19 January 2017

Review: Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45

Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45 Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45 by Max Hastings
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Retribution is the first book I have read by Max Hastings, and I highly recommend it. It is an impressive work that provides a balanced account of the events and people involved in all the theaters of the Pacific War in 1944 and 1945, including many areas often neglected, e.g., China and Burma. Hastings writes well and clearly -- though, as another reviewer has noted, he chooses some odd words at times -- and he never seems shy about voicing his opinion either of the those who fought the war or of later historians who judge the way the war was fought.

As broad as the scope of his narrative is, it is also quite deep. He not only discusses and evaluates the famous leaders -- MacArthur, Stalin, Mao, Nimitz, and dozens of others -- but also spends time with many of the individual soldiers, sailors, airmen, and prisoners of war on both sides. He quotes often and extensively from their firsthand accounts and memories, which gives their stories an immediacy and emotional impact it could not have otherwise. What they went through, what they did, what they felt, are by turns breathtaking, horrifying, inspiring.

In the end it is this breadth and depth that make this book so good and worth reading. Others have written and will write again that, for example, it was wrong or right to drop the atomic bombs; others have criticized MacArthur or praised him. Those arguments are nothing new and will never be settled. Hastings has his opinions on the bomb and MacArthur, too. They will not be what I remember from this book. I will remember what I learned about the size of the war in China and Burma, and what I learned about the people who fought the war and how they felt about what they did and saw. This is a good book.

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