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Islands of Destiny: The Solomons Campaign and the Eclipse of the Rising Sun

 By John Prados. 416 pp. NAL Hardcover, 2012. $26.95.

 Move over, Midway. John Prados wants to bump the famed naval battle from its vaunted spot as the Allies’ Big Turnaround in the Pacific. Instead, the historian argues, the tide really turned during the long, complicated, and messy land-and-sea battles of the Solomon Islands from November 1942 to February 1943. And his reasons are very persuasive.

Start with the state of the Imperial Japanese Fleet—mauled, Prados says, but not beaten after Midway. In fact, the repeated operations during the battles clustered around the Solomons, a group of a thousand islands east of New Guinea and dangerously near Allied supply lines to Australia, demonstrated the fleet’s still-threatening power—and ready ability to project it. This is one key reason why Prados recasts the Solomons Campaign as the Pacific’s pivotal event: after it, the Japanese fleet truly was a shadow of its awesome early-war self.

During those torturous months of incessant seesawing battles, Prados notes, the Allies fought through bitter losses and blood-soaked lessons, adapting prewar doctrine and human ingenuity to the battlefield’s unexpected, unforgiving demands. Their solutions to problems of amphibious assault and combining forces helped shape future successes like D-Day.

Prados is a talented narrator. Drawing from extensive and revealing Japanese sources he weaves a cast of hundreds— from high command down to the boots on the ground, including the many non-Americans involved—into a remarkably textured, well-paced account that provides at-odds perspectives from Allied and Axis figures. He takes Admiral Frank Fletcher to task for abandoning the Marines on Guadalcanal, and gives Admiral William “Bull” Halsey props for reopening supply lines and relieving the exhausted Marines. He underlines the vital role of intelligence in Pacific planning for both sides, and incisively notes that one of Midway’s most vital effects was the Japanese fleet’s loss of its carrier-based technical crews.

Prados doesn’t miss much. Which is why, along with his storytelling’s rich depths and surprising perspectives, Islands of Destiny is essential reading for anyone interested in the Pacific War.


Originally published in the December 2012 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.