Gordon Prange’s At Dawn We Slept must be considered one of the definitive works regarding the events leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Despite being 36 years old, this book details all the major contributors and factors that led America into war with Japan.
While acting as Chief Historian in General Douglas MacArthur’s staff, Doctor Prange interviewed Japanese military officers, enlisted men, and civilians. These interviews allowed him to reconstruct the Pearl Harbor attack from the planning stages to execution.
Bu fusing the first hand Japanese accounts with American source material, Dr. Prange clearly illustrates how and why American military and civilian leaders ignored information collected by our own intelligence sources. What we see is that events don’t just happen – they are the results of either action or, in this case, inaction motivated by wishful thinking.
I first read At Dawn We Slept as an undergraduate student back in the late 1980s. Since then, I’ve reread it several times and have actually used excepts while teaching middle school history. When middle school students can access and enjoy a “college” book, you know it has merit.
An enjoyable read for both the academic and armchair historian.
With his now classic work, Dreadnought, Robert Massie weaves together the political and military ambitions of Great Britain and Germany, creating an unrivaled historical narrative of both national and personal ambitions. These ambitions led to the naval arms race of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, which then culminated in the carnage of World War I.
Beginning with Queen Victoria’s birth in 1837, Massie examines familial conflicts between the great houses of Europe. King George V, Kaiser William II of Germany, and Czar Nicholas II of Russia were cousins. Not just family rivals, these heads of state were also nationalistic opponents. Against this family background, we follow the machinations of historical figures such as Winston Churchill, Lord Fisher, Admiral von Tirpitz, Bernhard von Bulow, and Otto von Bismark. This time period is defined by nationalistic vanity, missed opportunities, and unintended consequences.
Although published in 1991, Dreadnought has withstood the test of time. Anyone with an interest in naval or colonial history should enjoy Dreadnought. I also recommend Dreadnought to those interested in technological innovation and its impact on warfare. Despite being written 26 years ago, Dreadnought is still in publication. Copies can also be found in libraries, or purchased from Amazon, eBay, and used bookstores.