Target Tokyo: Jimmy Doolittle and the Raid That Avenged Pearl Harbor, by James M. Scott, W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 2015, $35

After the catastrophic losses at Pearl Harbor, American political and military leaders sought a much-needed morale boost for its citizens and troops. Army Air Forces Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle’s daring raid on Japan in April 1942 energized Americans and jolted Japanese out of the mistaken belief they were immune to attacks on their home soil.

Target Tokyo is a compelling account of the raid from its conception to its aftermath, highlighting Doolittle’s particular talent as a commander. Scott conveys the practical difficulties of the raid, including the drastic but critical modifications to Doolittle’s B-25s and the hazards of launching such massive planes from the carrier Hornet, whose flight deck comprised a much shorter runway than the bombers normally used.

Scott also explores Japan’s wartime mindset, describing how the raid on Pearl Harbor and victories elsewhere in the Pacific lulled its leaders into believing American forces could not penetrate Japan’s air and naval defenses. The book graphically describes the physical and mental suffering of Doolittle’s pilots after capture and of their benign Chinese rescuers, who were the unfortunate victims of retaliation by Japanese forces.

Scott’s gripping narrative relates how the near-suicidal raid by Doolittle and his men curtailed Japanese hubris and paved the way for eventual victory by American forces in the Pacific. It serves as a cautionary tale of the need for constant alertness against enemy attack and is a sharp reminder of the danger of complacency in wartime.

—S.L. Hoffman