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Sea of Thunder: Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign 1941-1945 Hardcover – Deckle Edge, November 7, 2006

4.3 out of 5 stars 158 customer reviews

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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
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 415 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st edition (November 7, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743252217
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743252218
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (158 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #151,888 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Richard A. Jenkins on December 15, 2006
Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
I wasn't particularly impressed with "John Paul Jones", another book by Evan Thomas but I gave "Sea of Thunder" a shot anyway. By covering the careers and wartime actions of four different naval officers, Thomas was unable to deliver enough depth to satisfy me. With so much material available on Leyte Gulf, I could think of many recommendations I would make before this.

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
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Format: Hardcover
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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