With The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors and Ship of Ghosts, James D. Hornfischer created essential and enduring narratives about America’s World War II Navy, works of unique immediacy distinguished by rich portraits of ordinary men in extremis and exclusive new information. Now he does the same for the deadliest, most pivotal naval campaign of the Pacific war: Guadalcanal.
Neptune’s Inferno is at once the most epic and the most intimate account ever written of the contest for control of the seaways of the Solomon Islands, America’s first concerted offensive against the Imperial Japanese juggernaut and the true turning point of the Pacific conflict. This grim, protracted campaign has long been heralded as a Marine victory. Now, with his powerful portrait of the Navy’s sacrifice - three sailors died at sea for every man lost ashore - Hornfischer tells for the first time the full story of the men who fought in destroyers, cruisers, and battleships in the narrow, deadly waters of “Ironbottom Sound.” Here, in brilliant cinematic detail, are the seven major naval actions that began in August of 1942, a time when the war seemed unwinnable and America fought on a shoestring, with the outcome always in doubt. But at Guadalcanal the U.S. proved it had the implacable will to match the Imperial war machine blow for violent blow.
Working from new interviews with survivors, unpublished eyewitness accounts, and newly available documents, Hornfischer paints a vivid picture of the officers and enlisted men who took on the Japanese in America’s hour of need.
©2011 James D. Hornfischer (P)2011 Random House Audio
“With the publication of Neptune's Inferno, a masterpiece of 20th century naval history, it's time to declare James Hornfischer a national treasure, a member of the distinguished band of brothers - Stephen Ambrose, Shelby Foote, Ken Burns, Spielberg and Hanks - whose sacred mission has been vital to America's journey, preserving the stories of our fathers and grandfathers for future generations, before those stories fade forever out of our consciousness into the shadows of time.”(Bob Shacochis, National Book Award winner, author of The Immaculate Invasion)
"Hornfischer has produced an account that is visceral, yet technical; sweeping, yet personal. It’s a terrific read, and an important new addition to the literature on this most important naval campaign in the Pacific." (Jonathan Parshall, co-author of Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway)
"Hornfischer’s accounts of naval combat in the Pacific are simply the best in the business." (Ian W. Toll, author of Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy)
Just like The Last Stand Of The Tin Can Sailors, Hornfischer draws me into a sometimes chaotic battle, and this one far greater in scope and length than the previous, giving me just enough detail without losing the big picture. His descriptions aren't cumbersome or tedious but paint an epic of heroes, monstrous destructive machines and the struggles of men just like you and I. I've read several books on the Guadalcanal Campaign and Neptune's Inferno with ease, reveals the desperate situation the USA as well as the USN grappled with in the Summer of 1942. He made me yearn to hear more of the plight of the Marines and Cactus Airforce but gave enough to round out the telling and still stay focused. Perhaps in another book?
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The book was engaging . . . no, riveting! I'd wager most Americans have heard of Guadalcanal. I know I had, I saw The Guadalcanal Diary, my father notched 10 war patrols aboard the submarine USS Sailfish in the Pacific, however he was not near iron bottom sound during the epic battle. This exceptional offering was as if I was hearing about this island for the first time.
For me, ANY book is better than a movie on the same subject. Also, a history book needs to be crafted very carefully so as to not end up dry. Hornfischer made it come alive! I enjoy detail, but others may not. Inferno was rich in detail as well as an honest effort to cover all aspects of the battle even when unsettling or negative. I had been mistaken, or had forgotten, that this was more than a Marine show. The Navy suffered immense losses and bad luck there, and also resounding success and good fortune. I found myself in awe of the graphic descriptions of naval battle in all its horrific action. I was shocked at the errors in tactics that caused some of the US losses. I was equally thrilled with the equally brilliant changes on the fly by some commanders which went against all previous schooling in surface warfare.
I found myself being taught history without knowing it was happening. The author remained fluid and readable from beginning to end, which I feel is very rare in this genre. Most lose ends were tied up at the end in a very satisfying manor. Hornfischer's word pictures were so vivid that I would have to stop the audio at times to let them play in my mind for a few minutes.
If you wish to learn more about Tom Brokaw's Greatest Generation, this epic book will satisfy! Be brave as this story may not be for the faint of heart. I found myself saying "unbelievable" under my breath many times. I choose not to give up much story detail here, but rather to convince anyone who might be considering Neptune's Inferno to buckle up and immerse yourself in a very meaningful book!
Actor/director/teacher. Split my time between Beijing and Seattle now. Listen to Audible on the subway and while driving or riding my bike.
The challenge for a writer of popular military history is to show both the forest and the trees (and occasionally even the moss, daisies and thistles) without ending up with a tedious mishmash. Hornfischer succeeds brilliantly. He establishes a fairly extensive and comprehensible overview and refreshes it regularly and effectively. At the same time he provides us with a wealth of human detail and tour de force descriptive writing which brings harrowing moments to vivid, even excruciating, life. As a result we witness the battles in a way which even the participants could not in that we observe with a much more comprehensive understanding of what we are seeing. It is like watching a game played out on a chessboard during which we watch the shocking details of the death of every sacrificed pawn or knight.
I particularly like the way the author gives individuals at all levels their due while never glossing over their human errors and frailties.
The narration is understated and sure handed. A fitting match for the style and subject matter of the book.
I found it particularly useful to refer to online maps and alternative descriptions of the battles in questions as I listened to this book. Just a suggestion.
The moments of the first battle
Dean did an excellent job. He is the right narrator for this book. Spot on.
For anyone that has a passing interest in naval history you must get this book. This was a pivotal moment in the Pacific. Not many people know about these battles and Hornfischer does an excellent job of telling them. This was where the navy blees more than the army or marines did. These were cutthroat battles at ranges that were pointblank. Two admirals were killed in combat during them. This is the battle where Halsey did his best work of the war.
Cranky old fart
I'll bet you a wooden nickel you will know more about the Pacific Theater in World War II after you read this one. It's a great story, well told. Hornfischer does an outstanding job of laying out the facts and lets the facts speak for themselves. Robert Dean does his usual fine job as well reading the story.
I was surprised at how close a thing it really was. There is no doubt in my mind now that had the Japanese been more confident and willing to go belly to belly after the initial sparing matches the US forces might easily have been kicked off Guadalcanal, allowing the Japanese to focus on the campaigns to the south and thus prolonging the war.
I heartily recommend this book to anyone interested in the nuts and bolts of the battles surrounding the "Iron Bottom Sound".
As a very interested WWll Hobbyist this Book was a true eye opener. This is the 1st Book I have ever seen that portrayed the valliant actions of our Sailors in "Ship Surface action & I have read many WWll Books. Any WWll History buff would do no better than yo give this Book a listen. Great reading helps do justice to the subject matter. I had always believed Ship Surface actions to have been trumped by Fast Carriers. I was sure wrong. As an exMarine I tip my hat to the author, the reader & escecially the Sailors, Brave Men all! Don't miss this one! John T. Wagner, Ohio
Hornfischer is one of the best naval writers of our time. In Neptune's Inferno he discusses the naval battle for Guadalcanal as the real turning point of the Pacific war-- rather than Midway. He thoroughly discusses U.S. Marine Corps mythology disparaging the Navy's abandonment of Marine forces on Guadalcanal-- mythology which is partially true due to Naval strategy, pre-determined and agreed to before the landing was ever made. He also thoroughly examines the subsequent decision by the Navy to commit everything to the overall success of the operation leading to a 3:1 casualty ratio, Navy to Marine Corps, which ultimately led to the defeat of the Japanese.
I'm a history buff chose titles based on what I find interesting at the time. I hadn't spent a lot of time on the naval war in the Pacific, after Coral Sea/Midway. From a distance, everything just looks inevitable. This title was chosen by my book club, and they found a real winner.
Inevitable is clearly in the eye of the beholder. Hornfischer makes a compelling case that the Imperial Navy still had a lot of arrows to loose, and the USN was still had a lot of catching up to do in its forced transition from a peacetime navy to the dominant force on the water it would become.
This would make a fine history on its own, but Hornfischer's writing is a real treat as well. I'd read his writing if the history of 1960's macrame were the topic.
Say something about yourself!
Hornfischer answers the question that Guadalcanal Marines have been asking since 1942: "Where was the Navy?"
While compelling and interesting (to me), Hornfischer is so thourough that at times it can be a little overwhelming. I love that kind of detail, and count Hornfischer as one of my favorite history authors, but it can take some slogging to get through it all, as he doesn't want to leave anyone out of the narrative.
James Hornfischer has a wonderful ability to weave together and describe the strategic picture at the highest level, the tactical forces at work in a particular engagement, and the details of a particular sailor's experience. It makes listening to his work engaging at all levels. He is a fine writer.
"How the US Navy fought for Guadalcanal"
James Hornfischer has produced a brilliant account of the World War II US Navy in the Pacific theatre.
Moving back in time from the subject of his previous book 'The Last Stand of the Tin-can Sailors', Hornfischer on this occasion deals with how the US Navy fought for, and almost lost, the campaign for the Solomon Islands.
Hornfischer explains events at the strategic, tactical and individual level and, even if the lack of maps (the one big drawback of the audiobook version) is keenly felt in places, the writing is clear and the story easy to follow. He is also careful to explain the thoughts and motivations of the Japanese military as well as the reasons for their initial successes and subsequent failure to hold the island.
Although Guadalcanal is often seen as a marine corps affair (e.g. HBO's 'The Pacific'), Hornfischer's book made me realise just how much the ground troops relied on the navy and the sometimes severe consequences which resulted when they weren't present. He also successfully makes the case for the importance of the 'black shoe' navy, whose big guns, and bigger ships, have traditionally been regarded as an obsolescent when compared to the more celebrated carrier arm.
Robertson Dean's reading is impeccable (although his slightly stentorian style takes a little getting used to if you haven't heard one of his readings before) even if a few RAN warships have to suffer the American pronunciation of their names.
Really recommended if you are interested in WWII or naval history.
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