The great strength of this well-paced book is its vivid descriptions of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor: the palpable shock that the bombing produced in civilians, the confusion of U.S. commanders, and the horror of navy sailors being thrown by the explosions on burning ships into the water. Nelson also captures well the chaotic decision-making in Tokyo in the run-up to the attack, when a militaristic faction gained the upper hand and overrode the mis-givings of more cautious officials, who realized that however well the attack went, it was bound to end in disaster for Japan. And so it did. Owing to the Americans’ failure to take basic precautions, the Japanese navy enjoyed far more surprise and caused more damage than it should have been able to—but the bombings could never have delivered a knockout blow. The attack demonstrated the difficulty of anticipating when an enemy might act irrationally. Still, the complacency of the American side remains remarkable.
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