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Sea of Thunder: Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign 1941-1945 [Kindle Edition]

Evan Thomas
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (145 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Evan Thomas takes us inside the naval war of 1941-1945 in the South Pacific in a way that blends the best of military and cultural history and riveting narrative drama. He follows four men throughout: Admiral William ("Bull") Halsey, the macho, gallant, racist American fleet commander; Admiral Takeo Kurita, the Japanese battleship commander charged with making what was, in essence, a suicidal fleet attack against the American invasion of the Philippines; Admiral Matome Ugaki, a self-styled samurai who was the commander of all kamikazes and himself the last kamikaze of the war; and Commander Ernest Evans, a Cherokee Indian and Annapolis graduate who led his destroyer on the last great charge in the last great naval battle in history.

Sea of Thunder climaxes with the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the biggest naval battle ever fought, over four bloody and harrowing days in October 1944. We see Halsey make an epic blunder just as he reaches for true glory; we see the Japanese navy literally sailing in circles, torn between the desire to die heroically and the exhausted, unacceptable realization that death is futile; we sail with Commander Evans and the men of the USS Johnston into the jaws of the Japanese fleet and exult and suffer with them as they torpedo a cruiser, bluff and confuse the enemy -- and then, their ship sunk, endure fifty horrific hours in shark-infested water.

Thomas, a journalist and historian, traveled to Japan, where he interviewed veterans of the Imperial Japanese Navy who survived the Battle of Leyte Gulf and friends and family of the two Japanese admirals. From new documents and interviews, he was able to piece together and answer mysteries about the Battle of Leyte Gulf that have puzzled historians for decades. He writes with a knowing feel for the clash of cultures.

Sea of Thunder is a taut, fast-paced, suspenseful narrative of the last great naval war, an important contribution to the history of the Second World War.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Thomas, Newsweek's assistant managing editor, turns his considerable narrative and research talents to Leyte Gulf, history's largest and most complex naval battle. He addresses the subject from the perspectives of four officers: William Halsey, who commanded the U.S. 3rd Fleet; Adm. Takeo Kurita, his Japanese counterpart; Adm. Matome Ugaki, Kurita's senior subordinate and a "true believer" in Japan's destiny; and Cdr. Ernest Evans, captain of a lowly destroyer, the U.S.S. Johnston. The Americans believed the Japanese incapable of great military feats, while the Japanese believed the Americans were incapable of paying the price of war. Both were tragically wrong. Halsey steamed north in pursuit of a what turned out to be a decoy, while Kurita's main force was positioned to destroy the American landing force in the Philippines. Evans repeatedly took the Johnston into harm's way against what seemed overwhelming odds. His heroism, matched by a dozen other captains and crews, convinced Kurita to break off the action. With Halsey's battleships and carriers just over the horizon, Kurita refused to sacrifice his men at the end of a war already lost. Ugaki bitterly denounced the lack of "fighting spirit and promptitude" that kept him from an honorable death. Evans fought and died like a true samurai. As Thomas skillfully reminds us, war is above all the province of irony. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The biographer of John Paul Jones adds another valuable book to naval historiography with this study of the Pacific Campaign of World War II, the greatest naval campaign in history. He relates its events through the actions of four naval officers, Americans Admiral William Halsey and Commander Ernest Evans and Japanese admirals Takeo Kurita and Matome Ugaki. As their stories unfold, Thomas discloses the development and corporate cultures of two navies openly preparing to fight and finally getting down to it in 1941. The climax comes at Leyte Gulf, where Halsey's overaggressive tactics exposed the invasion fleet off Leyte to Kurita's surface force, which Evans' destroyer Johnston helped repel (see James D. Hornfischer's Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, 2004), and where Ugaki's Kamikaze Corps debuted. Thomas has a notable knack for researching and writing tales of the sea that are entirely accessible to comparative landlubbers yet also enthralling for readers weaned on Samuel Eliot Morison and C. S. Forester. Heads up, WWII maritime collections, in particular. Roland Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • File Size: 1384 KB
  • Print Length: 436 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0743252225
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (November 7, 2006)
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000MGAU5W
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #358,490 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
58 of 64 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The battle is just part of the story December 15, 2006
I picked this up after seeing Thomas do a book signing (which was mostly his discussion of the battle and some Q/A). It was interesting to hear about a battle that was so deadly, so historically significant (the last "traditional" sea battle of significant size), and yet so overlooked. The battle itself takes up less than a fifth of the book and doesn't unfold until well past the midpoint. It's also easily the least interesting part of the book. Battle buffs and others expecting a blow by blow will be disappointed, as will less intense WWII buffs. What Thomas actually gives us is a short history of the US and Japanese naval fleets in the Pacific and brief biographical sketches of their commanders and some of the rank and file sailors. Thomas sometimes snarky observations liven up the early parts of the book and show an incisive, funny side that was missing in the last book of his that I'd read (the RFK bio; the book also flows better than the RFK book which seemed choppy). Thomas gives us personal sides of Admiral Halsey and his Japanese counterparts, with somewhat broad portraits of Admirals Nimitz and King, as well as General MacArthur. I'm surprised that he didn't mention that Nimitz and MacArthur were momma's boys--both lived in my former apartment building in the 1920s (a few years apart) with their mothers and MacArthur probably hoped that the malarial jungles of the South Pacific would keep his mother away (she followed him, anyway). We get some review of tactics and examples of the limits of cultural knowledge and within-military communication systems that caused problems for both sides and contributed to the battle at Leyte taking place.

It's an enjoyable book and full of things I didn't know before--why only three stars?
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102 of 125 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Compelling and Fascinating Read. November 9, 2006
Evan Thomas presents an outstanding, extraordinarily researched, and easy to read narrative of one of the Pacific's greatest sea battles in `Sea of Thunder: Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign 1941-1945'. Uniquely, and most interesting is the balanced research it is clear Thomas completed in order to share a vivid picture of the mind-set of the combatants at sear: The U.S. Navy appeared to have a view that the Japanese Navy was not up to their combat ready level, and the Japanese Navy viewed the U.S. Navy as being made of individuals not willing to sacrifice for their beliefs. Obviously both perspectives were wrong; Thomas gives understanding of actions based upon these perspectives in a manner never told before.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf, the focus of Thomas' work, is history's largest and most compelling naval battle. Writing from the perspectives of four officers: William Halsey, who commanded the U.S. 3rd Fleet; and Cdr. Ernest Evans, captain of a lowly destroyer, the U.S.S. Johnston; Adm. Takeo Kurita; Adm. Matome Ugaki, readers and historians alike are about to embark on a breath-taking journey onto the high seas of the Pacific where brave men sacrificed in the name of their country.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Oversold and of limited value. November 17, 2007
This book very much appears to be a publisher's effort to capitalize on Evan Thomas's acclaim for his John Paul Jones biography by lumping together four biographical sketches that lacked sufficient development to command volumes of their own.

This volume offers little that is either new or useful for serious students of this battle, and much that is skewed by being taken out of context, or by the author's and publisher's lack of understanding of their topic.

For casual readers, this volume is a pitfall that will send them away with a highly distorted and incomplete picture of the battle and the people that fought it. You would spend your money better on Morison, Friedman, or Cutler.

The book's subtitle implies that the book is a study in command. It is not. It is four interwoven biographical sketches. The officers profiled are admirals Halsey, Kurita and Ugaki, and Commander E.E. Evans of the USS Johnston. Only the first two personalities make sense with respect to a command study, and at least three personalities that would be essential to any true command study of this battle--Kinkaid, Ozawa and Nishimura--are neglected.

The information on Halsey is nearly valueless and a reader would be better served reading E.B. Potter's biography of the man, and Carl Solberg's eyewitness observations of the functioning of Halsey's staff as a member thereof during this battle. Thomas tarnishes his entire work (and his reputation as an author) by reporting salacious details of Halsey's personal life that are essentially hearsay, lack pertinence to the topic at hand, and ignore the full context of Halsey's marriage--here again I direct readers to Potter's biography.
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353 of 454 people found the following review helpful
An authentic historian attempts to ferret out the facts of past events without allowing their personal biases to intrude. Beginning a couple of decades ago, the phenomena of revisionist "historians" emerged where facts were seen as impediments to pushing a particular agenda. After that, the celebrity "historian" came into vogue, such as television talking head Tom Brokaw. Evan Thomas, in my view, falls into the celebrity journalist category. He is not a bonafide historian and he is a revisionist in that he applies the "political correctness" of today to the reality of six or more decades ago.

The result is not history. In fact, Thomas besmirches the characters of four men, each noble in their own way, while deprecating the extraordinary nature of the United States' objectives in World War II.

Thomas's stated desire was to write a history of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, what may very well have been the last clash of large naval fleets. The basic premise of viewing the battle, its prelude and aftermath through the eyes of four widely disparate characters could have worked in competent hands. Thomas's hands are not competent in this regard.

Admiral William "Bull" Halsey, commander of an American naval fleet, had the familiar biases of a man of his time. Halsey was a war leader, not a social worker. It is not unexpected that he decorated his bases with exhortations to kill the enemy. It is likewise not unexpected that his public statements were peppered with statements alluding to the alleged racial inferiority of his enemy. There was a massive, worldwide struggle going on; freedom pitted against tyranny.

But Thomas measures Halsey by the standards of today's "political correctness" and, of course, finds Halsey wanting.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting and compelling
Not only well-written and compelling, the editorial observations of the author challenge the reader to draw his own conclusions. Read more
Published 6 hours ago by Charles A. Krohn
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Great account of an amazing time in history!
Published 26 days ago by John Cullom
5.0 out of 5 stars great book
excellent book, loved it
Published 1 month ago by dave
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Good explanation of jealousies and screw-ups in many areas on the part of both the US and Japanese navies.
Published 1 month ago by Gerald A. Curtin
5.0 out of 5 stars I give it my highest recommendations!
In certain ways this is a book about the Battle of Leyte Gulf, which was fought from October 23-26 of 1944. But, it is much more than that. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Kurt A. Johnson
5.0 out of 5 stars i enjoyed it so much
I read this book from a friend, i enjoyed it so much, that i had to purchase one for my collection.
Published 3 months ago by ronald cannata
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, behind the scenes, insightful. I just ...
Interesting, behind the scenes, insightful. I just thought I knew the history of WW II in the Pacific. We bought copies to share with friends.
Published 4 months ago by RSCarp
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good read. I like this book
Very good read . I like this book.
Published 8 months ago by Peter S. Gandrud
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent perspective and story
Excellent accounting of how the story unfolded up to and through this battle. I've never read any Japanese perspective, and it was so interesting to read what the Japanese... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Gtokaren
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Good book, a bit more about the commanders (and not the battles) than I expected.
Published 9 months ago by Bob Fitzgerald
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More About the Author

Evan Thomas is one of the most respected historians and journalists writing today. He is the bestselling author of six works of nonfiction: Sea of Thunder, John Paul Jones, Robert Kennedy, The Very Best Men, The Man to See, and The Wise Men. Evan Thomas was made editor at large of Newsweek in September 2006 and is the magazine's lead writer on major news events and the author of more than a hundred cover stories.
Thomas has won numerous journalism awards, including a National Magazine Award in 1998 for Newsweek's coverage of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. In 2005, his 50,000-word narrative of the 2004 election was honored when Newsweek won a National Magazine Award for the best single-topic issue.
Thomas is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a fellow of the Society of American Historians. He is a graduate of Harvard and the University of Virginia Law School. He lives with his wife and two children in Washington, DC.


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