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Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942 (The Pacific War Series #1)

4.40  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,810 Ratings  ·  196 Reviews
On the first Sunday in December 1941, an armada of Japanese warplanes appeared suddenly over Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and devastated the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Six months later, in a sea fight north of the tiny atoll of Midway, four Japanese aircraft carriers were sent into the abyss, a blow that destroyed the offensive power of their fleet. Pacific Crucible tells the epic tale ...more
Paperback, 656 pages
Published November 26th 2012 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published November 7th 2011)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Rick Riordan
Nov 26, 2015 Rick Riordan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love history, and this is one of those books that is so good it reads like a novel. Toll brings to life the major players of the Pacific War on both sides of the conflict, drawing on Japanese primary sources as well as Allied. I have read a lot about the Second World War, but I still learned a great deal about this part of the conflict, which takes us through the rise of Imperial Japan, to Pearl Harbor, and on to the Battle of Midway. I am now reading the second in Toll's projected trilogy, Th ...more
If you are reading this, I assume it’s because you are my wife, a friend, or a coworker who I have incessantly badgered you want to know my opinion about this book. To that end, I generally try to avoid side-discussions about what other people think. After all, one’s response to a book is highly subjective and personal. Getting into endless arguments about what other reviewers think about a literary work is exactly what the internet was intended for a waste of time.

That said, let me break my ru
Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942 was my first exposure to the Pacific War. I love history books, even better when it’s so well written that it almost reads like a novel. Ian W. Toll brings to life the first years of the war in the Pacific from the rise of Imperial Japan through Pear Harbor, closing with the miracle of Midway. The reader is gifted with an analysis on of the major players of the Pacific War on both sides of the conflict.

Its examination of American and Japane
Sep 24, 2015 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: World War II buffs, flyboys, jarheads, swabbies, admirals
As a wargamer, World War II is one of my four main eras of interest, and while I love me some Eastern Front tank action (PanzerBlitz!), the Pacific theater of war is something I had less knowledge of until now, except in broad strokes.

This non-fiction book reads like a novel. Pacific Crucible only covers the Pacific War from 1941 until 1942, beginning with Pearl Harbor and ending at Midway, and making the author's second volume, The Conquering Tide, something I dove into with the eagerness of an
Jun 19, 2012 happy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very good retelling of the US Naval operations from 7 Dec 1941 - 8 June 1942 (Pearl Harbor to Midway) from mainly the American point of view. There is not a whole lot of new information, but he does give a complete overview of the ops (the defeat of the ABDA at Java, the Feb 42 raids on the Marshalls and the Gilberts, The Doolittle Raid, Coral Sea and of course Midway) with good biographical scetches of the main figures (Nimitz, King, Yamamoto). There is also good coverage of the intel war betwe ...more
Mar 06, 2016 Sweetwilliam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very good account of the War in the Pacific up through the miracle at Midway. The book gives a nice account of the defense of Wake Island, strategy making on both sides, critical analysis, and of course, Coral Sea and Midway. Ian Toll gives credit to the code breakers in Hawaii as the only major advantage that the USN had over the Japanese at the start of the war.

This is the 11th book that I have read on the Pacific theatre in the past year. One of the books I read and reviewed for Go
Jul 06, 2015 Chris rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, wwii
I can't praise this book highly enough. It is one of the best historical accounts of WWII that I have read. It walks through the first 6 months of action for the American forces in Pacific Theater, from Pearl Harbor to Midway. The first part of the book sets the stage by giving background information on the preparedness of the American and Japanese forces and the reasons Japan went to war. Toll also gives brief bios of some of the key players, including Nimitz, Halsey, King, and Yamamoto that ma ...more
Jul 21, 2015 Simon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First-rate reading, and a masterful introduction to the subject. Toll hits his stride with a depiction of Nimitz and a single aide on the cross-country train trip that carried him from Washington to California, where he would fly to Honolulu to relieve the hapless Kimmel and accept command of the shattered Pacific fleet. Toll tells us what Nimitz was seeing out of the train windows as he rolled toward to West Coast: an immense land of unrealized potential against which the Japanese would ultimat ...more
Jan 21, 2016 J.S. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wwii
This is an excellent overview of the war in the Pacific, from the events that led to the attack on Pearl Harbor to the Battle of Midway, but all from a naval perspective. It mostly follows a format of going back and forth between events in the United States and Allied countries, and Japan. Some of the main points for me were:
- The naval doctrines taught by Alfred Thayer Mahan which advocated large battleships, and which were adopted by most nations, but especially by Japan. These doctrines shap
Mac McCormick III
Jul 16, 2015 Mac McCormick III rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, military
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942 by Ian W. Toll. It covers the early portion of the Pacific Theater in World War II through the Battle of Midway from both the Allied and Japanese points of view.

Toll begins Pacific Crucible by looking at how the Japanese came to decide to go to War against the United States and taking a look at the states of the Japanese and US Navies. He also looks into the leadership of both navies, particularly Yamamoto, Nimit
Tony Taylor
Jan 05, 2012 Tony Taylor rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Outstanding! A fascinating account of the first months of the war in the Pacific, and of the "cast of characters" whose roles were so significant in how the course of the war was to follow during those early days and months leading up to the Battle of Midway. This is not just a rehash of the attack on Pearl Harbor or of the naval battles in the Coral Sea and at Midway, but also an in-depth primer on what lead up to the war as well as a review of the influence of Alfred Thayer Mahan, the father o ...more
Jason , etc.
Jan 09, 2012 Jason , etc. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book covers the state of the American and Japanese military and society, in general, prior to and ~6 months following Pearl Harbor. A lot of quality time is spent describing evolution of the Japanese mindset between the Russo-Japanese War and the country's rapid slide into empire building. It was interesting to find out that during the war with Russia, the Japanese were honor bound to treat their captives with exceeding hospitality, almost to the point of its being more advantageous to a Rus ...more
Jason Russell
Mar 07, 2014 Jason Russell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love reading WW2 history, but until late last year when I read The Admirals, I hadn't ready anything about the Pacific theater. As a member of the History Book Club, I decided to take advantage of the numerous titles on the subject. The Admirals was first, Pacific Crucible was second.

I wasn't exactly super excited to read this kinda felt like a "have to." But then, about 70 pages in, I realized what an exceptional book it truly is. To be sure, readers who already know a good deal abo
Apr 07, 2015 Ross rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very well written, highly detailed account of the U.S. Navy's engagements in the Pacific from Pearl Harbor to the Battle of Midway. It is 500 pages devoted to the 6 month period of this one subject and covers both the big picture and the small picture of military technical detail. There is also a 35 page prologue which describes the background and circumstances which led Japan to execute the sneak attack on Oahu.
Japan attacked the U.S. because our military and navy were pitifully weak
Donald Luther
Jun 19, 2014 Donald Luther rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I taught World War II, whether in college or in high school, it was always a very difficult proposition. In the survey courses, it was generally pretty late in the year, which meant that there wasn’t a great deal of time left on the semester clock. Because it was such a huge topic, even in the military history course I taught at UTSA did not seem to offer enough time to do justice to all its facets and complexities.

Thus, despite a massive primary and secondary literature, I never had much o
Nov 20, 2015 Christopher rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When it comes to the literature of World War II, in the past I have only ever read selections about the European Theater of Operations, of which Rick AtkinsonRick Atkinson's Liberation trilogy, which comprises An Army at Dawn The War in North Africa, 1942-1943 (World War II Liberation Trilogy, #1) by Rick Atkinson, The Day of Battle The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944 (World War II Liberation Trilogy, #2) by Rick Atkinson, and The Guns at Last Light The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945 (World War II Liberation Trilogy, #3) by Rick Atkinson, being my most recent (and highly recommended) forays. I had read two personal narratives about the Pacific, Helmet for My Pillow by Robert Leckie by Robert LeckieRobert Leckie and With the Old Breed At Peleliu and Okinawa by Eugene B. Sledge by Eugene B. SledgeEugene B. Sledge, but never a book about the overall history of the war in the Pacific. This book has been on my radar for a while and with the recent ...more
Sep 11, 2015 Dave rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a must read for anyone interested in the twentieth century, World War II, or naval history. Award-winning author Ian Toll is one of the best naval history writers around today; and ranks as perhaps one of the best ever. First, his writing is extremely enjoyable, interesting, and personable. His research is exhaustive and impeccable. He organizes a very complex subject in a way that is easy to follow and understand; the chronology is excellent. He introduces key characters in a way t ...more
Apr 03, 2015 Andrew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a perfect companion to "Shattered Sword," Parshall and Tully's book that corrects a number of historical errors that developed in the telling of the Battle of Midway.

Toll does several jobs well in this book:
* describing the military dominance of Japanese government structure that emerged in the 1930s and how it would eventually become a corrosive force in the management of the war
* describing the Allies command issues in the Pacific and how they were resolved
* discussing more clearl
Urey Patrick
I have mixed emotions about this book. Toll has an easy-to-read, enjoyable writing style. He brings in perspectives and details that flesh out and animate well known events. Yet he has an irritating tendency to get side-tracked, and to over state. He spends a chapter on Yamamoto that is interesting - helpful to understanding "War At Sea in the Pacific 1941-1942" - but he favorably likens Yamamoto to Lord Nelson then spends the rest of the book detailing Japanese failures in strategy, planning, t ...more
A. Bowdoin Van Riper
The opening phase of the naval war between the United States and Japan—the seven tumultuous months between the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway—is revisited by each new generation of military historians. Seventy years after the fact, it is the subject of a bookcase-full of first-rate histories, whose authors have set the bar high for their successors. In Pacific Crucible, however, Ian W. Toll clears it with room to spare.

Pacific Crucible is popular history written with serious int
This is exactly how all history books should be written. I was a big fan of Ian Toll's earlier book Six Frigates, and was very excited to read his new offering. This book covers the first two years of the War in the Pacific, but it is so much more than that. Outside of the military history, Toll goes in depth to look at the attitudes toward war, politics, colonialism, the Navy, etc... for both sides. I found the entire read fascinating. The last great chapter of the book covers the battle at Mid ...more
Jan 12, 2016 Mark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fast-reading and yet highly detailed history of the naval war in the Pacific (1941-1942). Toll blends information about all parties involved - both Axis & Allied - into a compelling narrative.

I have the next book in the series out from the library - but am curious how long it will take him to write the final book.

I would put this on par with Rick Atkinson's Liberation trilogy... excellent!
Feb 08, 2012 Carl rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A history of the war in the Pacific in 1941-42. The book was engrossing: I found that I couldn’t put it down, even though I knew the ending. The book covers the main events you would expect: Pearl Harbor, the Battle of Coral Sea, the Doolittle raid, and Midway. But the book also gives the historical background, starting with Alfred Mahan, the Russo-Japanese war, Teddy Roosevelt, and the rabid Japanese militarism of the 30’s. Teddy predicted that if war with Japan came, it would be very sudden. I ...more
Steven Hull
Aug 22, 2016 Steven Hull rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There is an overabundance of good books about World War II in the Pacific. I know I will never be able to read them all. One has to be selective. Ian Toll’s Pacific Crucible is the first in a trilogy of books that will cover this theater of the war. Despite the comprehensive coverage of this part of history already in existence, Pacific Crucible is well worth reading.

The book is more than facts, statistic, dates and descriptions of battle. It looks at the historical and cultural antecedents of
Rich Fein
Jun 24, 2016 Rich Fein rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is an in depth description of the start of the battle for the Pacific in WW II. All of the ghastly features of war told in human terms, not through the language of tactics and strategy, but through the background and decisions of people at all levels. I really admired the manner in which the author did 4 things: (1) showed the development and conclusion of the major encounters in the Coral Sea and in the Battle for Midway that even a landlubber like me could appreciate (2) described in ...more
Jun 01, 2016 Stephen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The story is so familiar than it is hard to believe that it is seventy years ago this week.

The seven months from December 7, 1941 to June 5, 1942 saw a great reversal of fortunes in the Pacific war. Rather than concentrate solely on the military aspects of the period, this book takes a broader view. It includes a summary of the century's tensions between Japan and the U.S. and how the rise of a martial society in Japan kept past grievances from going away.

Toll does provide a wider context for e
May 28, 2016 Bap rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Germany first was not just a strategic commitment of the U.S. But it has also been honored by most historians which focus in the war in Europe rather than the war in the Pacific. Toll evens the scales with his magisterial account of the early period of the Pacific war where for six months Japan scored a series of victories which reversed the stereotype of the weak Asian fighters to develop an aura of invincibility . The United States Navy was able to reverse the tide in the improbable Battle of ...more
Nov 18, 2015 Brian rated it it was amazing
I thought this was an excellent narrative history of the U.S. Navy's role in war in the Pacific, starting with the attack on Pearl Harbor through the Battle of Midway. Detailed background information about the Japanese navy and the politics that led them to war is provided, as it is for the U.S. Navy, including training regimens for the naval aviators. The author also provides interesting mini-biographies of some of the important players, such as Admirals King, Nimitz, Halsey, and Yamamoto, amon ...more
Richard Wise
Nov 12, 2015 Richard Wise rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Like Rick Atkinson (Liberation Trilogy), Ian Toll is a practitioner of a new approach to history. Not satisfied with a one sided narrative focused on the major practitioners, Toll gets down in the trenches with the guys who carry out the orders and actually prosecute the war. What Atkinson did in describing WW II, the war in Europe, Toll has done for the American war at sea against Japan.

In addition, Toll attempts to tell us what we were thinking but what our Japanese enemies were thinking as w
Edgar Raines
Nov 07, 2015 Edgar Raines rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a beautifully written narrative account of the Pacific War's first six months through the battle of Midway. The focus is on the war as experienced both by the commanders and by lower graded officers and enlisted sailors. Much of the text is given over to description, which gives a real immediacy to the text, almost as if the reader was there. He quite effectively includes the Japanese side of the story in this account. The book is focused on the sea services. Land and non-naval air opera ...more
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  • Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal
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  • Sea of Thunder: Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign 1941-1945
  • Clash of the Carriers: The True Story of the Marianas Turkey Shoot of World War II
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  • Target Tokyo: Jimmy Doolittle and the Raid That Avenged Pearl Harbor
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  • With Wings Like Eagles: A History of the Battle of Britain
  • The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945 (World War II Liberation Trilogy, #3)
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Ian W. Toll, is the author of Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942 and Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy, winner of the Samuel Eliot Morison Award and the William E. Colby Award. He lives in San Francisco and New York.
More about Ian W. Toll...

Other Books in the Series

The Pacific War Series (2 books)
  • The Conquering Tide: War in the Pacific Islands, 1942-1944

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“The Japanese people were rapidly succumbing to what would later be called shoribyo, or “victory disease”—a faith that Japan was invincible, and could afford to treat its enemies with contempt. Its symptoms were overconfidence, a failure to weigh risks properly, and a basic misunderstanding of the enemy.” 1 likes
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