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

(The Pacific War Series #1)

4.44  ·  Rating details ·  3,410 ratings  ·  312 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 wer
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
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
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
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
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!
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
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
Mac McCormick III
Jun 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wwii, favorites
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
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
J.S. Green
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
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
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
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.
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
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
Aug 21, 2015 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
May 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I found it to be a well written and stirring account ,providing viewpoints and perspectives from both sides. Background information presented was invaluable in setting the scene and fleshing out characters and building drama and atmosphere. The numerous facts encountered never seemed to inundate but rather enhanced my appreciation of the events as they unfolded . I look forward to reading books 2&3 of this exceptional Pacific war trilogy !
I started reading this after finishing Atkinson's The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945 . I wanted to balance my reading on the European Theater of WWII with the Pacific.

Toll is a good writer. His style is similar to Atkinson's in that in includes extra details that add perspective. For example, a description of the Japanese planes flying so low over Honolulu, that the Americans on the ground saw the pilots faces covered by "their cats eye flying goggles".

Toll does a fair
Urey Patrick
Jan 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Donald Luther
Jun 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
A. Bowdoin Van Riper
Jul 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
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
Feb 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
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Enjoying book 1 5 Oct 14, 2016 10:04AM  
  • Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway
  • The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King—the Five-Star Admirals Who Won the War at Sea
  • Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal
  • The Battle of Midway
  • Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45
  • Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle
  • Islands of Destiny: The Solomons Campaign and the Eclipse of the Rising Sun
  • 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
  • Japanese Destroyer Captain: Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal, Midway - The Great Naval Battles As Seen Through Japanese Eyes
  • The Twilight Warriors: The Deadliest Naval Battle of World War II and the Men Who Fought It
  • Target Tokyo: Jimmy Doolittle and the Raid That Avenged Pearl Harbor
  • Rising Sun, Falling Skies: The Disastrous Java Sea Campaign of World War II (General Military)
  • 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)
  • Halsey's Typhoon: The True Story of a Fighting Admiral, an Epic Storm, and an Untold Rescue
  • The Rising Sun: The Decline & Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-45
  • Ardennes 1944: Hitler's Last Gamble
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.

Other books in the series

The Pacific War Series (2 books)
  • The Conquering Tide: War in the Pacific Islands, 1942-1944
“On the qualities required of naval officers, Roosevelt was outspoken: “They must have skill in handling the ships, skill in tactics, skill in strategy . . . the dogged ability to bear punishment, the power and desire to inflict it, the daring, the resolution, the willingness to take risks and incur responsibilities which have been possessed by the great captains of all ages, and without which no man can ever hope to stand in the front rank of fighting men.” 2 likes
“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.” 2 likes
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