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Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal (Unabridged)

by James D. Hornfischer

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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 Working from new interviews with survivors, unpublished eyewitness accounts, and newly available documents, Hornfischer paints a vivid picture of the officers and enlisted men who took on the Japanese in America’s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: Vice Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, who took command of the faltering South Pacific Area from his aloof, overwhelmed predecessor and became a national hero; the brilliant Rear Admiral Norman Scott, who died even as he showed his command how to fight and win; Rear Admiral Daniel Callaghan, the folksy and genteel “Uncle Dan,” lost in the strobe-lit chaos of his burning flagship; Rear Admiral Willis Lee, who took vengeance two nights later in a legendary showdown with the Japanese battleship Kirishima; the five Sullivan brothers, all killed in the shocking destruction of the Juneau; and many others, all vividly brought to life. The first major work on this essential subject in almost two decades, Neptune’s Inferno does what all great battle narratives do: It cuts through the smoke and fog to tell the gripping human stories behind the momentous events and critical decisions that altered the course of history and shaped so many lives. This is a thrilling achievement from a master historian at the very top of his game. From the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

I could not put it down (Rather, I couldn't unplug my earbuds.)

Beautifully written and beautifully narrated.

As a retired Naval Officer, I know something about the Navy. For entertainment and educational value I rank this book up there with such other masterpieces of nautical literature as "The Cruel Sea," and "Empires of the Sea."

I thought I was well-read in U.S. Naval history until I began this book and immediately realized that my education contained a huge gap which Mr. Hornfischer was filling with superb narrative and gripping drama.

Too many accounts of sea battles become metronomic chronologies. This series of accounts of the epic sea battles around Guadalcanal that I've now come to believe were the real turning point in the Pacific War, as opposed to Midway (not to diminish its importance) are told with fascinating personal accounts and vivid descriptions of what naval guns do to metal and flesh. I found myself mesmerized and pulled along as though I was on the bridge of each of the ships highlighted in this history.

I also found myself clenching my fists and grimacing in frustration at what 20-20 hindsight clearly shows were tragic mistakes of tactics and misuse of technologies that could have saved ships and lives. Despite almost literally getting shot in the feet by a few of their own admirals and skippers, our Navy men overcame and prevailed, although just barely.

What shines through most brilliantly in this masterpiece is the raw courage our sailors displayed throughout these duels, often at such close range that it was impossible for either side to miss. I'm humbled by their gutsy dedication to duty and elated that I now have a much finer appreciation for our Navy during those very uncertain days before we began to gain the upper hand.

Many years ago on a West Coast vacation, my family and I stopped along a road overlooking the approaches to the Golden Gate. The location was the memorial to the USS SAN FRANCISCO. It contained a portion of the ship's bridge bulwark which was shot through with massive and small holes during the battles described in this book. As I studied them, even having been a check site observer during my own ship's gunnery practice and knowing a little about the raw power of big naval guns, I marveled at the deadly mass and velocity that made those holes.

Mr. Hornfischer's book brings as close to life as can be brought in a narrative the awe and terror those men must have felt as they stood there on that bridge as exploded metal tore through their ship and themselves.

Even if you do not have experience at sea, I believe you will find this read hugely entertaining and a page-turner.

I'm going to search for more work by this author. After this read, I know I'll enjoy his other work.

Keep writing!!

Literate and thorough look at the Naval side of Guadalcanal

Wow, there really is a difference between precise journalism and a talented writer.

This book takes you through the part of Guadalcanal that is overlooked and paints what happened, not in sterile black & white, but in pastels of emotion and tactics. I was aware of the Battle of Cast Iron Bottom, never with this kind of detail. I've seen part of the bridge of the USS San Francisco in a park in that city. I'm sure her actions in this battle would make the current leaders and residents of that city very proud.

The story of the Marines on Guadalcanal is lauded for good reason, but you should really learn what the sailors off the shores of that island also went through.

Astonishing, enraging, gripping

First review, first time I've been moved to review an iTunes product.

This book is a phenomenal work which puts into perspective the sacrifices of the naval combatants of WWII. Terrifying descriptions of horrific battle scenes complete with bloody descriptions of trauma suffered by men and ships punctuate an encompassing look at the politics, supply, equipping, leading and fighting the naval campaign which supported the marines on Guadalcanal.

Impossible to pause, it was hard to hear without voicing my surprise, disgust, amazement and, by turns, horror.

Listen at your peril; you will feel a little battle scarred and will lose the 18+ hours quickly.

James D. Hornfischer, Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal (Unabridged)
View in iTunes $17.99
  • Narrator: Robertson Dean
  • Published: 2011
  • Category: Nonfiction
  • Provider: Random House Audio
  • Presented by

Customer Ratings