The best Pacific War books

4 authors have picked their favorite books about the Pacific War in WW2 and why they recommend each book.

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The Works of Inazo Nitobe

By Inazo Nitobe,

Book cover of The Works of Inazo Nitobe: Volume III Japan: Some Phases of Her Problems and Development

This book began to help me understand why my father was sent to New Guinea. It taught me a lot about how Japan saw herself in the world at that time and what she thought she could do about it. My conclusion is that Japan felt threatened and feared being colonized. The Europeans had been colonizing the Asian Pacific for centuries: France in Indo-China, Britain manipulating China; Germany held various Chinese ports; Russia pushing into Korea, the Dutch in Indonesia (The Dutch East Indies)… all milking those countries of their natural resources with oppressive control of indigenous peoples. Japan in turn sought to build her nation into an Empire along the British model. 


Who am I?

I grew up just north of Chicago, took courses at the University of Madrid (La Complutense), and graduated from Marquette University.  I speak 5 languages and have written for such diverse reviews as The Journal of the American Revolution and Atlantic Coastal Kayaker. Nothing has possessed me like my father’s Navigation Case. Besides learning how this young college graduate helped pioneer the nascent aviation industry training in 11 different types of aircraft, I take pride in the astonishing role he played in American history. He was a combat pilot in the first-ever demonstration of air superiority over an enemy, leading to the greatest campaign victory in the history of the US Air Force. 


I wrote...

The Navigation Case: Training, Flying and Fighting the 1942 to 1945 New Guinea War

By John E. Happ,

Book cover of The Navigation Case: Training, Flying and Fighting the 1942 to 1945 New Guinea War

What is my book about?

I lived 18 years under my father’s roof. In all that time he never spoke about what he did in the Pacific War. After he died I inherited a mysterious, crusty leather case, found in our long-ignored attic: my father’s pilot Navigation Case. In there I was shocked to learn that he flew 64 violent and deadly attack missions as a combat pilot in New Guinea. But if we were fighting Japan, what was he doing in New Guinea of all places? When he was rotated off the front lines he flew Battle of the Bulge wounded to hospitals closer to their native homes. It was called Medical Air Evacuation Transport. And in that role he went missing, lost, completely unaccounted for...

Air Combat at 20 Feet

By Garrett Middlebrook,

Book cover of Air Combat at 20 Feet: Selected Missions from a Strafer Pilot's Diary

I consider Garrett Middlebrook to be the Wilfred Owens (poet) of WWII. He is a man with a conscience and a moral code who explains what it meant to be a combat pilot in New Guinea. He describes various life-threatening mission against a superior enemy. But on the other hand, struggles with the fact that he is killing other men, in other uniforms, who like himself are just doing their jobs. He chafes at orders to kill civilian contractors (conscripted Chinese) working for the Japanese in New Guinea. He recoils from celebrations after the battle of the Bismarck Sea because he felt no joy after witnessing the vivid destruction of enemy men and equipment. 


Who am I?

I grew up just north of Chicago, took courses at the University of Madrid (La Complutense), and graduated from Marquette University.  I speak 5 languages and have written for such diverse reviews as The Journal of the American Revolution and Atlantic Coastal Kayaker. Nothing has possessed me like my father’s Navigation Case. Besides learning how this young college graduate helped pioneer the nascent aviation industry training in 11 different types of aircraft, I take pride in the astonishing role he played in American history. He was a combat pilot in the first-ever demonstration of air superiority over an enemy, leading to the greatest campaign victory in the history of the US Air Force. 


I wrote...

The Navigation Case: Training, Flying and Fighting the 1942 to 1945 New Guinea War

By John E. Happ,

Book cover of The Navigation Case: Training, Flying and Fighting the 1942 to 1945 New Guinea War

What is my book about?

I lived 18 years under my father’s roof. In all that time he never spoke about what he did in the Pacific War. After he died I inherited a mysterious, crusty leather case, found in our long-ignored attic: my father’s pilot Navigation Case. In there I was shocked to learn that he flew 64 violent and deadly attack missions as a combat pilot in New Guinea. But if we were fighting Japan, what was he doing in New Guinea of all places? When he was rotated off the front lines he flew Battle of the Bulge wounded to hospitals closer to their native homes. It was called Medical Air Evacuation Transport. And in that role he went missing, lost, completely unaccounted for...

A Few Months in New Guinea

By Octavius C. Stone,

Book cover of A Few Months in New Guinea

Stone, writing in the 1880s, describes the unexplored mystery, foreboding tropical weather, and long-ignored people of New Guinea. Since its “discovery” by European explorers, the New Guinea climate was known to be inhospitable to westerners. This book began to inform me of the world into which my father was sent as an Army Air Corps pilot. Even as late as 1944 he flew with emergency survival maps with vast swathes of the country completely blank, marked “Unexplored.” 


Who am I?

I grew up just north of Chicago, took courses at the University of Madrid (La Complutense), and graduated from Marquette University.  I speak 5 languages and have written for such diverse reviews as The Journal of the American Revolution and Atlantic Coastal Kayaker. Nothing has possessed me like my father’s Navigation Case. Besides learning how this young college graduate helped pioneer the nascent aviation industry training in 11 different types of aircraft, I take pride in the astonishing role he played in American history. He was a combat pilot in the first-ever demonstration of air superiority over an enemy, leading to the greatest campaign victory in the history of the US Air Force. 


I wrote...

The Navigation Case: Training, Flying and Fighting the 1942 to 1945 New Guinea War

By John E. Happ,

Book cover of The Navigation Case: Training, Flying and Fighting the 1942 to 1945 New Guinea War

What is my book about?

I lived 18 years under my father’s roof. In all that time he never spoke about what he did in the Pacific War. After he died I inherited a mysterious, crusty leather case, found in our long-ignored attic: my father’s pilot Navigation Case. In there I was shocked to learn that he flew 64 violent and deadly attack missions as a combat pilot in New Guinea. But if we were fighting Japan, what was he doing in New Guinea of all places? When he was rotated off the front lines he flew Battle of the Bulge wounded to hospitals closer to their native homes. It was called Medical Air Evacuation Transport. And in that role he went missing, lost, completely unaccounted for...

Song of Survival

By Helen Colijn,

Book cover of Song of Survival: Women Interned

A little-known aspect of the Pacific War was the imprisonment of Allied civilians. While these Japanese-run prison camps were not deliberate death machines, as were the Nazi-run concentration camps, large numbers of women and children died of starvation and disease there, or at least had their health permanently ruined. Many stories would come out of these camps, both horrific and inspiring. Perhaps the most brilliantly creative story of the latter category was the vocal orchestra, a group of imprisoned women who sought to recreate symphonic music with their voices. Colijn’s memoir was made into the film, Paradise Road.


Who am I?

Kathryn J. Atwood’s young adult collective biographies on women and war have garnered multiple book awards. She has been seen on America: Facts vs. Fiction; heard on BBC America; published in The Historian and War, Literature & the Arts; and featured as a guest speaker at the Harold Washington Library in Chicago, the First Division Museum at Cantigny Park, and the Atlanta History Center.


I wrote...

Women Heroes of World War II—the Pacific Theater: 15 Stories of Resistance, Rescue, Sabotage, and Survival

By Kathryn J. Atwood,

Book cover of Women Heroes of World War II—the Pacific Theater: 15 Stories of Resistance, Rescue, Sabotage, and Survival

What is my book about?

In these pages, readers will meet these and other courageous women and girls who risked their lives through their involvement in the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II. Fifteen suspense-filled stories unfold across China, Japan, Mayala, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, and the Philippines, providing an inspiring reminder of women and girls' refusal to sit on the sidelines around the world and throughout history. These women served in dangerous roles as spies, medics, journalists, resisters, and saboteurs. Nine of the women were American; seven were captured and imprisoned by the Japanese, enduring brutal conditions. Author Kathryn J. Atwood provides appropriate context and framing for teens 14 and up to grapple with these harsh realities of war.

I Saw The Fall Of The Philippines

By Carlos P. Romulo,

Book cover of I Saw The Fall Of The Philippines

The Philippine resistance of WWII was, in my opinion, the most admirable resistance organization of the war, whether European or Pacific. In fact, resistance among the Philippine people was so widespread, that the Japanese occupiers were almost correct in assuming any civilian they encountered was a resister on some level. Carlos Romulo, a Philippine aide de camp to General MacArthur and a hero to his countrymen, gives his personal account of the war in this excellent memoir.


Who am I?

Kathryn J. Atwood’s young adult collective biographies on women and war have garnered multiple book awards. She has been seen on America: Facts vs. Fiction; heard on BBC America; published in The Historian and War, Literature & the Arts; and featured as a guest speaker at the Harold Washington Library in Chicago, the First Division Museum at Cantigny Park, and the Atlanta History Center.


I wrote...

Women Heroes of World War II—the Pacific Theater: 15 Stories of Resistance, Rescue, Sabotage, and Survival

By Kathryn J. Atwood,

Book cover of Women Heroes of World War II—the Pacific Theater: 15 Stories of Resistance, Rescue, Sabotage, and Survival

What is my book about?

In these pages, readers will meet these and other courageous women and girls who risked their lives through their involvement in the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II. Fifteen suspense-filled stories unfold across China, Japan, Mayala, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, and the Philippines, providing an inspiring reminder of women and girls' refusal to sit on the sidelines around the world and throughout history. These women served in dangerous roles as spies, medics, journalists, resisters, and saboteurs. Nine of the women were American; seven were captured and imprisoned by the Japanese, enduring brutal conditions. Author Kathryn J. Atwood provides appropriate context and framing for teens 14 and up to grapple with these harsh realities of war.

History of United States Naval Operations in World War II

By Samuel Eliot Morison,

Book cover of History of United States Naval Operations in World War II

When I began researching and writing for my books this fifteen-volume set by distinguished historian Rear Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison, was one of my first purchases for my World War II library. I consider his series a must-have for any WWII researcher or history buff. I did much of my research and writing on freighters and always took selected volumes with me.


Who am I?

William L. McGee is an award-winning World War II Pacific war historian. His writing career has spanned six decades — three of them in marketing and sales in the broadcasting industry. He is a WWII veteran of the Pacific theater and an atomic veteran of Operation Crossroads, the postwar atomic bomb tests at the Bikini Atoll in 1946.


I wrote...

The Solomons Campaigns, 1942-1943: From Guadalcanal to Bougainville, Pacific War Turning Point

By William L. McGee,

Book cover of The Solomons Campaigns, 1942-1943: From Guadalcanal to Bougainville, Pacific War Turning Point

What is my book about?

Under one cover, William L. McGee provides a definitive account of all the Solomons campaigns — Southern, Central, and Northern. Winner of the Military Writers Society of America Silver Medal Award for History. The Solomons Campaigns, 1942–1943 is the second of three volumes in McGee’s acclaimed series, Amphibious Operations in the South Pacific in WWII. “The series will form a definitive account of naval, sea, and land operations in the South Pacific.” – Library Journal

The Rape of Nanking

By Iris Chang,

Book cover of The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II

When this book was first published in 1997, the world (at least the Western world) had all but forgotten the atrocity that had been inflicted on my hometown in the winter of 1937-38. Re-reading the gripping nonfictional account today would serve to remind us that we should not forget that ignoble page in our modern history and more importantly that we are all duty-bound to do all we can so such atrocities will not happen again.


Who am I?

A native of Nanjing (Nanking), China, Shouhua Qi has published extensively in both the United States and China on academic as well as transcultural issues. He is the author of more than twenty books, including fiction, nonfiction, literary translation, and scholarly monographs. Qi’s first novel, Purple Mountain, is about the Rape of Nanking, a horrendous tragic event that happened in his hometown in the winter of 1937-08. A screenplay Qi co-wrote based on the novel has been optioned for production.


I wrote...

Purple Mountain: A Story of the Rape of Nanking

By Shouhua Qi,

Book cover of Purple Mountain: A Story of the Rape of Nanking

What is my book about?

An unprecedented historical novel, Purple Mountain presents a riveting, profoundly intimate portrait of Nanjing and its people during the first six days after its fall to the Japanese army. Within the city, walls are men and women, young and old, soldiers and civilians, Chinese and a dozen foreigners, all caught up in the whirling, turbulent fires of history.

Island Encounters

By Lamont Lindstrom, Geoffrey M. White,

Book cover of Island Encounters: Black and White Memories of the Pacific War

Anyone interested in the War in the Pacific will find this collection of 175 photographs showing the variety of interactions of Islanders and foreign servicemen interesting. It goes beyond official military photos (though there are plenty of those) to include photos from Japanese sources and veterans’ personal photographs. The text gives insight into the conditions of war and how Islanders and foreign fighters perceived and dealt with each other. A beautifully produced book.


Who are we?

We are three anthropologists who have focused decades of research on the cultures and histories of the beautiful part of the world known as Micronesia. We wrote this book when we realized that the many volumes of history on War in the Pacific focused on the combatants, and told us little of the experiences of the Islanders across whose lands, seas, and airspace the war was fought. Kwajalein, Enewetak, Pohnpei, Chuuk, Peleliu, Saipan, Guam, Tinian—these were not just battlegrounds, but also precious homelands. Our goal was to combine documentary history with interviews of more than 300 elders to tell the story of the war in Micronesia as it was experienced by Islanders who lived through it.


We wrote...

The Typhoon of War: Micronesian Experiences of the Pacific War

By Suzanne Falgout, Laurence Marshall Carucci, Lin Poyer

Book cover of The Typhoon of War: Micronesian Experiences of the Pacific War

What is our book about?

World War II was a watershed event for the people of the former Japanese colonies of Micronesia. The Japanese military build-up, the conflict itself, and the American occupation and control of the conquered islands brought rapid and dramatic changes to Micronesian life. Whether they spent the war in caves and bomb shelters, in sweet potato fields under armed Japanese guard, or in their own homes, Micronesians who survived those years recognize that their peoples underwent a major historical transformation. Like a typhoon, the war swept away a former life.

Bolivar

By Marie Arana,

Book cover of Bolivar: American Liberator

This fabulous book tells not only of Bolivar’s struggle to create an independent united states of South America, but why. The author graphically describes what it means to be a colony, subject to Crown rule. The control exerted by Spain over her colonies was nothing less than feudal. This book illuminates what it is like to have your country pillaged as a colony. Franklin Roosevelt’s original 1941 reason for going to war, if we had to, was to help liberate all the enchained European colonies through a treatise called the Atlantic Charter


Who am I?

I grew up just north of Chicago, took courses at the University of Madrid (La Complutense), and graduated from Marquette University.  I speak 5 languages and have written for such diverse reviews as The Journal of the American Revolution and Atlantic Coastal Kayaker. Nothing has possessed me like my father’s Navigation Case. Besides learning how this young college graduate helped pioneer the nascent aviation industry training in 11 different types of aircraft, I take pride in the astonishing role he played in American history. He was a combat pilot in the first-ever demonstration of air superiority over an enemy, leading to the greatest campaign victory in the history of the US Air Force. 


I wrote...

The Navigation Case: Training, Flying and Fighting the 1942 to 1945 New Guinea War

By John E. Happ,

Book cover of The Navigation Case: Training, Flying and Fighting the 1942 to 1945 New Guinea War

What is my book about?

I lived 18 years under my father’s roof. In all that time he never spoke about what he did in the Pacific War. After he died I inherited a mysterious, crusty leather case, found in our long-ignored attic: my father’s pilot Navigation Case. In there I was shocked to learn that he flew 64 violent and deadly attack missions as a combat pilot in New Guinea. But if we were fighting Japan, what was he doing in New Guinea of all places? When he was rotated off the front lines he flew Battle of the Bulge wounded to hospitals closer to their native homes. It was called Medical Air Evacuation Transport. And in that role he went missing, lost, completely unaccounted for...

Attack on Pearl Harbor

By Alan Zimm,

Book cover of Attack on Pearl Harbor: Strategy, Combat, Myths, Deceptions

Zinn uses Japanese sources and modern Operations Research techniques to produce a revisionist account of the attack. The Japanese planning was deeply flawed and the execution of the attack chaotic. The Japanese escaped disaster only because American defensive measures were abysmal. The Japanese attack wasn’t “brilliant,” is commonly maintained – it was dumb luck. Zinn also demolishes numerous hoary myths, for example, that the Japanese could/should have destroyed the American fuel storage tanks. Zinn’s attention to military detail produces a fundamentally new appreciation of the Pearl Harbor attack.


Who am I?

I have always been interested in military history and wanted to become a professional soldier. I benefitted especially from three years as the American liaison officer on the staff of the German 12th Panzer Division. German Army organization, planning and decision-making, troop leadership, and training are outstanding and made a deep impression on me. I received a superb education as a historian at the University of Wuerzburg, Germany, which required history to be written from original source documents, not secondary sources uncritically accepted. My standards emphasize attention to detail in military planning and operations, and archival work in English, German, and French. As do the authors that I have selected.


I wrote...

The Real German War Plan, 1904-14

By Terence Zuber,

Book cover of The Real German War Plan, 1904-14

What is my book about?

There never was a “Schlieffen Plan.” This assertion is based on masses of previously unused German war games and archival war planning documents. The “Schlieffen Plan” required 96 divisions in a one-front war against France, when Germany never had more than 72 divisions in a two-front war against France and Russia. Real war plans do not require 24 “ghost divisions.” Contrary to “common knowledge,” Schlieffen did not have an aggressive war plan, and he never intended to attack Belgium or France. The Russians and French executed a simultaneous attack on Germany: all the initial battles took place in East Prussia and German Alsace. Schlieffen saw this coming, and planned to counter-attack on German territory. The younger Moltke never actually had a plan, but was improvising. 

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