred review)

“Brilliant . . . a compelling narrative of naval combat . . . simply superb.”—The Washington Times

More About the Author

James D. Hornfischer ( is the author most recently of Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal (Bantam 2011). A New York Times, Boston Globe, and Publishers Weekly bestseller in its hardcover edition, the book is a selection of the U.S. Navy's official Professional Reading List maintained by the Chief of Naval Operations, and was chosen as a best book of 2011 by Military History Quarterly and several other book reviewers.

Hornfischer's other books include Ship of Ghosts (Bantam 2006), about the cruiser USS Houston and the odyssey of its crew in Japanese captivity, and The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors (Bantam 2004), a naval action narrative about the Battle off Samar that won the Samuel Eliot Morison Award and was chosen by the Wall Street Journal as one of the five best books on "war as soldiers know it."

Hornfischer has also collaborated with Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, the bestselling author of Lone Survivor, on Luttrell's second book, Service: A Navy SEAL at War (Little Brown, 2012), a New York Times bestseller.

Hornfischer's motivation to write about the U.S. military reaches back to his childhood years building Monogram and Revell model ships and aircraft, watching "Black Sheep Squadron" on TV, featuring Robert Conrad as the legendary Marine fighter pilot Major Pappy Boyington, and absorbing the epic intonations of Laurence Olivier narrating the documentary "The World at War."

A native of Massachusetts and a graduate of Colgate University and the University of Texas School of Law, Hornfischer lives in Austin, Texas.



"Extremely readable, comprehensive and thoroughly researched. . . . Analytical and entertaining . . . In the end what one takes away from Mr. Hornfischer's vivid and engaging account is a feeling for the uncertainty, complexity and extreme physical and psychological demands of war at sea in 1942." --Ronald Spector, The Wall Street Journal

"Hornfischer understands the human dynamics of the U.S. Navy in the Pacific war as well as any student of the subject.... He reconstructs the fighting in a masterful synthesis of technical analysis, operational narrative, and tales of courage." --Publishers Weekly

"As in his first two books, the author's narrative gifts and excellent choice of detail give an almost Homeric quality to the men who met on the sea in steel titans." --Booklist (starred review)

"With this grand, sweeping, history-correcting book, James Hornfischer takes his place among the elite historians of the United States war in the Pacific during World War II. Like a Curtiss Helldiver, Neptune's Inferno catapults the reader high into the skies for a clear perspective on the vast oceanic conflict, then dives relentlessly to propel us right into the smoke and fire and human valor of the brutal inferno known as Guadalcanal. Along the way, and drawing on newly available papers, Hornfischer clears up lingering misconceptions about this battle, including the full extent of the U.S. Navy's role in victory. And in his character portraits of the brilliant, quirky top admirals and generals of the fractious Army-Navy command, Hornfischer offers a worthy counterpart to Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals." --Ron Powers, coauthor of Flags of Our Fathers

"Neptune's Inferno is a superb portrait of the U.S. Navy's critical role in the Guadalcanal campaign, both the surface and aerial combat. Comprehensive with much that is new, yet immensely readable, it covers not only the admirals, but the junior officers and bluejackets as well. Highly recommended." --John B. Lundstrom, author of The First Team

"Hornfischer has produced an account that is visceral, yet technical; sweeping, yet personal. It's a terrific read, and an important new addition to the literature on this most important naval campaign in the Pacific." --Jonathan Parshall, coauthor of Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway

"Hornfischer's accounts of naval combat in the Pacific are simply the best in the business."
--Ian W. Toll, author of Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy

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Customer Reviews

The book is well written and packed with interesting detail.
Michael L. Muth
Neptune's Inferno, by James D, Hornfischer, is an excellent book about the US Navy's role in the campaign for Guadalcanal.
Alan Dale Daniel
I enjoyed this book so much I bought Hornfischer's book "Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors" to read next.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

197 of 200 people found the following review helpful By Dave Millman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
First, the recommendation: If you read naval history books, or a WWII history buff, this is a must-read book. Hornfischer has captured the full scope of the Navy's action at Guadalcanal, within the larger picture of the whole campaign. It's a big story.

WWII buffs know Guadalcanal as the pivotal campaign where the Allies fought Japan from an offensive posture to a defensive one. Less well understood is that the US Navy made the first effective use of electronically directed fire at Guadalcanal. This created an immediate advantage for the Allies, and helped win the campaign, but stubbornness and lack of understanding of the new technology prevented it from being used to the fullest extent. Until Guadalcanal, navies still steamed in lines, attempting to "cross the T". After Guadalcanal, they started to understand how radar changed everything. This is just one of the many sub-plots that Hornfischer successfully weaves into his big picture.

The Guadalcanal campaign lasted six months. It's all here: every battle and every ship. It even feels like every shell is also here, as Hornfischer describes the damage caused by each ship's battery of 5 inch through 16 inch guns. You really get a sense of the pressure the Navy was under as each ship was sunk (including carriers, battleships, cruisers and 25 destroyers!) or retired from battle due to damage. In the end, after tremendous losses on both sides, the Japanese quit the struggle. Their ship and aircraft losses had been similar to those of the Allies, but theirs were irreplaceable, while the Allies were just starting to ramp up production of ships, aircraft, soldiers, sailors & aircrews.

Highly recommended.
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70 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Karl Bielefeldt VINE VOICE on December 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book covers the U.S. Navy and Marines action in Guadalcanal in densely-packed detail all the way from the decision to go there through the pyschological aftermath.

There is a skill to writing an interesting history book, beyond a simple transcription of events, and Hornfischer exhibits that skill masterfully. He foreshadows the outcome of each event by talking about the leadership, their experience, their strategy, their attitudes toward technical innovations, and the morale they inspired (or lack thereof) in their crew. He vividly portrays the confusion in the heat of battle, the all-too-prevalent danger of friendly fire, the tradeoffs between risk and caution, and the importance of good intelligence. He points out where strong leadership succeeded and where more trust in subordinates could have produced a superior result.

The book does use a fair bit of naval jargon without definition, so if like me you have never served on a naval vessel, you will want to familiarize yourself with parts of a ship, types of ships, basic nautical terms, and navy rates before reading this book. Some quick searches on wikipedia and sufficed for me. More complex topics like the relative merits of different styles of engagement or which mistakes are rookie mistakes are discussed in sufficient detail for a layman as they come up.

In summary, an excellent book by an author to watch. His previous books are already on my wish list.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The WWII history of Guadalcanal is justifiably focused on the long battle waged ashore by the United States Marine Corps in order to secure an airfield base of operations in the Solomon Islands. In "Neptune's Inferno", James Hornfischer captures the challenges, drama and deadly violence that came in a series of violent engagements between allied (and principally, the US Navy) and Japanese naval forces from August through November, 1942.

Hornfischer masterfully balances issues of strategy (as he examines both political influences and senior military decisions in Washington, Pearl Harbor and in theater), tactics (especially training doctrine, communications issues and the introduction of radar technology) and the infinite supply of personal tales of triumph and tragedy that come in any combat situation.

While the Battle of Midway in June of 1942 ushered in the era of standoff confrontation between carrier-based aviation units, the naval engagements at Guadalcanal were centered on the proficiency of gun crews. Many of the episodes described in this book take places with opposing ships in close visual range. The results are violent and dramatic, and should cure any reader of the notion that naval warfare is somehow less risky than combat ashore.

There are many narrative gems in this book which illuminate the struggles at any level of responsibility. Setting the stage for the post Pearl Harbor responses in the Pacific, Hornfischer writes in the book's opening pages: "Captains were fortunate to find help for their troubles. They were given command of a multitude and saddled with fault for their failings. The bargain they made for their privileged place was the right to be last off the ship if the worst came to pass.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Trinque VINE VOICE on December 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
James Hornfischer's "Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal" is an enthralling study of the naval battles near Guadalcanal in the latter half of 1942. Although the U.S. Navy had won a stunning victory over the Imperial Japanese Navy at Midway earlier in the year, Guadalcanal found both contenders quite evenly matched, and this time the fighting more often revolved around torpedoes and guns rather than aircraft. In a series of encounters, usually fought at night in the restricted waters off Savo Island, the two navies clashed again and again in supremely violent and chaotic battles at close quarters. Eventually, and at high cost, the U.S. Navy prevailed in preventing the Japanese from sufficiently reinforcing Guadalcanal to tip the balance of power there.

Hornfischer's book examines in detail seven successive engagements from the Battle of Savo Island in August, 1942, to Tassafaronga at the end of November. In the nighttime battles in particular, events were chaotic, but he plots as clear a course as is perhaps possible. With radar still in its relative infancy, surprise was the norm, and in the darkness friend and foe were often almost impossible to distinguish. Battleships designed to engage the enemy at ranges of 20,000 yards or more instead found themselves hurling enormous shells at darting targets at close range, although more usually the combatants were thin-skinned cruisers and destroyers.

The author never loses sight of the human element, from the commanding admirals down to ordinary seamen, and "Neptune's Inferno" is illuminated by numerous firsthand accounts to create a narrative celebrating heroism and competence in the most trying circumstances imaginable.
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