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The Battle of Guadalcanal has long been heralded as a Marine victory. Now, with his powerful portrait of the Navy’s sacrifice, James D. Hornfischer tells for the first time the full story of the men who fought in destroyers, cruisers, and battleships in the narrow, deadly waters of “Ironbottom Sound.” Here, in stunning cinematic detail, are the seven major naval actions that began in August 1942, a time when the war seemed unwinnable and America fought on a shoestring, with the outcome always in doubt. Working ...
The Battle of Guadalcanal has long been heralded as a Marine victory. Now, with his powerful portrait of the Navy’s sacrifice, James D. Hornfischer tells for the first time the full story of the men who fought in destroyers, cruisers, and battleships in the narrow, deadly waters of “Ironbottom Sound.” Here, in stunning cinematic detail, are the seven major naval actions that began in August 1942, a time when the war seemed unwinnable and America fought on a shoestring, with the outcome always in doubt. Working from new interviews with survivors, unpublished eyewitness accounts, and newly available documents, Hornfischer paints a vivid picture of the officers and enlisted men who opposed the Japanese in America’s hour of need. The first major work on this subject in almost two decades, Neptune’s Inferno does what all great battle narratives do: It tells the gripping human stories behind the momentous events and critical decisions that altered the course of history and shaped so many lives.
The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and Boston Globe bestseller
A main selection of the History Book Club and the Military Book Club
Selected as a Best Book of 2011 by Military History Quarterly
“With the publication of Neptune's Inferno, a masterpiece of 20th century naval history, it's time to declare James Hornfischer a national treasure, a member of the distinguished band of brothers--Stephen Ambrose, Shelby Foote, Ken Burns, Spielberg and Hanks--whose sacred mission has been vital to America's journey, preserving the stories of our fathers and grandfathers for future generations, before those stories fade forever out of our consciousness into the shadows of time.”
Bob Shacochis, National Book Award winner, author of The Immaculate Invasion
"Hornfischer has produced an account that is visceral, yet technical; sweeping, yet personal. It’s a terrific read, and an important new addition to the literature on this most important naval campaign in the Pacific."
—Jonathan Parshall, co-author of Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway
"Hornfischer’s accounts of naval combat in the Pacific are simply the best in the business."
—Ian W. Toll, author of Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy
"With this grand, sweeping, history-correcting book, James Hornfischer takes his place among the elite historians of the United States war in the Pacific during World War II. Like a Curtiss Helldiver, Neptune’s Inferno catapults the reader high into the skies for a clear perspective on the vast oceanic conflict, then dives relentlessly to propel us right into the smoke and fire and human valor of the brutal inferno known as Guadalcanal. Along the way, and drawing on newly available papers, Hornfischer clears up lingering misconceptions about this battle, including the full extent of the U.S. Navy’s role in victory. And in his character portraits of the brilliant, quirky top admirals and generals of the fractious Army-Navy command, Hornfischer offers a worthy counterpart to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals."
—Ron Powers, author of Mark Twain: A Life and co-writer, Flags of Our Fathers
"Neptune’s Inferno is a superb portrait of the U.S. Navy’s critical role in the Guadalcanal campaign, both the surface and aerial combat. Comprehensive with much that is new, yet immensely readable, it covers not only the admirals, but the junior officers and bluejackets as well. Highly recommended."
―John B. Lundstrom, author of The First Team
“An epic work…In Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal, Hornfischer deftly captures the essence of the most pivotal naval campaign of the Pacific war…Compiling interviews with survivors, unpublished eyewitness accounts, and previously unavailable documents, [he] skillfully re-creates the bravery displayed by sailors who opposed the Japanese in what could be called America's finest hour of the Pacific campaign. The book is richly supported by meticulous source notes, a concise bibliography, rare photos and campaign maps…With Neptune's Inferno, Hornfischer…has earned his place among the hallowed ranks of military historians. [It] is a literary tour de force that is destined to become one of the most definitive works about the battle for Guadalcanal. It deserves a place of honor on every military bookshelf.” – San Antonio Express-News
“Ambitious…entertaining…insightful…judicious…A vivid and engaging account…of war at sea in 1942.” —Ronald Spector, The Wall Street Journal
“Neptune’s Inferno is well written, packed with scene-setting details and clearly the product of extensive research, including interviews with some of the battle’s now-aged survivors… The author’s two previous WWII books, The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors and Ship of Ghosts, thrust him into the major leagues of American military history writers. Neptune’s Inferno is solid proof he deserves to be there.” –Dallas Morning News
“Hornfischer (Ship of Ghosts) understands the human dynamics of the U.S. Navy in the Pacific war…[he] gives an empathetic but balanced account…[reconstructing] the fighting in a masterful synthesis of technical analysis, operational narrative, and tales of courage.” –Publishers Weekly
“Outstanding… The author offers balanced assessments of the leaders on both sides, but the real heroes are the American bluejackets, who too often paid with suffering and death for those leaders’ slowness to learn. And as in his first two books, the author’s narrative gifts and excellent choice of detail give an almost Homeric quality to the men who met on the sea in steel titans.” –Booklist (starred review)
“This work's major strengths are its careful organization, readable prose, and...well-reasoned conclusions. Depictions of battles and ships are enlivened with...apt comments from participants and relevant character sketches of the key figures.” –Proceedings Magazine
“Neptune’s Inferno is an exceptional piece of military history. Hornfischer has broadened and deepened our understanding of the U.S. Navy’s role in the Solomons campaign in this eminently readable account of the bloody naval battles of attrition in the fall of 1942 that doomed the Imperial Japanese Navy to defeat and irrevocably shifted the strategic initiative in the Pacific War.” —Dr. Peter R. Mansoor, colonel, U.S. Army (ret.), Gen. Raymond E. Mason Jr. Chair in Military History, The Ohio State University
"With good maps and extensive documentation, this is gripping and readable, not a dry military report." —Library Journal
“The star of this year’s reading list is James D. Hornfischer, a military historian whose flair for narrative is rivaled only by his ability to organize the sweep of battle and assess strategy and tactics in layman’s terms.” —Cleveland Plain Dealer
Hornfischer (Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR's Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of Her Survivors, 2006, etc.) chronicles the World War II Pacific campaign to capture and hold Guadalcanal from the Japanese.
The battles were remarkable, and the author is at his best when he lets the story unfold on its own. The campaign began in August 1942 when 16,000 Marines were dispatched to capture a landing field the Japanese were constructing that would enable aircraft to control a radius of 500 strategic miles of the South Pacific. Loss of the airfield would expose the Navy to Japanese air attacks throughout the region; its capture would enable the Allies to protect the routes and, moreover, attack the Japanese entrenched in New Guinea. The Marines routed the Japanese, but the Navy, attacked at night by Japanese cruisers, lost four ships and withdrew. Afterward, between August and December, in a series of brutal naval engagements, the Japanese navy landed soldiers on Guadalcanal to retake the field and destroyed American and Australian aircraft carriers, cruisers and destroyers. However, the U.S. Navy shocked the Japanese with its own night attacks and the use of SG radar to sink Japanese battleships and surface craft of all kind, ultimately leading to the loss of nearly 40 Japanese ships and the death of more than half of all Japanese aviators who had participated in the attacks on Pearl Harbor. With painstaking research and an intimate sense of tragedy, Hornfischer relates how failed communications, erroneous orders, loss of nerve and unwillingness to trust radar led many American ships directly into the sights of Japanese arms. The outcome was in doubt until the Japanese withdrew in February 1943.The horror of the flagshipSan Francisco shelling its own fleet not once, but twice, and the abandonment of the crew of the torpedoedJuneau to die in shark-infested waters are among the wrenching tales that need few adjectives to engage readers. Unfortunately, the author often stretches and provides too many descriptors, intruding on a story that is riveting in its own right.
Sure to please military and WWII buffs, but may leave others unsatisfied.
From the Hardcover edition.
Posted March 4, 2011
For a person who personally thought that he knew a lot about the war in the Pacific, I am humbled in my attitude about my knowledge of the subject. Having first read "Last Stand of the Tin Can Navy" because my wife gave it to me for a Christmas present, I was eager to jump into this book. I was not disappointed. There were moments while reading "Neptune's Inferno" I felt like jumping on top of my chair and screaming at the hierarchy of the Navy (not a good thing to do at 35000 ft on a crowded airplane) for decisions that nearly lost this battle, in what appeared to be in the name of the Naval Academy brotherhood on one hand, and leadership incompetence on the other. Incredible loss of American blood and treasure, that if not for the seamanship and determination of the junior officers and enlisted sailors actually in the battle for the sea around Guadalcanal, may have turned the battle into a major defeat for the U.S. and her Allies. Having 20/20 hindsight is great as I try to keep this in perspective, and am doing my best to not judge some of the leaders too harshly. But my gosh, it has to make you wonder what they were thinking. I have removed my rose colored glasses towards the military leadership of that time because of this book and am casting a more critical eye towards other events and the how and why's. The book is not so much an indictment of the Admirals, as much as it is a celebration of the American fighting man. Mr. Hornfischer provides extraordinary detail to allow the reader a vivid look into the past with excellent research through the records and personal interviews with survivors and families. The author has inspired me to read more and update my knowledge about this battle and others in the Pacific during WWII. I am hoping that he writes a book on the battle for Okinawa, as my father and father-in-law were both there, Navy and Army respectively, and have since passed away, unfortunately, before we could get more of the details of their experience. An excellent read
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Posted February 25, 2011
James D. Hornfischer's book Neptune's Inferno holds the reader from paragraph to paragraph, page to page, and chapter to chapter. It's a story of men doing their duty under conditions that would make most of us shake with terror. They are going into battle, each sealed in his own duty station, many below the water line, hearing all hell break loose all around them,feeling the ship shudder when struck by enemy fire, hearing the screams of the wounded,and going about their job. It is, in short, a stirring tribute to the American sailor of World War II. Set in the waters around Guadalcanal in late 1942, it tells the story of outgunned American cruisers and destroyers fighting more heavily armored and gunned Japanese forces attempting to dislodge American Marines from their positions around a a former Japanese airfield, now named Henderson field in a series of night battles. The waters in which the battles were fought became known as Iron Bottom Sound because of the large numbers of warships that went to their graves there. This is not a story of ships fighting each other at long range. They were often less than 100 yards apart, firing at point blank range.It was not always one formation against another. American vessels steamed into the center of Japanese formations and it quickly became a battle of one ship against another. It also features men who entered the history books, such as Admiral Yamamoto for Japan and Admiral "Bull" Halsey of the United States. Its real story however, is of heroic men fighting not only to sink Japanese vessels but simultaneously fighting to save their own badly damaged ships from sinking. Hornfischer provides graphic details of the epic battle to save the cruiser San Francisco and the losing battle to save the cruiser Helena. He tells of an American destroyer sailing so close to a Japanese battleship during a night battle that they were looking up at its main deck as they went by.The reader feels the sheer terror that could grip the men in such a a battle, but the reader also comes away from the story with a real appreciation of the heroism and dedication of the men who fought their ships. What really got to this reviewer was that the officers and men who fought these ships had no control over anything. The Admirals decided on the course of action, and the captains of the ships went where they were ordered to go. The men in the gun turrets, control centers and engine rooms and other parts of the ship were sealed in their compartments to preserve water right integrity, and those compartments could easily become, and some did become, their coffins. As a World War II and Korean War Army veteran, at least I could look around and see what was happening. I could even make minor decisions. These men had none of those options. They simply did their duty. God bless them !!
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Posted January 4, 2011
Hornfischer captures in very readble fashion, the complex South Pacific naval battles between the US Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy in late 1942. The well researched 400+ page account captures the military, human,logistical details of this multi-month conflict that is probably the largest such naval encounter.
The author of Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors and Ship of Ghosts has done it again with another literary gem rounding out his personal WWII Pacific Naval trilogy that is essential for any home naval library.
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Posted March 16, 2011
For those interested in naval history, this book is a must. It provides great detail without reading like a textbook. In fact, it reads more like a blow by blow account of a heavy weight fight. Readers may find it difficult to put down,and, find themselves hungry for more by the end.
4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 11, 2011
I Also Recommend:
There are two things that I may say of a James Hornfischer book since he burst onto the naval literature scene in 2004 with The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors. First, the book will be as well researched and documented as any I've seen and second, it will be historical data that has been rigorously examined, augmented by many first person accounts and newly obtained material, and crafted into an imminently readable volume that reads like a thriller. Such a book was his first. His second, Ship of Ghosts, has even made Hornfischer a member of the USS HOUSTON (CA-30) Association's extended family.
Now comes his third naval history book, Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal. There have been several books, many of them very good, on the half-year-long battle in 1942 for that island but they focus on the Marines and their engagements ashore. For the first time there is a book that examines the entire campaign from the perspective of the navy. There were several engagements during the period, some decided losses for the Americans and Hornfischer describes not only the events but the underlying reasons. He takes us through lessons learned as the American Navy, still moribund from the inactivity of the interwar years and the Depression, comes to life in the heat of battle.
Taking each battle in turn, Hornfischer educates the reader without seeming to do so. We are being entertained by history; more than that we are enthralled with the stories he so deftly weaves as history becomes alive and real to the extent that I almost expected to feel salt spray on my face.
From the understanding of the need to stop the Japanese advance at a point where Allied forces would have a real place to start the war, to the departure of the last Japanese evacuees when Guadalcanal was safely in American hands, every aspect of the campaign is presented in a fresh and compelling way: a history that is a page-turner.
James Hornfischer fans will not be disappointed. If anything, the bar he set so high with The Last Stand has been raised and all future naval historical literature will be improved as a result.
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Posted August 5, 2011
This was the most in depth book I have read about the sea battles around Guadalcanal. The subject interests me because I have an uncle that was onboard the Helena when it was sunk, and like many vets he doesn't talk about the experience. This book didn't cover that action because it was after the timeline for the book, but it does give me an idea of what led up to that sinking. Mr Hornfischer's book "Ship of Ghosts" is also what got me to read this one, also an excellent read.
3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 28, 2012
"Highly recommend, must read, couldn't put it down" are all overused but in this case spot on. I was a little reluctant to buy this book because my interest in naval history is a recent thing and not as well developed as military aviation, which is where my true interest and experience usually takes me, but I don't know how many times while reading this book I found myself saying "this book is worth every penny of it's cost" (not something I usually find myself saying lately) and "this book should be required reading by every American citizen." So good I searched everything I could find by Hornfischer and I'm working my way through them all. It's that good.
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 4, 2012
Read this book in 2 days. Second book that I've read by him. Last Stand of the Tin Cans was the first. Another 2 day read. Can't wait for his next. Good writer. Great reads.
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Posted March 21, 2014
Posted March 14, 2014
James Hornfischer does an excellent job of fleshing out the background of the many naval battles fought in Iron Bottom Sound. I highly recommend his book. The Nook version failed in the reproduction of the battle maps, which were extremely tiny and blurry when a magnifying glass was used. I am disappointed in the Nook book's failure to spend more time developing this very important part of this story.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 14, 2014
One of the most interesting and fact filled books detailing a major yet little documented battle of World War II. Not only does it lay out the fiasco resulting from inept leadership both in Washington and in the Pacific arena, it also gives specific background details leading up to this historical event. The reader will learn that based on our protocol, the United States should have lost this war. Only through the tenacity of and sacrifices made by the sailors, soldiers and marines were we able to overcome these shortcomings in leadership. "Neptune's Inferno" is a glowing example of what happens when any nation becomes so absorbed in control that it loses the ability to look for a newer, better and more efficient way of operating its military as well as an excellent example of egos getting in the way of success by not listening to men in the field as they developed better approaches and improvements to communications. It truly is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the effectiveness, or lack thereof, the U.S. Navy exuded during World War II. On a personal note, having had a father and four uncles engaged in this battle, James Hornfisher captured the emotions and frustrations felt by each and every participant. It was as if I, the reader, was with each of them.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 23, 2013
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Posted October 9, 2012
I found the book to be too detailed. I was looking for more of an overview of the battle which I fell was lost in the continuous flow of
It all depends on what you are looking for and if it is a comprehensive accounting of the battle, this is the book for you.
Posted July 11, 2012
Posted April 23, 2012
Accuracy with a breadth of detail portrayed in a writing style that in itself creates drama of the greatest intensity.
Posted March 25, 2012
I enjoyed this book very much. After many years of reading about this time period of Naval and Marine history, I've learned so much more reading this book. The links also so greatly explained in depth, the damage to the US and Japanses Battleships. Excellent.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.