Top critical review
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on March 31, 2012
Its long been debated if Franklin Roosevelt had clear forewarning of the Japanese attack in December 1941. As Mawdsley's book makes clear, Roosevelt, Churchill and others did have a great deal of information on Japanese intent; however, the attack was expected in Southeast Asia and the Philippines. Pearl Harbor was truly a surprise and brought America into what was now a world war. Hitler's subsequent declaration of war on the U.S. took the gloves off on what had previously been America's limited support for Britain and the Soviet Union. While the United States had slowly been rearming for several years, December 7th stunned the nation into a total war footing. The loss of battleships was a shock for a country who's only significant military force was its navy. Recovery was quick and by June 1942, the Japanese were in retreat having lost four of their six irreplaceable large fleet carriers at the Battle of Midway. The German's took much longer to turn back and it was the Soviets who were the main weapon in this effort (supplied with a large quantity of American trucks, boots, food and other equipment). Mawdsley appropriately focuses attention on Hitler's attack on Moscow in the fall of 1941 and the Soviet counter-attacks in early December as the start of the eventual German defeat.
"December 1941: Twelve Days That Began A World War" is a useful addition to a library of World War II books. On it's own, the work would not provide sufficient information for a reader without a broader frame of reference. It lacks depth of coverage as it moves from Washington to London to Berlin to Tokyo to Moscow and elsewhere. It comes across a bit like reading a good daily newspaper for twelve days. Still, I would recommend this brief (by World War II standards at slightly more than 300 pages) book to an informed reader.