Walter Lord - Day of Infamy

Lord has assembled hundreds of yarns into this work of "non-fiction." Originally published in 1957, this edition was published in time for the 60th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack without any apparent changes or additions.

An event that raised as many questions and was as "exciting" (if that term can be used for something that killed thousands) as Pearl Harbor was would be difficult to write about and not hold the reader's interest. In this respect, Lord does not disappoint. The first few chapters, especially, are real page turners while Lord flashes back and forth between what was happening in Hawaii and what was happening in Japan and on the high seas in the days and hours before the attack. The rest of the book is a bit unusual.

Rather than present the forest, Lord offers only the trees--and lots of them. The characters aren't developed at all and less than 24 hours after finishing the book I can't remember a single person's name. Most of the people's background and story are told in a single sentence or two. While this provides for a number of "accounts," they are rather superficial. Plus, the quotes used are usually the most fantastic sentence the person said in their interview with Lord so, in total, the story sounds more like a legend than history.

Nearly every paragraph contains at least one irony or statement intended to shock the reader. This gets old after a while and no longer packs much of a punch. Since most of the Japanese participants were later killed in the war, their views and perspectives are mostly absent. The reader also gets very little context as to why the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and what America as a whole thought of the event. You almost need to read about Pearl Harbor elsewhere, and then turn to this book for the personal quotes from hundreds of people who were there on that day to get the whole, big picture.

The above criticisms aside, Lord does present an interesting look at how people reacted, how what was happening took a while to click in for the people on the ground, and how complete chaos and pandemonium reign supreme when such events occur. In summary, I'll quote from Andrew Rogers' review which I completely agree with.

. . .an in-depth historical study of what-happened-and-why is not really what Lord is after here. Instead, he approaches this mainly as a storyteller, presenting us with 'a moment in time'. . . in the lives of real people. People. . . interested in root causes will do well to study Prange and Toland and Stinnett and all the rest. But keep coming back to Lord, to remind you[rself] that for all the talk of geopolitical strategy, individual human lives were changed (or ended) forever because of the attack.

If you're not interested in wading through thousands of pages of historical argument and just want a vivid portrait of the day of the attack, I cannot recommend Lord too highly. It's a great place for anyone interested in the attack to discover, or rediscover, what happened that fateful morning.

from the publisher:
In a historic six-minute speech, President Roosevelt made the grim announcement: "Yesterday, December 7, 1941 -- a date which will live in infamy -- the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the empire of Japan . . . ." In Day of Infamy, Walter Lord traces in brilliant detail the human drama of the great attack: the spies behind it; the Japanese pilots; the crews on the stricken warships; the men at the airfields and on the bases; the generals, the sailors, the housewives, and the children who responded to the attack with anger, numbness, and magnificent courage.

Day of Infamy is an inspiring human document of one of the truly great epics of American history.

"The carefully planned hour-by-hour recording of the surprise assault an Pearl Harbor . . . is as engrossing as the story of the sinking of the Titanic and more harrowing." --The Atlantic

"Stuns the reader with the weight of reality." --James Michener, The New York Times

"A behind-the-scenes story that is utterly fascinating." --Chicago Sunday Tribune

Walter Lord is the author of several best-selling works of history, including A Night to Remember, a re-creation of the sinking of the Titanic. He lives in New York City.