Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Book Review: December 1941: 31 Days that Changed America and Saved the World, by Craig Shirley

In "December 1941," Mr. Shirley set out to describe America's entry into World War II by putting the decisions to enter the war in the context of all of the things, military and otherwise, that were going on in December 1941. He did that day by day, refering to and quoting from various media accounts about things that were happening.

By and large, Mr. Shirley accomplished his purpose:

  • He includes interesting anecdotes about the daily life of the average American that give great insight into the culture of the US at the end of the Great Depression.
  • He clearly demonstrates the divisions in the country about getting involved in a European war that many felt had little impact on Americans.
  • He alludes to but does not settle the question of whether or not President Roosevelt and his advisors suspected that an attack on Pearl Harbor was imminent but did nothing in order to force America into the war. Most of America was blind-sided.
  • He also talked about the changes in American life that occurred as a result of America's entry into the war.
  • Most surprising to me were the draconian measures implemented by the Roosevelt administration.

I really wanted to like this book — the premise and the method were intriguing. Many reviewers had given the book high marks. Overall, I'm really glad that I read the book because Mr. Shirley did accomplish his goal of putting American entry into WWII in the context of America in December 1941. In the end, I did like the book, but...

...I had a really difficult time getting past major deficiencies in the book. Each of the 31 chapters was titled by the date — i.e., "The Twenty-Eighth of December." However, citations were from newspapers from multiple days — in chapter 1, there are quotes from December 1 (which would have been about the previous day), December 4, December 8, December 9.

Second, there was little cohesiveness in the writing, particularly in the sections that quoted newspaper or radio accounts of events. Many times it was like reading a random compilation of sentences from newspapers.

Finally, I felt like the editing of this book was poor. Some sentences required multiple readings to understand what was being said (and I have a Master's degree). Others continue to baffle me. I wondered if publication of the book was rushed to get it on the market before the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor?

It's very possible that the medium that I used contributed to the difficulty of reading this book. I read the iBook version on an iPhone 3G — small form factor, aging technology, etc. Reading was fine but looking at footnotes (endnotes) was slow and most unpleasant. It's likely that reading this on a Kindle or Nook would have been much more pleasant.

I definitely recommend "December 1941." In spite of its many shortcomings, it does give one a unique and interesting perspective on America's entry into the war and on the enduring changes in American society that resulted. I just wish there had not been so many shortcomings.

More information about the book, including a video with the author, is available at this link.

Links to purchase various versions of the book from Amazon (I get no remuneration).

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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