A Day of Infamy: 6 Books about Pearl Harbor

Ships smoking in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor.
The USS West Virginia and USS Tennessee, both of which were damaged and the USS Arizona, which was sunk. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia under Public Domain License.

Two days ago, December 7, 2014, marked the 73rd anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which ushered the United States into combat in World War II. As FDR famously said of December 7th, “This is a date which will live in infamy” and he was right, the events of Pearl Harbor never leaving our collective consciousness as a nation. Many accounts have been written about this historic moment and its effects on the future of the United States and below is a collection of just some historical and fictional accounts of the attack.

Pearl Harbor book coverPearl Harbor: FDR Leads the Nation into War by Steven M. Gillon

This record of the attack on Pearl Harbor focuses on the way that FDR handled the media and the political ramifications of the event. Pearl Harbor was a truly momentous turning point in American history. It almost single-handedly ended the Great Depression and restarted the American economy, drew the United States into World War II, and radically shifted international policies in the American political landscape. Gillon examines in minute detail the way that Roosevelt handled the attack, providing decisive leadership while still maintaining a tight control over the facts of the situation, deftly handling politicians, media, and the American people to keep the country moving in a productive direction in the face of so much terror and anguish.

And I Was There book cover“And I Was There”: Pearl Harbor and Midway–Breaking the Secrets by Edwin T. Layton

The first account of the actions leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor by a top-ranking American Naval officer, “And I Was There” offers an unflinching account of the failures and successes of Naval intelligence leading up to December 7, 1941. Layton examines political motivations and machinations in the world of Naval intelligence and how that influenced the outcomes of the Pearl Harbor attack. It is a tale of courage and war, but also a story of the human failings of our leaders in the military and the government and how those failings can have devastating consequences.

Day of Infamy book coverDay of Infamy by Walter Lord

Compiled from hundreds of letters, diaries, and interviews, in Day of Infamy Walter Lord has constructed as complete a portrait of the events of December 7, 1941 as he could. What started as a quiet day on the US Naval Base in Hawaii, quickly became one of the best known dates in history with the attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor. With these eyewitness accounts Lord gives a minute by minute recounting of the attack and the events immediately preceding and after it through the experiences and reactions of the many different people involved.

At Dawn We Slept book coverAt Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor by Gordon W. Prange

At Dawn We Slept examines the political and social background of Japan and the United States leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Beginning months before the raid, Prange chronicles the decisions made by the Japanese and Americans that set the stage for the attack and its outcome. He explores both the planning of the raid by the Japanese and the idea that the success of the attack was due to the failure of American leaders to believe in the reality of the Japanese threat. Based on years of research and interviews with American and Japanese leaders, At Dawn We Slept is a comprehensive accounting of this infamous event.

December 6 book coverDecember 6 by Martin Cruz Smith

Harry Niles, the son of missionary parents and now a nightclub owner in Tokyo, has one goal, survive the war that he knows is coming. Considered “too Japanese” by his parents and a possible Western spy by the Japanese, Harry lives his life as a balancing act, keeping one step ahead of his Japanese mistress, adulterous affair with the wife of a British minister, and the modern samurai who would like nothing better than to see him dead. While Harry fights to stop the attack on Pearl Harbor and maintain his hedonistic life in Tokyo, he always has his exit strategy as well, a ticket on the last flight out of Tokyo before the Pearl Harbor attack. Getting on that flight will mean abandoning his life and everyone in it however, and Harry isn’t quite ready to admit defeat yet.

Days of Infamy book coverDays of Infamy by Harry Turtledove

A re-imagining of the historical events of December 1941 where the attack on Pearl Harbor is followed up by a Japanese invasion and occupation of Hawaii, which provides them with a base from which to attack the American mainland. Turtledove’s alternate history is nonetheless grounded in actual events and he realistically portrays what life could have been like, but for this one change. We see the invasion and occupation through the eyes of multiple characters on both sides of the conflict including an American artillery officer now in a Japanese POW camp in Hawaii, his ex-wife trying to survive off her meager land, a brilliant Japanese commanding officer, and the members of a Japanese-American family where the father welcomes the invading army and his sons feel themselves to be Americans and do not. All of these viewpoints combine to offer a complete look at what might have been.

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