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Hell to Pay: Operation Downfall and the Invasion of Japan, 1945-1947
Hell to Pay: Operation Downfall and the Invasion of Japan, 1945-1947
by D.M. Giangreco
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £26.50

5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating and sobering book, 5 Jun. 2015
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In 1945, the American invasion of Japan was cancelled because the Japanese surrendered. The American high command seems to have believed that it would have been tough, but the Japanese had taken such a beating that it wouldn't have been too terrible. This book digs deeper including analysis of Japanese sources (as opposed to American analyses of Japanese capabilities which throughout the war showed severe over-optimistism), leading to some horrifying conclusions. The Japanese had a very sophisticated plan, knew exactly what was coming, were planning to accept appalling losses perhaps in the tens of millions, and had plenty of troops and equipment including aircraft and fuel held back from the previous fighting. By 1945 the loss rates in island assaults were around 100% for the Japanese defenders, and had gradually reached almost one American casualty for every one to two Japanese dead; combining that with the knowledge that the Japanese had assembled millions of troops backed by civilian militia leads to some sobering arithmetic.

In general the various chapters of this book are extremely well written,thorough and persuasive, and both the technical capabilities of the sides and the sheer impending human catastrophe are brought to life very well. It clearly brings to life the terrible situation for all concerned : the American planners who wanted desperately to end the war but faced terrible decisions; the American troops (and navy and air force) facing mass death; the Japanese military and civilians who would have been slaughtered; and the 400,000 people per month (largely civilians) who were dying in Asia at the time of the surrender. This book has a little of everything with chapters on American and Japanese planning and forces; the terrain; Japanese tactics (such as the use of kamikaze aircraft, refined to perfection by this point); even the American plans to supply blood to the battlefield.

My one criticism of the book is that while the chapters are generally good, it's hard to discern a clear structure or a theme other than "here's a good analysis of another fascinating but awful aspect of the situation". On the other hand, I certainly found it hard to put down.


Imperial Governor (CASSELL MILITARY PAPERBACKS)
Imperial Governor (CASSELL MILITARY PAPERBACKS)
by George Shipway
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars A good enough read, giving a decent insight into the period, 15 Mar. 2015
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This is a fictional account of the Imperial Governor sent to Britain at the time of Boudicca's revolt. The writing reads pretty well on balance, with some chapters reading very fast as a quick moving thriller, although at times it felt to me that it stumbled into too much military detail of unit movements which neither really drove the plot nor gave me much entertainment.

Where the book shines is in giving a feel for the environment of ancient Rome; the governor taking crazy decisions because of political pressure; the overwhelming military superiority of the trained legions; the corruption and brutality that pervades almost everywhere; the despair that triggered the revolt. I suspect much of the low level detail is fanciful, but it gives a plausible and thorough feel for the period in an enjoyable read.


The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command
The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent view of both Jutland and of military command, 29 Aug. 2014
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I enjoyed this much more than I expected. It's extremely clear and readable, and gives a fascinating, original and persuasive perspective on both Jutland and on military command in general. If you have any interest in the subject, you probably ought to read it.

The author's premise is that the Royal Navy in the First World War was divided, with Jellicoe and Beatty as extreme opposites. Jellicoe was an all round nice guy, extremely efficient, and highly capable, but implementing a flawed style of command (over-centralised and over-cautious). Conversely Beatty of the Battle Cruiser Fleet was a nasty bit of work and much less efficient, but implementing a better style of command (more flexible and better able to seize opportunities).

The book starts off by describing the run up to Jutland, giving a clear feel of what was going on (and his account of Jutland itself is one of the clearest I have read). Just as the fighting kicks off, it jumps to a discussion of the Victorian navy, then comes back to the battle. That is as odd as it sounds, but allows the author to explore how the two very different styles of command had their origins in the history of the Royal Navy and in particular the events around the accidental loss of the Victoria and Admiral Tryon in 1893.

My only real criticism is that it felt it needed editing here and there; I felt the author made his point rather more often than he needed to. But I'm quibbling; it's an excellent book.


The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914
The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914
Price: £5.03

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth reading, 27 Jun. 2014
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This book covers the run up to the First World War, with a heavy concentration on the Balkans, and in particular on Serbia and its various backers and opponents. The perspective is very much about how the Great Power manoeuvring around the Balkans led to the disaster. In that sense it's slightly unconventional : for example, German power politics and naval conflict gets very little coverage, compared to the Balkans. It's almost an afterthought what happened when the Balkans pulled the trigger.

It paints a carefully crafted, readable and fascinating picture of the governments of the time, with their deep internal conflicts (in many countries the army and the civilian leadership seem to have been at odds, for example, but even the foreign ministries chopped and changed as influence went from one person to another); their failure to understand the viewpoints of other countries; and the almost universal belief that the war was somebody else's fault and so unavoidable.

It's hard not to recommend this book if you have even a casual interest in the topic. It's an unusual viewpoint, but it's very well done indeed.


Engines of War: How Wars Were Won and Lost on the Railways
Engines of War: How Wars Were Won and Lost on the Railways
by Christian Wolmar
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

3.0 out of 5 stars Superficial but very readable overview, 9 May 2014
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The author writes well, and the book is very readable, but the research seems patchy.

It often gives the impression that he only read one book on the military history of each period and refers to that book repeatedly and uncritically. As a result his views are definitely one sided; he comes across as an uncritical advocate of the controversial "Lions Led by Donkeys" view of the First World War, without justifying it in the slightest, for example.

To be fair, the author is quite open in his introduction and notes about having limited knowledge of military history (as opposed to railway history), and it's a good read. As a result I would still recommend this for somebody who has only a casual interest in the topic who wants a superficial but very readable overview. If that doesn't describe you, then you should probably not bother.


Europe's Tragedy: A New History of the Thirty Years War
Europe's Tragedy: A New History of the Thirty Years War
by Peter H. Wilson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.59

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely good overview of the period, 28 Mar. 2014
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Extremely well written. Drawbacks first - the book is very long, and the war does not even start until page 269, so if you aren't interested in the detail 17th century politics, move along please (though if you are, then of course these are not drawbacks). The single overview map is pretty dire and inadequate as usual, though the many battle maps are excellent.

On the positive side, the book is clear, incisive, comprehensive, well written and extremely readable, with (absolutely critical for such a work) an excellent index. It'll probably stand the test of time as the best single volume reference for the war, though both Parker and Wedgwood give it a run for its money if you don't want to read such a door stopper.


On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War
On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War
Price: £10.13

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Very poor, 28 Mar. 2014
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Frankly, very poor. Starts with some interesting discussion around declaration of war and the initial failure to line up the United States behind the war, and how the US military had failed to think through the implications of limited war. Then really went downhill and became verbose, patronising and meaningless to the point where I gave up just over half way through.

There seem to be entire chapters relating things that could be stated in a couple of sentences; endless unhelpful attempts to sound meaningful by bringing in Clauswitz regardless of the relevance to the argument; and some deeply patronising statements about criticisms of the US human rights record that I found borderline offensive. The author is incredibly dismissive of arguments that the US military's conduct in the war was inapproporate. Maybe he's right (it's certainly a complicated subject open to reasoned debate), but he chooses not to just dismiss the critics as gullible fools who do not know that war is nasty.


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