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Sea of Thunder: Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign 1941-1945 Hardcover – Deckle Edge, November 7, 2006
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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.)
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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
Top Customer Reviews
It's an enjoyable book and full of things I didn't know before--why only three stars? In Thomas' effort to show the cultural blinders on both sides, he tends to over stereotype. He made visits to Japan, but I got the impression they were largely orchestrated by Newsweek staff, which is hardly the way to learn about a culture. He also makes annoying comments about people's instincts and other motivational states that seem pretty unknowable from a historical distance. The broadness of his characterizations of Halsey and others also fall apart in places. The battle, itself, was the least interesting story in the book, despite access to survivors. I would have expected a longer, richer narrative with more detail. I'm not an intense war buff, but I've watched my share of "The World at War" and BBC's battle by battle history of the European and Pacific theatres, etc. and the book left me wanting more. Thomas does tell us what happened to key figures after the war, which is nice addition to the usual war narrative. Halsey's decline into irrelevance and the problems he suffered in dealing with his mentally ill wife are among the sadder transitions that occurred. John McCain, the media's favorite 2008 contender for President, makes a cameo appearance in a footnote, and his grandfather plays a small part in the main narrative. All-in-all a readable, interesting book, but not Thomas' best work. It's not as enlightening as the also-flawed RFK book nor the dense, incisive, entertaining ride of his early work on the CIA.
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.
By the time I finished "Sea of Thunder", I was left wondering what Thomas' intent was. It seemed to me that he really wanted to write this solely about the two Japanese commanders. Halsey was looked upon with a sort of latent disdain and Evans was forgotten about around 1/3 of the way through the book.
There are far too many books about Leyte Gulf that don't contain large amounts of personal opinion and judgement.
Bottom Line: Look Elsewhere