The best books about real people struggling to understand the tragedy of Pearl Harbor

Valarie J. Anderson Author Of Pearl Harbor's Final Warning
By Valarie J. Anderson

Who am I?

In 2013, I found a red suitcase under my mother’s guestroom bedroom filled with letters and radiograms. I shipped it home, combined its contents with her brother’s papers, and my family’s Pearl Harbor story emerged but questions remained. Seven years later, after a lot of research which included the books I’ve listed for your consideration, and the help of many people, I was able to answer the question of why Pearl Harbor was taken by surprise. I also unpacked my family’s story, long-buried for fear of prosecution. My book shows the civilian Pearl Harbor story as it weaves its way through the world of cryptology, spies, and 1941 radio technology


I wrote...

Pearl Harbor's Final Warning

By Valarie J. Anderson,

Book cover of Pearl Harbor's Final Warning

What is my book about?

On 7 December 1941, Washington sent a message to its Pacific outposts about a potential Japanese attack. All but Pearl Harbor received it in time to prepare. New information from the archives of George Street, District Manager of RCA-Honolulu, exposes the fatal flaws that resulted in the surprise attack. Operational snafus, collusion, and spies weave a web of misdirection that entangles George Street and his children in one of history’s biggest mistakes. Pearl Harbor’s Final Warning amends the historical record by presenting unpublished material, including the original copy of General Marshall’s coded message.

The books I picked & why

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December 1941: 31 Days That Changed America and Saved the World

By Craig Shirley,

Book cover of December 1941: 31 Days That Changed America and Saved the World

Why this book?

December 1941 is an important contribution to the history of WWII that reads more like a novel than dry, historical non-fiction. Craig summarizes each day in December of 1941, grounding the reader with a worldview of the ongoing wars and political arenas in Europe and Asia before delving into America’s mindset and current events.

December 1941: 31 Days That Changed America and Saved the World

By Craig Shirley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked December 1941 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, eyes in America were focused on the war in Europe or distracted by the elevated mood sweeping the country in the final days of the Great Depression. But when planes dropped out of a clear blue sky and bombed the American naval base and aerial targets in Hawaii, all of that changed. December 1941 takes readers into the moment-by-moment ordeal of a nation waking to war.

Best-selling author Craig Shirley celebrates the American spirit while reconstructing the events that called it to shine with rare and piercing light. By turns nostalgic…


Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision

By Roberta Wohlstetter,

Book cover of Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision

Why this book?

Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision is the baseline for researchers interested in the story of early cryptology and why the surprise attack happened at Pearl Harbor. She reveals who knew what, when, and exposes the disasters reaped by hubris and uncoordinated intelligence often quoting original communiques and cables.

Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision

By Roberta Wohlstetter,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Pearl Harbor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For decades the controversy has raged: Was the Pearl Harbor disaster a result of criminal negligence by military officers in the Pacific theater? Was it, as some have claimed, a deliberate plot by the President in Washington?

It seems unlikely that a country could have so many warnings pointing to the danger, and yet be so unprepared for the event itself. American intelligence could read top-secret Japanese codes and the U.S. was therefore in a posistion to transmit vital information to American commanders throughout the world. Most of the time Washington was able to predict both Japan's diplomatic moves and…


Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy

By Eri Hotta,

Book cover of Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy

Why this book?

Japan 1941 peels back the layers of Japan’s national ideology before the Pearl Harbor attack. Well researched, her bold and insightful exposé explains the brewing conflict between military and political leaders, their decisions, drive, and devotion to their country, and their influence on an isolated nation of hyper-patriotic citizens.

Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy

By Eri Hotta,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Japan 1941 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A groundbreaking history that considers the attack on Pearl Harbor from the Japanese perspective and is certain to revolutionize how we think of the war in the Pacific.

When Japan launched hostilities against the United States in 1941, argues Eri Hotta, its leaders, in large part, understood they were entering a war they were almost certain to lose. Drawing on material little known to Western readers, and barely explored in depth in Japan itself, Hotta poses an essential question: Why did these men—military men, civilian politicians, diplomats, the emperor—put their country and its citizens so unnecessarily in harm’s way? Introducing…


Pearl Harbor: Final Judgement

By Henry C. Clausen, Bruce Lee,

Book cover of Pearl Harbor: Final Judgement

Why this book?

This book describes the Clausen investigation that prompted the Congressional hearing into Pearl Harbor. Its spellbinding revelations leave the reader on the edge of their seat. Clausen details the U.S.’s ability to break codes but shows how they did not the common sense to know what to do with the information.  

Pearl Harbor: Final Judgement

By Henry C. Clausen, Bruce Lee,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pearl Harbor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This account of the top secret investigation is “essential history . . . the authoritative appraisal of why American armed forces met the Japanese attack asleep” (The Christian Science Monitor).

On December 6, 1941, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, commander in chief of the United States Pacific Fleet, assured his staff that the Japanese would not attack Pearl Harbor. The next morning, Japanese carriers steamed toward Hawaii to launch one of the most devastating surprise attacks in the history of war, proving the admiral disastrously wrong. Immediately, an investigation began into how the American military could have been caught so unaware.…


Pearl Harbor Ghosts: The Legacy of December 7, 1941

By Thurston Clarke,

Book cover of Pearl Harbor Ghosts: The Legacy of December 7, 1941

Why this book?

This book is based on first-hand interviews and newspaper accounts of ordinary people thrown into the chaos of the extraordinary surprise attack at Pearl Harbor. Clarke begins the narrative on December 5th discussing everyday people going about their business against the background of spies, counterintelligence missteps, and growing bias.

Pearl Harbor Ghosts: The Legacy of December 7, 1941

By Thurston Clarke,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pearl Harbor Ghosts as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A landmark book published to rave reviews a decade ago, PearlHarborGhosts has now been updated to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the surprise attack that forever changed the course of history.

Full of gripping drama and vibrant details, here is the intimate human story of the events surrounding that fateful day of December 7, 1941–the glamorous tropical city that seemed too beautiful to suffer devastation . . . the stunned naval personnel whose lives would permanently be divided into before and after Pearl Harbor . . . the ordinary Honolulu residents who were tragically unprepared to be the first target…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in World War 2, the Pearl Harbor attack, and decision making?

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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