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Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal Hardcover – January 25, 2011
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The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and Boston Globe bestseller
A main selection of the History Book Club and the Military Book Club
Selected as a Best Book of 2011 by Military History Quarterly
“With the publication of Neptune's Inferno, a masterpiece of 20th century naval history, it's time to declare James Hornfischer a national treasure, a member of the distinguished band of brothers--Stephen Ambrose, Shelby Foote, Ken Burns, Spielberg and Hanks--whose sacred mission has been vital to America's journey, preserving the stories of our fathers and grandfathers for future generations, before those stories fade forever out of our consciousness into the shadows of time.”
Bob Shacochis, National Book Award winner, author of The Immaculate Invasion
"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, co-author 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
"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, author of Mark Twain: A Life and co-writer, 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
“An epic work…In Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal, Hornfischer deftly captures the essence of the most pivotal naval campaign of the Pacific war…Compiling interviews with survivors, unpublished eyewitness accounts, and previously unavailable documents, [he] skillfully re-creates the bravery displayed by sailors who opposed the Japanese in what could be called America's finest hour of the Pacific campaign. The book is richly supported by meticulous source notes, a concise bibliography, rare photos and campaign maps…With Neptune's Inferno, Hornfischer…has earned his place among the hallowed ranks of military historians. [It] is a literary tour de force that is destined to become one of the most definitive works about the battle for Guadalcanal. It deserves a place of honor on every military bookshelf.” – San Antonio Express-News
“Ambitious…entertaining…insightful…judicious…A vivid and engaging account…of war at sea in 1942.” —Ronald Spector, The Wall Street Journal
“Neptune’s Inferno is well written, packed with scene-setting details and clearly the product of extensive research, including interviews with some of the battle’s now-aged survivors… The author’s two previous WWII books, The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors and Ship of Ghosts, thrust him into the major leagues of American military history writers. Neptune’s Inferno is solid proof he deserves to be there.” –Dallas Morning News
“Hornfischer (Ship of Ghosts) understands the human dynamics of the U.S. Navy in the Pacific war…[he] gives an empathetic but balanced account…[reconstructing] the fighting in a masterful synthesis of technical analysis, operational narrative, and tales of courage.” –Publishers Weekly
“Outstanding… 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.” –Booklist (starred review)
“This work's major strengths are its careful organization, readable prose, and...well-reasoned conclusions. Depictions of battles and ships are enlivened with...apt comments from participants and relevant character sketches of the key figures.” –Proceedings Magazine
“Neptune’s Inferno is an exceptional piece of military history. Hornfischer has broadened and deepened our understanding of the U.S. Navy’s role in the Solomons campaign in this eminently readable account of the bloody naval battles of attrition in the fall of 1942 that doomed the Imperial Japanese Navy to defeat and irrevocably shifted the strategic initiative in the Pacific War.” —Dr. Peter R. Mansoor, colonel, U.S. Army (ret.), Gen. Raymond E. Mason Jr. Chair in Military History, The Ohio State University
"With good maps and extensive documentation, this is gripping and readable, not a dry military report." —Library Journal
“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
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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 navy.mil 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.
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I just finished reading the book NEPTUNE'S INFERNO. It covers the Navy Battles in support of Guadalcanal. Read morePublished 4 days ago by DBW86
Having just finished "THE ADMIRALS" Walter R. Borneman, have ordered "CAN DO" the SeaBees 1945 history, following the path of my father across the Pacific, from... Read morePublished 7 days ago by BG-expat
Very detailed but ver informative. It tells the story very realistically IMHO, without romance. Death in a sea battle can be by fire, explosion,asphyxiation,shrapnel, drowning or... Read morePublished 21 days ago by gary h
This is the first review of anything I have ever made online. After reading this book I just felt compelled to give it 5 stars. Read morePublished 25 days ago by lawrence sutton
well written, hard to put down. good from history standpoint and it was also a very moving book. I really enjoyed it.Published 1 month ago by ken McCluskey
Excellent with great details into the battles, the ships and plane and most of all the personalities of these great men
I am looking forward to reading the next one!
Good account of the U S Navy's role in the battle for Guadalcanal where sailor's casualties exceeded the Marines by a ratio of three-to-one.Published 1 month ago by George Willett