For the United States, 1942 was both the first full year of active warfare in World War II, and the most crucial. Even with war raging in Europe and Japan savagely expanding its grip on Asia, the United States was woefully ill prepared. Its far-flung Pacific territories were inadequately defended and poorly supplied; its forces were vastly outnumbered, and counted far too many newly trained recruits. Even with the onrush of volunteers after Pearl Harbor, the Army was mostly a number on paper the Volunteers had no training, no experience and no equipment. Against the veteran forces of Japan and Germany, America offered novice troops trained with broomsticks instead of rifles.
Winston Groom's 1942: The Year That Tried Men's Souls gives a fascinating account of a nation turning from na•vetÅ½ and isolationism to a deep commitment to defeating foreign tyranny. Although the war in Europe does come into Groom's narrative, he largely focuses on the American experience, which for most of 1942 centered on events in the Pacific. Groom follows the first year of the war, from the initial attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, through the losses of Wake Island, the Philippines and Corregidor, to the critical turning points of Midway and Guadalcanal.
Groom's book is never dry nor dull; he keeps the action and emotion going strong. Each chapter leaves you wanting to read the next. I frequently found myself wondering "What's going to happen?" even though I already knew. Groom achieves this effect both through his attention to action and his ability to present the story of the war on very personal levels. He includes anecdotes from soldiers and civilians of the time, telling the stories of many true heroes, some of which read like Hollywood movie plots (like the nightclub singer in Manila who ran her own spy network under the noses of her Japanese military clientele). The result is a page-turner that leaves you with humble gratitude for the men and women of the day. Groom helps us see again that 1942 is not only a year worth reading about, but worth remembering.