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Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR's Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of Her Survivors
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Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR's Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of Her Survivors

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  2,095 Ratings  ·  136 Reviews
"Son, we’re going to Hell."

The navigator of the USS Houston confided these prophetic words to a young officer as he and his captain charted a course into U.S. naval legend. Renowned as FDR’s favorite warship, the cruiser USS Houston was a prize target trapped in the far Pacific after Pearl Harbor. Without hope of reinforcement, her crew faced a superior Japanese force ruth
Hardcover, 530 pages
Published October 31st 2006 by Bantam (first published 2006)
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Jason Koivu
Feb 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Reads like Band of Brothers. Sounds like "the horror...the horror."

All the pieces are here: the finely crafted storytelling with intentionally-though-seamlessly placed details all fitting together and falling into place so that you hardly notice the author's hand, as you should not. You should be focused on the story, and that's not difficult as this is a terrible, true tale of war and human perseverance through some of the harshest treatment man has ever doled out to man.

Reading Ship of Ghosts
Sep 04, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: WWII, military history
I picked this book up primarily as it was my father's first ship in 37, right off the tobacco farm. fortunately for me he was transferred off before the beginning of the war. unfortunately for him, he was transferred to Pearl Harbor, and was still there Dec. 7th. But he made it through in one piece. I still have my father's souvenir photo album from the Houston in my closet, and many of the photos in it and stories I heard growing up appear in the book. So, as you might imagine, the book resonat ...more
Mar 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I believe that the USN Houston was the first American capital ship to take on the Imperial Japanese surface navy. This story is told from the mouths of those who lived through the ordeal. The ship and crew acquitted themselves according to the highest standards of the United States Navy until they were sunk and survivors were captured. Captivity was horrible and Hornfischer brings all this back to life.

I do not know if it is the Pacific War I love reading about or if it is the way that Hornfisc
carl  theaker
Sep 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ww2
Hornfischer, doesn't a name of that caliber sound like it should be
Admiral Hornfischer?

'Ship of Ghosts' is a definite goodread. You usually pick up a history book
because you are interested in the subject, but sometimes text is a bit dry
and tough to get through, well that's no problem here. I was always looking
forward to time to continue reading.

Hornfischer selected a perfect niche with this early days of the war
in the Pacific, which in the shadow of tales of the later war years of
Iwo Jima an
Aug 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Very interesting book. I have never read any naval history so the first part took me a bit to get through; I didn't understand a lot of the terms and/or couldn't visualize what they were talking about. However, it picked up for me a bit once the ship was sunk and they were captured and transferred to the POW camps. The author really does a great job wrapping up the book. He lets you know how these soldiers/POWs did after the war and talks about the lifelong impact that their experiences had on t ...more
Richard Palmer
Aug 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic history!
Incredibly well researched, organized. An excellent story of the men of the Houston who found themselves working on the Burma railroad.
What a remarkable story, and how well told!

My only comment is that the title might be a little misleading. The book is devoted mostly to the trials of the men after the ship was lost. Though they may have maintained a personal identification with the Houston, it is not the main emphasis of the book. 'The Epic Saga of Her Survivors' should be the
Doreen Petersen
Oct 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: wwii
Very well written book. Lots of info I didn't know about. I would recommend this to those interested in WWII history.
Jan 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: wwii
The USS Houston was sunk near Sumatra in the early part of the Pacific conflict when it surprised a small fleet of Japanese troop transports and their escorts. Although it and the HMS Perth were sunk, they took a number of enemy ships down with them. Of the ship’s crew of well over 1000, less than 400 survived the sinking and were captured, only to be sent to Burma where they worked as slaves in the horrendous conditions on the Burma-Thailand Death Railway. (The British film “Bridge on the River ...more
The USS Houston was serving in the South Pacific when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. As such it immediately started the fight against the Japanese, but was far from resupply lines. On February 28, 1942 the USS Houston and the Australian ship Perth were sunk off the coast of Indonesia as they battled the Japanese landing fleet. Survivors of both ships were taken prisoners and served the remainder of the war as Japanese slave labor.

Why I started this book: Hornfischer is one of my new history-c
Jan 22, 2009 rated it liked it
Ship of Ghosts is a rather unfortunate title for “the story of the USS Houston, FDR’s legendary cruiser, and the epic saga of her survivors.” There are no ghosts. There are, however, harrowing tales of bravery, sacrifice, and human dignity in the face of unbelievable hardships and suffering. This book fits in nicely with Flags of Our Fathers and Tom Clancy's Debt of Honor. There are many aspects of the WW2 era that today’s generations seem woefully ignorant about… such as the Gulag Archipelago i ...more
Sep 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
Two tremendous stories - the story of the USS Houston and its crew as it battled with the doomed ABDA fleet in the first months of WWII. The first 6 months of the war, particularly in the western Pacific, were a chaotic time for the Allies as they tried to slow the Japanese advance. The Houston literally went down, flags flying, in an effort to stop a Japanese invasion fleet in Indonesia.
The 2nd story is that of her crew that survived and were captured. They faced the full gamut of the Allied PO
Feb 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This a really good read. The amount of detail in the first several chapters seemed daunting at first but soon I got hooked on the stories and hated to reach the end. The book begins with the saga of the USS Houston and follows the crew until the end of WWII. The story of The Lost Battalion (131st Artillery, 36th Infantry Division, Texas National Guard) is interwoven. The two groups shared many POW experiences. Hornfischer provides enough "big picture" information (strategies, planning, major bat ...more
Michael Burnam-Fink
Apr 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, history, war
Ship of Ghosts is both smaller and bigger than Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors. Hornfisher focuses on the men of the USS Houston, a heavy cruiser assigned to the Asiatic Fleet at the start of the Second World War. Previous President Roosevelt's favorite cruiser, in the dark days of the initial Japanese assaults, the Houston was the lynchpin of the defense of the island of Java.

Part of an ad hoc American-Dutch-British-Australian command, the Houston and the other defenders of Java faced terrib
Charles H Berlemann Jr
The movie "The Bridge over the River Kwai" is the framing device as to why the author wrote this book. In the movie the character played by William Holden states that he is from the USS Houston, CA-30. Which confused the author since he naturally assumed that the Houston was lost later in the conflict. Instead he finds a horror story that the crew went thru after their ship, along with the HMAS Perth (D-93) were sunk while off the Sunda Strait near the island of Java. After the crew is captured ...more
Ralph Wark
Jul 18, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A story to be remembered

The men of the Houston had many distinctions, a few unfortunate. It was FDR'S favorite ship, well run with great morale. They fought in the first great naval battle in the Pacific war in 1942, the Sunda straight, fighting bravely but sunk. The unfortunate bits were the timing.... this happened at the start of WW II, little as known of them, and the survivors liberated after VE day, when the nation's attention was turned to celebration. I'm between they suffered, died, per
Nov 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
James Hornfischer does it again. An amazing survival story that lasted almost the entire Pacific War. I was surprised at the real story behind the film and novel "Bridge on the River Kwai", and how HOUSTON survivors played a part. They suffered a truly torturous existence at the hands of Japanese slave drivers (a.k.a. POW guards). After reading this I feel even more honored to have been given the opportunity to return one of the USS HOUSTON survivors to a final rest with his shipmates. In 2008, ...more
Jeff Dawson
Feb 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Excellent Recounting

I will admit when I bought this book, I was clueless about the USS Houston and its plight. I did not know it was FDR’s favorite ship. I did not know it was stationed in the South China Seas under a fractured command structure or that is was the first Untied States Warship to be sunk by Japanese gunfire.
This is a compelling tale of the men who served and died on her during the early days of World War Two. If you haven’t read this book and are looking for a rare find, I can’t
Kenneth Barber
Oct 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book tells the story of the battleship USS Houston the flagship of the Asiatic Fleet. The ship was a favorite of FDR who sailed on it for many trips. The ship was sunk in an early engagement with the Japanese. The book then follows the survivors as prisoners of war many of them were forced to help build the Burma to Thialand railroad. This railroad was immortalized in the movie Bridge over the River Kwai. The truth is far from the romanized version of the movie. The chronicle of the prisone ...more
Nov 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
There are SO MANY stories of American heroes that are not told. This is a huge story - many heroes doing so much - and we never know about it if we don't go search. This is another great book by Mr. Hornfischer. It tells the story of a ship that I never even heard of... and he tells it very well. I urge you to read this book. Will our children ever care about the struggles of our world when they have computer games?
Amy Hardison
Jan 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. The first part was a little hard going since I am not an expert on naval terms, but after this it was riveting. It covers the experiences of the USS Houston up to and including the battle in the Java Sea. However, the best part is what happens afterwards as these sailors became POWs and enforced laborers building a railway in Burma and Thailand. (Think "The Bridge on the River Kwai.") It is inspiring and heartbreaking and riveting.
Jun 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Very well written. A little known story of the USS Houston being sunk in Feb 1942. It tells of the heroic and courageous struggle to survive the harsh Japanese brutality and the jungles working on the railroads thru Burma and Thailand. Many believed there were no survivorsnof the Uss Houston till the near end of the Pacific War. I was able to meet one of the survivors at a USNCSA reunion in 2010.
Jan 26, 2017 added it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Justin Talbot
May 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Excellent chronicle of the men of the USS Houston, it spares a lot of the horror show usually found in books depicting POW experiences but it's unsensationalized, factual retelling of the stories that make up the story loses none of it's impact for that. Excellent.
Aug 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: historical-war
A summary of the death railroad built during World War II, focusing on the Americans and the Australians from the Perth and the Houston.
Kent Weatherby
Aug 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Fabulous story. What these brave men endured should never be forgotten in an America obsessed with growing mediocrity.
Feb 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The Houston was lost in the battle of the Java Sea as part of a badly overmatched Anglo-Dutch-American force, but it left a reputationfor valor.
Jul 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
In reading James Hornfishers’ Ship of Ghost, I had two visceral reactions:
I felt embarrassed to put down the book long enough to get lunch. A simple privilege that was not available to these good people.
If America is ever called before a celestial court to account for it actions. America can be nothing but proud that it helped to systematically and by a humiliating degree destroy Japanese militarism.

I wish to be clear on this second point. As a Midshipman I visited modern Japan and enjoyed mysel
May 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The heavy cruiser, USS Houston, was the flagship of the United States' Asiatic Fleet at the outbreak of war between Japan and the United States on December 7, 1941. It was her fate and that of her crew to participate in one of the war's first major naval engagements. USS Houston and HMAS Perth, together with several smaller destroyers were part of a multi-national force that attempted to thwart the Japanese invasion of Java. After suffering greatly during that battle, Houston and Perth attempted ...more
Larry Brunt
This is not balanced history.

Most of the reviews here focus on the book's obvious strengthes: it is well-researched and thorough and interesting. But there is a serious flaw here as well: the book is so focused on making heroes of the men who fought on the USS Houston that it reads like a hagiography rather than history.

Part of the problem is that Hornfischer uses the accounts of the men themselves as primary sources, which are necessarily biased. He doesn't counterbalance those narratives with
Devin Poore
Dec 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
It's odd to say one enjoyed something of such dark subject matter, but it fits here. Hornfischer's second book, SHIP OF GHOSTS covers mostly the war experience of USS HOUSTON's crew. With the telling of HOUSTON's sinking done by 1/4 of the way through, the bulk of the book is devoted to the crew's experiences in Japanese prisoner of war camps in the Burma region. While the horrors visited on the Allied prisoners by the Japanese military and Korean guards are related, one will have to read other ...more
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Hornfischer’s writing career has grown out of a lifelong interest in the Pacific war. He has appeared on television on The History Channel, Fox News Channel’s “War Stories with Oliver North” and C-SPAN’s “BookTV.” A frequent speaker on the subject of the war in the Pacific, the U.S. Navy, and the experience of America’s sailors in World War II, he frequently addresses veterans organizations, youth ...more
More about James D. Hornfischer

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