cover image Tower of Skulls: A History of the Asia-Pacific War, Volume I: July 1937–May 1942

Tower of Skulls: A History of the Asia-Pacific War, Volume I: July 1937–May 1942

Richard B. Frank. Norton, $40 (836p) ISBN 978-1-324-00210-9

Military historian Frank (Downfall) taps a massive, multicontinent array of sources to deliver the definitive account of the first phase of WWII in the Pacific. Frank begins more than four years before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, with the July 1937 skirmish between Japanese and Chinese Nationalist forces that sparked full-scale combat in the region. He documents the Battle of Shanghai, where fierce Chinese resistance enraged Japanese attackers, leading to the Imperial Army’s “carnival of violation” at Nanking, and reveals that Chiang Kai-shek’s attempt to save the wartime capital of Wuhan by breaching dykes along the Yellow River cost roughly half a million civilian lives. Frank traces the intricacies of Japanese, British, and American war plans as the theater of combat expanded to Hong Kong, the Malaya Peninsula, the Dutch East Indies, Burma, and the Philippines, and details intelligence and communication failures that led the U.S. Pacific Fleet to be caught by surprise at Pearl Harbor. Interweaving high-level strategic analysis with vivid eyewitness reports, Frank documents the chaotic fall of Singapore, when Japanese soldiers “wreaked slaughter” on thousands fleeing the city-state in “every imaginable craft... with the faintest prospect of seaworthiness.” Concluding with a brief but gruesome account of the Bataan Death March and noting that the capture of Corregidor “marked the moment when the Imperial Japanese Empire reached its zenith,” Frank masterfully sets the stage for the next installment in a planned trilogy. With copious maps and 160 pages of endnotes, this epic yet accessible account sets a new gold standard for histories of the conflict. (Mar.)