Review: To Wake a Giant

To Wake the Giant: A Novel of Pearl Harbor by Jeff Shaara

 My rating: 5 of 5 stars


When General Billy Mitchell wrote a report in 1924 that not only predicted the Japanese would attack Pearl Harbor but how they would do it, it was rejected out of hand.

Those who've seen documentaries and feature films such as "Tora! Tora! Tora!" know before they pick up Jeff Shaara's accurate and well written "To Wake the Giant: A Novel of Pearl Harbor" that military commanders and diplomats in the late 1930s and early 1940s continued to reject a Japanese attack out of hand.

Having read all of Jeff Shaara's historical novels, often about subjects I've studied, I'm accustomed to his impeccable research as well as the fact he makes history so human and readable that by the end of each novel, one feels like s/he was there. Unfortunately, some early Amazon reader reviews said Shaara's research on "To Wake the Giant" was sloppy. Subsequently, those reviews were shown to be inaccurate.

Unlike battles that last for days or weeks or months, the attack itself was short. So this book had to be a little different, focusing for many pages on the events leading up to 8 a.m. (25 minutes later than Mitchell's prediction) on the morning of December 7th, 1941. The events prior to the attack not only demonstrate the viewpoints of the major political and military players but show the attitudes of men serving onboard the Arizona and other ships in Pearl Harbor. Shaara shows the attitudes and emotions of those involved months in advance but while the attack is underway.

The human factor looms large in this novel and that's one of its major strengths. Once again, Shaara has put us into the action in a way we'll never forget. 

 


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Christmas is for restocking books

Adults are hard to buy for unless they all live in the same house like the Waltons. When we’re living far flung around the country, we seldom know what people might want, and should we guess wrong and send something without checking, they’ll probably already have it or they won’t like it.

I know better than to put F-Type Jaguar on my list or even a new Jeep, so I try to be reasonable when I compile my wish list. If anyone wants to send me an F-Type Jag, they’ll have to pay the insurance costs. Allstate is fine, by the way

The grandchildren are easy to buy for because their mother knows what they like/want/need, creates a big list, and shares it. We split the list up with others in the family so there are no duplicates. Occasionally, we’ve teamed up to give gifts that are too expensive for one of us. This only happens when “the big present” costs $10000000 and none of us wants to mortgage our house to buy it.

But, the adults can do nothing for each other without a list. For better or worse, the older I get, the less “stuff” I want. If I need it, I’ve already bought it. So, that leaves books. I give the list to my wife, she picks something and gives the rest of the list to my brother and his wife. 

I try to avoid placing books on the list before they come out in paperback except for those times when the hardcover is cheaper than the paperback (presumably when the publisher had too many hardcover copies printed and needs to get rid of them.) You’ll notice that there are no Kindle books on the list. As I tell Kindle lovers, I read off the screen all day and don’t want to read off the screen when I’m propped up in bed enjoying a novel. I maintain that Kindle books are (a) not real books, and (b) don’t counteract the eyestrain of the day.

But, I digress. (At my age, I’m allowed to digress. In fact, most people expect it of me because they don’t think “old people” can remember what they’re talking about.)

I’ve read most of Shaara’s books and like them a lot. When this book about Pearl Harbor first came out, an early reviewer on Amazon said Shaara’s research on To Wake a Giant was sloppy. Fortunately, another reader reviewer proved that the first reviewer was incorrect. Thank goodness! Shaara tells readers in most of his books that he’s a novelist rather than a historian. Yet, he takes special care to be accurate. Authors are not supposed to take on reviewers, but I hoped he would correct the Amazon reviewers who offered up fake history to prove he didn’t know what he was talking about.

Without a doubt, I’ve read most of Allende’s novels that were published in English. A Long Petal of the Sea looks good, so it’s number two on my Christmas list. I hesitate to say this, but I think she’ll have a hard time duplicating the magic, wonder, and power of her earlier novels, mainly The House of the Spirits (1982), Of Love and Shadows (1985), and Eva Luna (1987). I certainly don’t want to discount what she’s written since the 1980s even if I keep getting stuck on liking those novels the best.

John Hart writes tough, detailed novels such as The Hush. While I’m looking forward to The Unwilling, a book Hart held back a year due to the pandemic, it’s still in pre-order status. So, I opted for Down River for my list. You’ll notice I only have books from major publishers here.

There’s a reason for that. Small press authors such as myself have no way of getting noticed except by people who follow them on sites like Facebook. It goes without saying, I suppose that I can’t read books I’ve never heard of. 

There are a lot of Alice Hoffman books on my shelves, including The Dove Keepers and the practical magic series. So, why not add another? The World That We Knew takes us back to World War II and the atrocities of the Nazi regime.

If all of these books show up beneath the tree, I’ll be all set until the new John Hart book comes out. Sure, I’ll probably add a few grocery store books by James Patterson and “Tom Clancy,” but I don’t want the family to know I read that stuff.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Fate’s Arrows,” a novel set in 1954 when the KKK was in power and the protagonist, Pollyanna (who is more dangerous than her name suggests), decides it’s time for the Klan to go.

Always waiting for factory fresh books

“They” say that Scots and those of Scots ancestry are cheap. “They” might be right since we’re part of that group who spends both sides of every penny.

Bookwise, this means that unless a book is on my “MUST HAVE IT RIGHT NOW” list, I’m going to wait for the trade paperback, or even the mass market paperback, edition of books I’m waiting for. Oddly, these days the paperback version might be more expensive than the hardcover.

I do the same thing with movies because trying to set up closed captioning at a theater is a who needs it, so I seldom see any film before it reaches TV with closed captioning. I guess this is just part of getting old. By the time I read a book or see a film, the discussion has moved on to something newer. Sigh.

So, while waiting for the cheapest edition of the newer books, I’m constant grabbing books off my shelves and reading them again. (I think that if I read it two or three times, that cuts the cost by 1/2 or 1/3 and gets me into less trouble with my wife for sneaking books into the house.)

Yes, there’s Kindle, but that’s not my thing. I read stuff off the screen all day, so that’s the last thing I want while reading for 30 minutes before going to sleep.

Right now, I’m re-reading another Jeff Shaara novel, Gone for Soldiers, about the U.S. invasion of Mexico in 1846 while we fought over just where the southern border of Texas was going to be. Many of the soldiers who became well known during the Civil War fought in this war.

Sometimes historians call the Korean War the forgotten war. One might say the same thing about the Mexican War. It falls into one of those gaps in our history lessons in school. I’ve always found history interesting, so this is an enjoyable book to read while waiting for the John Hart novel I ordered from B&N.

What about you? Do you hold out for the cheaper editions of new novels or do you say, “what the hell?” and buy them as soon as the hardcover edition is released?

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of Special Investigative Reporter.

 

 

 

Transitions

  • Since my author’s website will expire in 20 days, I’m transitioning this blog into a website–to the extent that’s possible. The first thing is a new books page which contains most if not all of my books.
  • When I’m playing hookey from my writing, I read a lot. I roar through books at the rate of one or two a week. I re-read many of my books and have found myself transitioning over to non-fiction a lot of the time for a change of pace. This week, it’s Jeff Shaara’s Rise to Rebellion that focuses on the events leading up to the revolutionary war. I wish I’d had his well-researched novels in history class since I’ve learned more from them than I did in the classroom. I met Jeff when he was a teenager, though he wouldn’t remember me since I was one of his father Michael’s many students who came to the house once a week for our college creative writing class.
  • I link some of my books (in promotions, etc.) to IndieBound as a book-store friendly alternative to Amazon. Now I’m linking my books to Bookshop.org as well because it supports bookstores rather than supporting the Amazon near-monopoly. All of my books are there since the hardcover copies are printed by Ingram.
  • My wife and I watch a fair number of noir movies on the TMC (Turner Classic Movies) channel. One of my favorites (it’s hard to choose) is the 1975 version of “Farewell, My Lovely” (from Raymond Chandler’s novel) starring Robert Mitchum as Phillip Marlowe. (Wikipedia notes that Mitchum was the only actor who portrayed Marlowe more than once.) As always, I like the deadpan voice-over dialogue of noir movies along with the gloomy cinematography and the plots filled with down-and-out people. This movie is usually referred to as neo-noir since it wasn’t made during the 1940s/1950s noir period. However, the movie was set in 1941, and the cast, director, and photographers get everything right and was a nice change of pace from the films on Netflix.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the three-volume Florida Folk Magic series that begins with “Conjure Woman’s Cat.” (Click on the book graphic to see what’s its Bookshop listing looks like.)

 

Military Fiction: it teaches of a lot we didn’t learn in school

I first met bestselling military history novelist Jeff Shaara when he was a teenager, though there’s no reason he would remember it. His father, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Killer Angels (made into the movie Gettysburg) was my creative writing teacher at Florida State University. We met at Mike’s house once a week. His wife, Helen, prepared a smorgasbord for us to consume during the class break. Jeff spent the evening (or so it seemed) hovering around the dining room table.

Inasmuch as I am a pacifist, people find it odd that I often read military history novels. I do this because they teach me more history than I learned in high school and college history classes. Authors such as Shaara (both Mike and Jeff) and Philip Lee Williams whose outstanding Civil War novel A Distant Flame was the winner of the 2004 Michael Shaara Prize, do a tremenous amount of research and then wrap their findings into compelling stories, and readers benefit from it.

Williams told me that while creating A Distant Flame, he created an hourly timeline of the battle of Atlanta to keep his facts straight. I’m sure Jeff Shaara does the same thing because his works are flawless. And, suffice it to say, Jeff is prolific:

Publication Order of World War II Books
The Rising Tide (2006)
The Steel Wave (2008)
No Less Than Victory (2009)
The Final Storm (2011)
Publication Order of Civil War Trilogy Books
A Blaze of Glory (2012)
A Chain of Thunder (2013)
The Smoke at Dawn (2014)
The Fateful Lightning (2015)
Publication Order of Standalone Novels
Gods and Generals (1996)
The Last Full Measure (1998)
Gone For Soldiers (2000)
Rise to Rebellion (2001)
The Glorious Cause (2002)
To the Last Man (2004)
The Frozen Hours (2017)

His next novel is about Pearl Harbor. I will definitely be reading it after buying The Frozen Hours about the Korean War, a war that was ongoing when I was in grade school and often in the headlines then.

I appreciate these novels because I learn so much about our history from each one of them.

Malcolm

Malcolm R, Campbell is the author of the Vietnam war novel “At Sea.” The novel is a personal story of one man’s service in the navy during the war and not military fiction.