The Pacific
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142 of 152 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 6, 2010
The 10 segment HBO mini-series will focus on the Pacific theater as seen through the eyes of Robert Leckie, John Basilone and Eugene Sledge. Based on the books "With the Old Breed" by Sledge and "Helmet for my Pillow" by Leckie as well as other first person accounts and interviews, the series includes battles in Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and Okinawa as well as the marines return after VJ Day. The Pacific is the companion book to the series but differs in some ways. It also features the stories of Ensign "Mike" Micheel who got his first experience as a dive bomber at the Battle of Midway and that of Lieutenant Austin Shofner who was a POW in Manila after being part of the initial unsuccessful attempt to hold the Philippines.

As in HBO's prior WW II series, The Pacific manages to personalize events which have been portrayed on more of an epic level in presentations such as Victory at Sea. In doing so, it succeeds in conveying the larger than life terror that citizen soldiers faced just a few months removed from their everyday lives in their hometowns. Micheel describes the "puckering" he feels while preparing to dive bomb an enemy aircraft carrier. A marine experiencing repeated bombing runs by Japanese airplanes writes in his journal: "We are all nervous wrecks." As Shofner struggles to survive the extremes of deprivation in an enemy POW camp, his friend tells him "Death isn't hard. Death is easy." It is at that point that Shofner knows his friend will not survive the camp.

What is extraordinary is how the men surmount these challenges and fight in the face of fear, doubt, lack of food and water, sleep deprivation and the illness that can result from all of these factors. Seeing the War in the Pacific through the eyes of the men who fought it, the reader comes to understand that while military strategy initiates each battle, individual acts of teamwork, sacrifice and courage drive the results that follow. It is impossible not to constantly ask yourself if you would have measured up under similar circumstance. It becomes increasingly difficult to answer confidently in the affirmative.

The Pacific also illustrates how little information each person at the battlefront has about the larger context in which he is operating. Due to the necessity to keep military strategy secret as well as the challenges in conveying information on the front, marines exist on a diet of rumor and speculation as to what will next occur. The book also does a good job of showing the incredible logistical challenges involved in providing food, water and other supplies every day to large numbers of field personnel scattered across a wide area under hostile conditions. Technical resources, battle strategy, national will and individual courage determine military success in The Pacific but the ability to keep men hydrated determines whether they will be able to fight at all.

My favorite parts of the book are the descriptions of American dive bombers. Just reading about a pilot idling his engine to begin an 8,000 foot virtual free fall dive to drop a thousand pound bomb on an enemy ship causes some "puckering." If the pilot survives the dive, he hopes to have enough gasoline to find his own fleet on return and then ends by dropping his Dauntless onto the moving top of an aircraft carrier. When needed, Ensign Micheel volunteers for a second mission later the same day.

My father was a gunner on a destroyer escort in the Pacific. At his knees as a small child, I sat through countless viewings of Victory at Sea. As I got older, I could never fully understand how much a part of him his service was. I now know more about the war in which he served but I'm not sure I am that much closer to understanding what he felt. Reading books like The Pacific gives me some idea for how an 18 year old kid from East Boston could spend 3 years on a ship at war, return home with one photo over his workbench, a knife and a set of tattoos and never once talk about his experiences with his son. I wish I could have known him better and, at the same time, hope that I could have served as resolutely if needed.
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70 of 73 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 7, 2010
As a huge fan of Band of Brothers I couldn't wait for the series to start so I picked up Ambrose's The Pacific in order to fill the time and give me a back story for when the series starts. The Pacific certainly did that and more as I now want to read a lot more on the war against the "Japs". With The Pacific I think the subject being covered was what triggered this, as Ambrose's style of writing is both a hit and a miss.

The pros are that I oftentimes wonder as I am reading other memoirs/bios of WWII veterans as to where and how they fit in with one another. With The Pacific the mini bios of the marines and naval pilots are all woven together in a linear timeline so you always know where they are and what they are doing in relation to one another. This is fascinating to me because it adds many levels of detail that help to create an overall richer account of The Pacific War. Add to this the different elements of who they are, i.e. officer, dive bomber and so on, and we are treated to a more in depth look at the structure of the US forces battlling the Japanese in the Pacific ocean.

The cons, and I really only have one worth mentioning, is that Ambrose's style of writing can be rather dry and stiff at times, feeling as though we are getting a recitation of facts instead of a narrative that is weaving the facts together. Although this style can work I oftentimes found that the writing style was having troubles catching my interest and I had to draw myself back in order to continue my own narrative of what Ambrose was telling us.

Overall the book is workable as a companion volume to the upcoming HBO series for not only illustrating the lives of some of the men being represented but in also layering more detail with the inclusion of other equally fascinating men, notably Shofner and Micheel, who were perhaps more fascinating to read about because of their experiences as a POW in a Japanese POW camp and as a dive bomber, respectively. I would certainly recommend to read the other more immensely readable WWII memoirs of the Pacific Theater, i.e. Helmet For My Pillow and With The Old Breed, in order to get a better feel for what will be depicted in the HBO series, and pick up The Pacific as a companion volume instead of a stand alone history of the Pacific War.

3.5 stars.
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128 of 144 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 2010
I just bought this book the other day. I've read a LOT of history on WW2, perhaps 200+ books.

As the author explains in the Introduction, this book is meant not as a detailed military analysis of the battles that are covered within it, nor is it meant to be a biography, per se. The author claims to be striving for an "in the moment" veteran's-eye view, with all misconceptions, errors of fact, and rampant war rumors (which accompany any combat operation) left intact, for affect. Direct quotes from the players...and related players...are intentionally lacking.

So, if you can imagine a book that has minimal dialogue or quotes, erroneous historical facts cited often, and strives on purpose to have all the depth and breadth of a casual conversation, you end up with what seems to me like a book that HAD a lot of potential, but any time it got near any topic of interest, it did its best to get off the subject and move on to the next topic, as fast as possible. I want to know exactly what these guys were thinking, feeling and saying in these moments, in as much detail as the author could have wrested from his subjects via extensive interviews and research. This book reads more like a field report, all too often just too brief and bound by short sentences, consisting of the barest-of-bones facts.

In the end, it's VERY hard to read. Stilted, encumbered by its self-inflicted "style", it is a lost chance to really contribute to our history in the war...and it was done on purpose, all for the sake of conducting what I would call, "A failed experiment in writing". Hugh Ambrose just isn't his father, sorry to say.

I hope the mini-series is better. I'd skip this book, I don't think that you'll find it a page-turner. :-/
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
This was the toughest book to read about one of the most compelling periods in US History I ever experienced. It took days and days of slogging through trite, trivial, uninspired, grammatically awkward prose that left my feet with mental blisters. I read Sledge's With the Old Breed and, as is often true with many such books about this greatest of American feats of arms, I was dissapointed when it ended, even though in some ways I wish it had never been written, or experienced, by the author or his buddies.

Not so with young Ambrose. I am sorry to say I believe this book would have never seen daylight had it not been for his famous name and the commercial interests of the HBO series of the same name. I can't wait to see the series on DVD, in spite of the book.

I met one of Carlson's Raiders last Sunday at Church. Kenneth M. "Mudhole" Merrill fed a belt and a half of ammunition to machine gunner Chapman while Chapman killed almot 20 Japanese soldiers in the Makin Raid. He went on to Guadalcanal where he spent 36 days behind the lines, fighting and somehow surviving. He is very old, very elegant, very kind, very wise.

Unlike Merrill, the men and women of Ambrose's book, from John and Lena Basilone to Shofner and all the others, seem less-than-life-size paper cut outs in the untested hands of an author who could not paint a serviceable, much less soaring, vivid, real picture of what others have established in our collective minds for time and all eternity.

The best I can say for this book is, Hugh, keep at it and feel more, think less. Take people and their words at face value and don't try to make it up like "Even the vets got nervous in the service" on page 393. "...an airplane streaked westward." Really?

Spend your money on the DVDs or Blu Ray. Borrow the book but be prepared for highly annoying, literary mosquito bites the whole way through, and lots of yawning. You'll get through it because it's unAmerican not to. But you won't like it. And your memories of it will be drawn from Sledge and Manchester and the hero writers who were there.
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27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
First they shot the t.v. series, then they wrote the book. And it shows. If you have read any of the underlying histories upon which The Pacific is based, you will find this a severely compromised read. The book lacks structure, theme, passion, originality, careful editing, literary or academic rigor. Although this can easily be chalked up to the rush job attempt to get a companion piece out in time for the mini-series, other factors are also at play.

First and foremost is the fact that Mr. Ambrose has taken on his father's mantle of WWII historian, but lacks the chops to fill Ambrose Sr.'s shoes. The Pacific strings together episodes in the lives of a pilot and various marines in a patchwork that doesn't give the reader any sense for each individual's achievements, or for the greater successes/failures of the war. It's as if he read a handful of stellar biographies and autobiographies, cut and pasted the high points, and put them down in random order.

Eugene Sledge's autobiography is particularly butchered. Ambrose takes the incident with Lt. Mackenzie and turns a complex, revealing mismatch between enlisted marines and their officer into a bland encounter that leaves out the crucial detail: Mackenzie had failed to completely empty the grenade, and but for its location it would have killed several marines as a "harmless prank."

This book was given to me as a gift by a good friend, so the price was exactly right. But for anyone trying to decide whether or not to lay out $26+ for a WWII book, I'd really suggest spending it on something else.
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26 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 2010
I am in my mid-fifties, and have been reading history books since i was a teen. I do not apply the same literary standards to nonfiction as I do fiction. That being said, this is the most poorly written book I have read in 30 years. Surely there was no editorial review. The formatting is odd; Ambrose's syntax is often flawed; he never met a cliche he didn't insist on using, and the chapter rotation is so abbreviated that he apparently couldn't keep track of what he had already included in background material, and so proceeded to repeat it multiple times. Surely an editor would have stopped the excruciatingly endless coverage of Basilone's War Bond tour, stopped the clumsiest use of dialogue Iv'e ever read, and settled Ambrose's odd confusion as to whether he wanted to be omniscient or merely speculative of his character's motivations. The tv mini-series is excellent- watch it- skip the book
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Well, I need to either begin or end the review with these words, so let's get it out of the way right off the top: The Pacific just isn't as good as Band of Brothers. It is an easy but inevitable comparison. As The Pacific finds its way to television screens in the form of a ten-part mini-series, it also makes its way to store shelves (and to the list of bestsellers) as a book. Written by Hugh Ambrose, son of Stephen Ambrose (who wrote Band of Brothers), it landed on the list just days before the airing of the first episode.

Now, I know that it may be unfair to immediately draw comparisons between the two but really it is inevitable. The publisher knew this, putting the words Band of Brothers right on the cover of The Pacific. If they can sell it to us on that basis, I think we are free to evaluate on that same basis.

Band of Brothers rose or fell on the strength of its characters and the growing (and declining) relationships between them. It was tightly focused on one small group of soldiers-E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne. It followed these men from boot camp all the way to the end of the Second World War. In men like Major Dick Winters it had heroes and in men like Captain Herbert Sobel it had villains. It was a fascinating story that was well-told and easily adapted into a fantastic mini-series. The Pacific, on the other hand, began as the mini-series rather than the book. Based on two famous Second World War memoirs-With the Old Breed by E.B. Sledge and Helmet for a Pillow by Robert Leckie-the mini-series is a product of the same team that brought us Band of Brothers. Through one episode it shows great promise.

The book is a companion or an add-on to the series. It ranges much farther than Band of Brothers ever did, focusing on soldiers from different branches of the military-Army, Navy and Marines. It focuses on men who never encountered one another during the war. Therefore, it does not have the interplay and fraternity between the characters that helped make Band of Brothers what it was. Instead of the relationship between characters, we find tension between telling the story of the war and telling the story of individual soldiers and airmen within that war.

So, for example, Ambrose is constantly switching between what people actually did and saw and what they might have done and might have seen. In one sentence he'll say, "He dove into the trench, cutting his foot on a jagged piece of shrapnel" and then follow it by saying, "He might have noticed the smoke from the explosion." Ambrose continually switches back and forth between what the soldier actually saw, as recorded in his memoirs, and what he might have seen based on the historical record. Though it may seem like a small thing, I found it quite maddening as it showed to me that The Pacific doesn't know what it wants to be-history or biography. In the end it becomes a bit of both but does neither with the excellent of Band of Brothers.

Is The Pacific a bad book? No, not at all. There is a lot to gain from it both in terms of history and in terms of learning about individual soldiers. At the same time, I just can't help but feel that it's not all it could be; that it was a rush job and one that lacks precision and focus. I wanted more of the men and less of the facts. I wanted to feel about the men in this book like I felt about Winters and Sobel and Guarnere and like I'm sure I'll feel about the men in The Pacific mini-series. After all, the series has already shown that it will be more about the soldiers and less about the big picture of the war.

So here is my advice. If you have not read With the Old Breed, read that first. You owe it to yourself. It is one of the best books you'll read on the Second World War. Then, if your appetite for reading about the war and about the Pacific campaign still remains, go ahead and read The Pacific. You will encounter Sledge again, but you will also encounter another set of characters that are worth meeting.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2010
As indicated by other reviewers, this seems to be a rush job. There is little overview of the war in the Pacific, the principals are portrayed via minute details that don't really flesh out their characters, and the battle descriptions are often confusing partly due to the quality of the writing and partly due to the lack of good quality maps. This is not in the same league as Dad's WWII books such as Band of Brothers.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 2, 2011
I read many of the reviews before purchasing this book and found most want to relate it to the movie. As the author plainly states, this book is the work of research not used by the movie. This book should in no way be connected to the movie and stand on it's own merit. Also, I do believe the author also stated he was not a writer and this is his first book which he wrote in honor of his deceased Father.
The book is very informative and I did not realize until reading this that I have never read much about Iwo Jima or Okanowa battles. Anyone who is interested in history or WWII should read this book as it should be a must read. Most WWII books you read only go the late 1943 and jump over the Pacific Theater until mid 1945, glossing over the horrors. After reading this, I am now is search of more books. Highly enjoyed reading and savoring the information provided. I agree at times, the reading seemed to jump around (as many other do) and at times you may have to review something that was previously wrote to keep the story line in mind. Even with any flaws the reader may find, this book should go on your reading list.
One of the best informative books I have read in a long time. Full of new perspective and many new views not previously written.
To Hugh Ambrose, I say thank you.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on April 2, 2010
I really enjoyed Band of Brothers and D-Day by Stephen Ambrose so I was really looking forward to this book. I have to admit I don't have a background about the war in the Pacific and I was looking forward to an interesting narrative about some of the battles and events that shaped the war. This really isn't that book. It reads like a history book with references and quotes actually notated. That's not really too bad, but it's really dry, it doesn't present the true facts like a history book and it doesn't really captive the reader like a first person account. I could have probably tolerated the content mix, but the presentation just makes the whole book unreadable. The book follows 5 different soldiers and 5 different story lines. The problem is you only get 2-3 pages of any storyline at one time. You start reading about one soldier and just when you get into the storyline, the author switches to another soldier in an entirely different place fighting an entirely different battle. So 3 pages for soldier 1, 3 pages for soldier 2, 3 pages for soldier 3.. And then back to 3 pages for soldier 1. I think I could have really enjoyed it if I could have followed the individual storylines. It would have been much better if you could have had an entire chapter on each soldier, or even 5 mini novels that would have some continuity. It looks like the author may be a gifted historian, but he fails as a writer in creating a captivating novel.
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