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11 Best Books on Pearl Harbor (Updated 2021) – Must Read!

Updated: November 25, 2021
8 min read

Many books have been written about Pearl Harbor.

The following are some of the best texts that offer an in-depth look into that fateful day, examining everything from its immediate repercussions to its unique position in the broader historical context.

At A Glance: The TOP 4 Books on Pearl Harbor

1. Top pick: At Dawn We Slept
2. Runner up: Countdown to Pearl Harbor
3. Also great: Day of Infamy
4. Also great: Sunday In Hell

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Top pick
At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor
At Dawn We Slept

Gordon W. Prange, Donald M. Goldstein, and Katherine V. Dillon’s “At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor” is debatably the most comprehensive historical account of the attack on the doomed US Naval fleet stationed in Oahu, Hawaii.

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The book objectively covers the events that led to the attack on Pearl Harbor, from the strike itself to the gruesome aftermath.

The authors secured interviews with American and Japanese soldiers, including military leaders and government officials, as part of their extensive research. They dig deep into the era’s politics, exploring the hows and whys that led to Japan’s daring attack. 

You will find the narrative devoid of prejudice as Prague and company sought to avoid painting neither side as the hero or villain. 

Gripping and absorbing, “At Dawn We Slept” puts into perspective the way America’s national consciousness was shaken as the first wave of Japanese warplanes rained bombs at the base and battleships present.

It is unparalleled in its exhaustive account of the most daring naval operations in the history of mankind.

Runner up
Countdown to Pearl Harbor: The Twelve Days to the Attack
Countdown to Pearl Harbor

“Countdown to Pearl Harbor: The Twelve Days to the Attack” by Steve Twomey is a riveting narrative of the days leading up to the worst military disaster in US history.

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The book centers on the long prelude of the December 7 attack – the two weeks it took for the Japanese military leaders to decide on the mind-boggling operation.

Japan’s complex maneuver involved six aircraft carriers that would sail from the Kuril Islands to Oahu – an astounding 3,000 miles of open water. 

Vulnerable to detection at all times, the Japanese strike force needed to refuel at sea. The Americans came close to sabotaging the entire operation, but poor communication and conflicting intelligence sealed the deal for them.

Assembling an array of primary sources, Twomey showed how negligence and complacency can lead to a colossal failure. 

His account included all facets, from infighting and clashes to false assumptions, to offer a moving new perspective on the attack.

“Countdown to Pearl Harbor” reads like a thriller, driving the readers to hold their collective breath despite knowing how the story ended. 

It is a remarkable book that deserves to be on the list of the best of the best.

Also great
Day of Infamy, 60th Anniversary: The Classic Account of the Bombing of Pearl Harbor
Day of Infamy

Written by renowned historian Walter Lord, “Day of Infamy: The Classic Account of the Bombing of Pearl Harbor” underlines the moments of courage and sacrifice during Japan’s deadly attack on the American forces in 1941.

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Creating a humanizing portrayal of the tragedy, the book offers a firsthand peek at experiences of those most impacted by the bombing, from both the American and Japanese factions.

Lord cleverly used primary and secondary research sources, speaking with over five hundred individuals present on that unforgettable day. 

You will find exclusive interviews from the Japanese strike force, as well as personal accounts of the American admirals and generals who had to deal with the aftermath of such a debilitating blow to the military force.

The book also contains the accounts of enlisted men in Pearl Harbor and their families in a never-before-seen disclosure of the 1941 mayhem.

Lord personally traveled to the bases in Hawaii, secured official files, newspaper clippings, letters, and testimonials to give an intimate but comprehensive story of the Pearl Harbor attack.

“Day of Infamy” is a stirring human document of an epic event that changed history. 

Also great
Sunday in Hell: Pearl Harbor Minute by Minute
Sunday In Hell

“Sunday in Hell: Pearl Harbor Minute by Minute” by Bill McWilliams breaks down the happenings of December 7, 1941, creating a detailed and panoramic overview of the event that led the United States into World War II.

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The book combines well-established historical records with recently released war documents and journals meticulously collected over the years by McWilliams.

The minute-by-minute narrative is told from the perspective of different characters, from politicians and military officials to soldiers and civilians.

This mishmash of perspectives of specific moments gives an unparalleled well-rounded view of the bombing.

You will be privy to intimate details of the chaos and violence that took place, even the tactics and strategies behind one of the most brilliant operations in naval history.

McWilliams tackled the first minutes of the attack, the desperate attempts to rescue the soldiers trapped under the doomed ships, and the subsequent declaration of war by the Americans.

His prose conveys an overwhelming sense of contiguity that even those new to the history of the attack will have no trouble grasping what ensued and the impact that followed.

“Sunday In Hell” is a compelling read that you will not be able to put down.

#5
Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness
Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness

Craig Nelson’s “Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness” is a highly readable volume account of the historical event, written in a broader historical context.

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The book covers the moment young Franklin D. Roosevelt graced the laying of the keel of the USS Arizona, the battleship where over 1,170 sailors and marines died, to the attack itself.

Nelson, a veteran historian, detailed how the Americans’ sense of impregnability crumbled when the flimsy report of a Japanese strike turned out to be true. 

Up until the first wave of 183 warplanes rained bombs on the US battleships, the military leaders never thought there was any real threat to the Pearl. 

They could not fathom how a strike force could cover such a vast distance completely undetected. 

Anchored on the accurate reminiscence of the people who saw it all, “Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness” has a characteristic tense and epic feel. 

It will transport you to the scene of the bombing and let you witness all the heroism and sacrifices, triumphs and pains, of that historic day that every American will not forget.

#6
Pearl Harbor Ghosts : The Legacy of December 7, 1941
Pearl Harbor Ghosts

“Pearl Harbor Ghosts” by Thurston Clarke is a landmark book that chronicles the story of those whose lives were forever changed after the 1941 strafing of the US navy base in Oahu, Hawaii.

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The book explores the upshot of the Pearl Harbor aerial bombing not only to the American servicemen and Japanese silver bombers but the island natives who suffered as the first target in the Pacific war.

From the tragic events in 1941, Clarke will take you to present-day Hawaii, where veterans from both factions come together every year to relive that fateful day.

His research digs deep into the historical archives, combining previously known information on the Pearl Harbor attack with rich narratives and testimonials of those who witnessed it. 

Initially released in 1991, the book has been updated to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the surprise aerial attack.

Dramatically gripping and vividly detailed, “Pearl Harbor Ghosts” is a book that will keep you hooked until you are thumbing through the last pages. 

#7
Pearl Harbor : Final Judgement
Pearl Harbor Final Judgement

Going far beyond the historical record, this Henry C. Clausen and Bruce Lee book illustrates why the attack on Pearl Harbor is a grave intelligence failure on the American side.

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“Pearl Harbor Final Judgement” exposes the United States military leaders’ oversights that resulted in the horrific event that transpired on December 7, 1941. 

Clausen and Lee skillfully detail the missed opportunities by the Americans that could have derailed the attack had they acted accordingly.

The book focuses on the investigation of Clausen, the lawyer selected by then-Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, to probe what exactly took place months before the Pearl Harbor bombing.

Clausen was given the authority to question anyone under oath, including the former chief of staff, George C. Marshall. His probe included sworn affidavits and interviews of around one hundred US military personnel and civilians.

What Clausen discovered was never revealed to the public. His 800-page report was presented to Stimson and remained top-secret up to this day.

“Pearl Harbor Final Judgement” sets the record straight while putting an end to the conspiracy theories surrounding the attack.

#8
All the Gallant Men: An American Sailor's Firsthand Account of Pearl Harbor
All the Gallant Men

Donald Stratton and Ken Gire’s “All the Gallant Men” is an extraordinary eyewitness account of the Pearl Harbor bombing by a survivor of the USS Arizona.

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The book is a memoir of Seaman First Class Donald Stratton, who shares his unforgettable tale of bravery and survival on that harrowing day in Oahu, Hawaii.

The morning of December 7, 1941, young Stratton was at his battle station aboard the USS Arizona when a million pounds of explosives detonated, burning two-thirds of his body. 

More dead than alive, the soldier dragged himself hand over hand across a rope chained to a nearby vessel. He was sent to a military hospital and was deemed unfit for service after such a brutal injury.

Three years later, Stratton was aboard a destroyer, fighting in the final major battle of America’s Second World War.

Stratton’s never-before-told account in “All the Gallant Men” sheds an intimate reflection on the tragedy that pushed the United States into the most significant armed conflict in history.

It is a book for all ages and one of the most remarkable memoirs to be published in many years.

#9
Attack on Pearl Harbor: Strategy, Combat, Myths, Deceptions
The Attack on Pearl Harbor

Alan Zimm took a more tactical approach in examining all the facts in “The Attack on Pearl Harbor: Strategy, Combat, Myths, Deceptions.”

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The book critically analyzes the history-changing event, examining the Japanese attack operation from planning to execution.

By focusing on the military side of the operation, Zimm provides a whole new outlook on the Pearl Harbor attack that other historians have yet to tackle.

You will find a detailed evaluation of Japan’s deadly maneuver, answering the crucial questions on whether its strategy was sound, if the execution was flawless, and what was the Japanese’s backup plan if the attack failed. 

Zimm also delved into the folklore surrounding the bombing, including the speculations on a third-wave attack and the use of midget submarines in torpedoing the USS Oklahoma and Arizona.

There are 13 chapters in the book, all shedding new light on the strategy and tactics employed by Japan to initiate the Pacific War. 

Some topics center on the strategic and operational setting, targets, weapons, weapon-target pairings, and battle damage assessment.

If you want a fresh take on the subject, “The Attack on Pearl Harbor” is the book you need.

#10
Pearl Harbor: The Verdict of History
Pearl Harbor: The Verdict of History

“Pearl Harbor: The Verdict of History” is another excellent work from the trio of Donald M. Goldstein, Gordon Prange, and Katherine V. Dillon.

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The book offers rich and thoughtful insights into America’s greatest military disaster, exploring thorny issues and controversies in a brave attempt to identify the one at fault.

A sequel to “At Dawn We Slept,” it reaffirms the story behind the attack on Pearl Harbor, at the same time, adds a new perspective that the authors garnered from extensive research. 

When a Japanese group of carriers flew to Hawaii from the Kuril Islands and rain death on the naval base, it sank dozens of ships, destroyed hundreds of planes, and took the lives of thousands of servicemen.

Years later, many questions remain to be answered.

In “Pearl Harbor: The Verdict of History,” you will find straightforward and fair discussions focusing on the failures of American intelligence before the bombing.

Goldstein and company also tackle controversial questions on why the Japanese managed to slip past the American radar and why the defense forces in Hawaii were tragically unprepared.

Sensibly organized and presented, the book is a valuable introduction and guide to the Pearl Harbor disaster’s arguments.

#11
Pearl Harbor: A Novel of December 8th (The Pacific War Series, 1)
Pearl Harbor: A Novel of December 8

Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen’s “Pearl Harbor: A Novel of December 8” is a compelling saga of the bravery of those who took part in this unforgettable event in American history.

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The novel centers on the day after the tragedy of Pearl Harbor, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress for a declaration of war against the Empire of Japan. 

Gingrich and Forstchen pieced out a suspenseful historical story that showcases their impeccable knowledge of naval war and military technology using masterful storytelling.

This mastery lends a curious degree of credibility to the counterfactual scenarios supplemented to weave a solid plot.

“Pearl Harbor: A Novel of December 8” covers a gamut of exciting characters and events from America’s darkest day. 

You will be transported to the White House and the chambers of the Japanese emperor, walk the decks of American aircraft carriers, and stroll the halls of the Japanese Naval Academy. 

A story of intrigue, fraud, and terror, the novel examines how a single decision could have profoundly altered history.

It also applauds the desperate efforts of men on the American and Japanese sides to prevent a monumental struggle that becomes inevitable.

Sources:

CNU

Pratt Library

Reddit

Written by
Jamey Muller
I'm the head-writer @ Knowledge Eager (or, in plain English, I'm the guy writing the majority of the content here). Addicted to the stock market, football, sushi and tacos.
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