When I was a teenager, I was fascinated by the early 20th century, particularly the period just before WWI and continuing through WWII. Although I read other history and fantasy/sci fi, the sheer magnitude and the compelling nature of the stories during that period kept me coming back. Completely identifying with the Allies and the Americans, both wars involved extreme hardship, were filled with larger-than-life characters, had masterful and (in the case of WWII) truly villainous enemies, and ended in victory (the good guys won). While WWI was not as satisfying to me at the time as WWII, it was the perfect set up to explain the events that lead to WWII, and the first war set up the victory in WWII as so much sweeter. So I read biographies, histories, technical discussions -- indeed, it got so bad that my grandmother, who lived through and lost much in the war, berated me for reading so much about Hitler.
Later, as I came to study history and dig a bit deeper, I started learning about, and exploring the darker side of American involvement in the wars. I began to understand the true horror of global war. While the stories remained compelling in the sense of how humans respond to far more trying times, my boyhood enthusiasm was significantly tempered. A deeper understanding made me question things a bit more. In time, I discovered alternative history and became fascinated by historical twists and their repercussions.
With this background, I thoroughly enjoyed Michael's and Doug's (the books are truly co-creations of both men) Fox on the Rhine and Fox at the Front duology. That appreciation continued unabated in their latest, MacArthur's War. I could revisit my youthful enjoyment of an epic and compelling story of good vs. evil. I was also given some insight into the humanity of the enemy, the horror of the Japanese treatment of prisoners (while also getting a window into why they acted as they did), the sheer panic and mind-boggling bravery/stubbornness of soldiers, and the darkness inherent in all of us, even the "good guys." Finally, I could explore an interesting series of events, alternative to what actually happened. Kudos to both authors for the nostalgia they awoke.
The compelling story lines, both political- and combat-oriented, were highly entertaining. While not as action-packed as the combat, I found the beginning political maneuverings to be more interesting. I've read many, many fight/combat scenes. As I get older, they hold less attraction. The interplay of personalities, motivations, societal forces, and luck that occurs in the political arena, both in the halls of power of the Americans and the Japanese, presented me with something novel and unique. I enjoyed the portrayal of the various personalities of the major historical figures, and seeing their impact on the nameless, faceless support personnel (who were given both names and faces in this book). No portrayal of a historical figure is going to be 100% accurate, or without some kind of coloring. The question is whether the characters are grounded, interesting, and serve the story. I found those answers in the affirmative in MacArthur's War.
The slice-of-life aspects, exploring what day-to-day life was like for common and uncommon folks in those days, are also a special part of this book. The impact of nascent sci-fi on a few of the soldiers, the origin of skip bombing, the lot of Japanese citizens (particular when faced with the horror of the American fire bombing), how a combat veteran brings himself to return to battle again and again, the crucial part that Roosevelt's evening soirees played in policy formation -- all these were fascinating glimpses of another time and another way of life.
Finally, despite the numerous books I've read about WWII, I've never undertaken any systematic study of the time, its tech, or its events. I do know that Doug and Michael are pretty serious about their research, and the impression given by MacArthur's War is one of accuracy and precision. No doubt they got some things wrong, and perhaps even purposely adjusted some facts to better fit the storyline. None of that lessened this book's enjoyment for me. The details are interesting, none of them struck me as ridiculous, and they helped enrich the larger story. All good, in my view.
As a final note, like Matt, I have a disclaimer to make. I have been good friends with Michael for longer than either of us care to remember. I've spoken to him on several occasions about the book, and its drafting process. It took me a while to clear my plate enough to read this book, and a bit longer still to write this review, but it wasn't for a lack of positive impressions. If I didn't think so highly of the book, I simply would have kept my peace. In this case, that alternative never crossed my mind.
Thanks for an enjoyable read, gentlemen. I recommend it to all.