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Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941–1942

(The Pacific War Trilogy #1)

4.47  ·  Rating details ·  4,168 ratings  ·  374 reviews
The planning, the strategy, the sacrifices and heroics-on both sides-illuminating the greatest naval war in history.
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 w
Hardcover, 597 pages
Published November 14th 2011 by W. W. Norton & Company
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Rick Riordan
Nov 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
“For the inhabitants of Oahu, there was nothing unusual in being jerked out of sleep by guns and bombs and low-flying aircraft. The island was crowded with military bases, and live-firing drills were commonplace. In early 1941, as the danger of war had seemed to grow, the services took to conducting ‘simulated combat exercises’ – mock battles pitting the army against the navy, the navy against the marines, the marines against the army. On these days, a colossal amount of ammunition was thrown up ...more
May 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
David Eppenstein
A great history of the first year of naval operations in WWII's Pacific theatre.
Sep 13, 2015 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
Pam Walter
Jun 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, non-fiction, wwii
While I have read quite a few WWII histories, I am weak on Pacific Theater. Ian Toll does for WWII history what Barbara Tuchman did for the WWI. Pacific Crucible covers the war in the Pacific from Pearl Harbor to Midway, that being 1941 - 1942.

Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan already occupied a portion in the northeast of China, plus Manchuria, Korea, French Indo-China (Vietnam), Formosa, The Phillipines, Dutch East Indies, Burma, Siam (Thailand), New Guinea, Malaya and had designs on
Doreen Petersen
Aug 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: wwii
Magnificent book of the initial naval battles between the US and Japan. A great read!
Heinz Reinhardt
Feb 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The United States has produced a handful of truly outstanding writers who have applied their pen to the craft of history. This pantheon of American historical writers, writers such as Shelby Foote, Bruce Catton, Samuel Eliot Morrison, Thomas Fleming, Stephen W. Sears, and Rick Atkinson (amongst far too many more to name here) can now be added a new literary titan: Ian W. Toll. 
Toll takes the reader on a deep look into the origins of the American war with Japan, going back as far as Perry's black
Jun 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Michael Burnam-Fink
May 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020, history, war
I've read quite a few WW2 histories lately, but not a comprehensive account of the Pacific theater. Toll's 3 volume, 1500 page epic seemed like a reasonable place to start. This book focuses on Pearl Harbor to Midway, with detours into the historical origins of major figures, the admirals Nimitz, King, Halsey, and Yamamoto. As expected, Toll is an incredibly engaging writer (I read this book at a gallop, long past a sensible bedtime), bringing the drama and history of the moment alive. He is the ...more
Mar 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
This is a great book, the greatest I've ever read on the Pacific theater. And it's a navy book, which I think any book that seeks to explain the strategy behind a campaign conducted mainly on islands no bigger than a good-sized town has to be. But naval warfare is a particularly difficult type of war for the non-expert to relate to, which is probably why it so rarely shows up at the center of films.

And that is why this book is exciting. It makes naval warfare interesting and explains the needles
Mac McCormick III
Jun 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: military, history
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
Mar 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Thomas Ross
Mar 28, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My reading on the Pacific Theater during WW II has mostly focused on the Marines and Army in their land battles and, ironically, only a few (Sea of Thunder; Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors; Abandon Ship) on the Navy. Then I came upon Ian Toll and Pacific Crucible and in buying that learned he was writing a trilogy. I have read many books about WW II and the frustrating part of that is when I don't learn anything new. Or when the writer is so stiff and dense with the material that I have to gi ...more
Jason Russell
Mar 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Tony Taylor
Dec 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Sean Chick
Sep 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Rarely do I find a history book to be a page turner. After all, you know generally what is going to happen next. However, Toll is a damn good writer with keen insights into personality and a practical approach to strategy. Pacific Crucible is not perfect. The organization is sometimes confusing, Japanese voices are sometimes wholly absent, and some events and people are not mentioned (Port Darwin raid and Somerville). Yet, this is a compelling book that blends good prose with good analysis. Toll ...more
Pacific Crucible is a well-written account of America's early military engagements against Japan during the Second World War. Toll jumps right in by opening with bombs landing at Pearl Harbor. From there, he builds his history into the culminating Battle of Midway. This works quite well as a narrative story. Plus his prose are so captivating. At times they are bit elevated rendering depictions in mythological proportions, but that's alright. While definitely in the "good war" category of scholar ...more
Sep 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This tale is an especially well written narrative of a familiar story to most Americans and students of history ... the attack on Pearl Harbor and the beginning of the war in the Pacific. But it is much more.

While the book gives a rousing rendition of the surprise attack on Pearl harbor, it doesn't focus the whole book on that single event. Rather, after developing the story behind the attack including all the politics and positioning of countries, it paints the picture of what happened in the
Mar 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Excellent overview of the first year of the Pacific War; the accounts of Pearl Harbor and Midway were the best I have read. Can't wait to check out the second volume of Toll's trilogy on this topic!
May 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Mostly this is intended as a reply to some of the detail oriented reviews on this and similar histories.

It is my opinion that history books can be place on a three pointed continuum.

At the first stop, a history is a recitation of events in sequence. Who did what, when and using what. All the historian is attempting to do is reproduce factual events in some kind of reasonable order. As the writer moves up the line, there is going to be some discussion of why and an application of independent reas
Jason , etc.
Jan 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Susan Paxton
Dec 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Excellent - a perfect Christmas gift if you have a friend or relative who's interested in World War II in the Pacific. Notable are Toll's mini-bios of Nimitz, King, and Yamamoto. Only irritant is his use of the currently popular term "flyboys" to refer to pilots. Call any pilot of any era a "flyboy" and you'll get popped.
Jan 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7 1941 caught the U.S. Navy by surprise in more ways than one. For not only did Japan succeed in disabling a major portion of the Pacific Fleet, the attack by waves of bomb- and torpedo-carrying planes inaugurated a new style of naval warfare for which the United States was unprepared. The learning curve that the U.S. was forced to undertake serves as a key theme of Ian Toll's book, which chronicles the first six months of the war in the Pacific. During ...more
David Gramley
Feb 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I set a goal this year to read about the war in the Pacific. I could not have chosen a better book than Ian Toll’s Pacific Crucible as my starter. Even though this book is timed to cover events only through Midway, it provides a narrative including how modern navies evolved, and of the events in Japan leading them to this war. Toll introduces key figures, such as Roosevelt and Churchill, the US Admirals including King and Nimitz, and Halsey and Spruance, and from the Japan side he provides insig ...more
Nicholas Lefevre
Apr 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Long fascinated with WWII I have focused almost exclusively to the war in Europe. This is true despite the fact that my Dad joined the Marines and led troops in some of the key battles in the Pacific, including leading 600 Marines on Iwo Jima. This book was my first comprehensive history of WWII in the Pacific, at least the first part.

Pacific Crucible is the first volume in a 3 volume history of WWII in the Pacific by Ian W. Toll. As I understand it, Toll is perhaps America's leading naval histo
Aug 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Most of my WWII knowledge centers the European theater, as most of my history classes in college were focused on it. I’d heard this was an excellent book on the early years of the war in the Pacific and was that ever correct.

Incredibly gripping retelling of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Battles of the Coral Sea and Midway made the book impossible to put down for 60-70 pages at a stretch.

The sections dealing with how the Japanese society became militarized and had a fanatical devotion to t
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Review... 1 5 Jun 07, 2019 02:35PM  
Enjoying book 1 5 Oct 14, 2016 10:04AM  

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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

Other books in the series

The Pacific War Trilogy (3 books)
  • The Conquering Tide: War in the Pacific Islands, 1942-1944
  • Twilight of the Gods: War in the Western Pacific, 1944-1945

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