The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack





Operation Stalemate by Daniel Wrinn

Operation Stalemate is the story of the grinding battle to take the island of Peleilu in the Pacific Theater during World War II. On Peleilu, Allied forces encountered a highly motivated enemy which had learned the lessons of their early Pacific Theater losses and was determined to make the Allies pay for every inch of ground they took. Wrinn gets into the heads of the Japanese commanders and shows how they developed their plans to stall the allies and make the price in human life as high as possible. Then he gets into the heads of the marines and shows them struggle to get out of a killing box and eliminate the Japanese threat. The cost was tremendously high. The battle, often described as a siege, was a long and grueling one. And while the Allies were victorious, victory was so hard won that it didn’t come with the feeling of triumph that accompanied the other battles Wrinn has recounted. Perhaps that’s why he chose to end the book by showing the actual tactical and strategic and even accidental importance that Peleilu assumed for the rest of the war. This included hosting the airfield from which the scout plane that discovered the crew of the famous Indianapolis, as they tried to survive in the water after their battleship was sunk on the return voyage from delivering its cargo of atomic weapons.

Bloody Beaches by Daniel Wrinn

Daniel Wrinn writes short tight histories of various aspects of the Pacific Theater during World War II. This time he tackled the fabled Marine Raiders, introducing why they were formed, how they were trained, and then following them through their many insertions into enemy occupied territory. The Marine Raiders acted as paratroopers without the parachutes, making stealthy amphibious landings to use surprise to penetrate Japanese defenses. It didn’t always go well and they suffered very heavy casualties throughout the war.

Wrinn recounts the history of the Marine Raiders with a laudable level of detail that swings back and forth from the tactical problems to the larger strategic significance of their battles. If you’re looking for a quick overview of this important element of the Marine Corps, you should definitely read this book.

In Alpha Order by Author

World War II by Thomas Childers

This is what a Great Courses book is meant to be. Short, clear, and decisive lectures give the background to the war and follow the developing conflict in all the major theaters. In addition to giving a clear account of the war, Childers is also unafraid to tackle controversial questions such as why the Allies did not bomb the deathcamps to slow the Holocaust, or why Eisenhower chose not to begin the assault on Berlin and “beat” the Soviets to that city, and of course, whether or not Truman should have used the atom bomb.

One of the things that stood out most prominently to me was Childers’ discussions on why the U.S. made such a difference in the war—especially on the economic front as the nation’s manufacturing capacity recovered from the devastation of the Great Depression to ramp up to its full potential. Childers also was extremely successful in demonstrating how Japanese tactics (which the Allies saw as evidence of extraordinary fanaticism) raised fears of horrific casualties if they were to invade the Japanese home islands. His discussion of whether or not Truman should have dropped the atomic bombs on Japan were similarly insightful when he argued that there was truly no decision to be made with most estimates predicting one million Allied casualties and no evidence that the government of Japan was even considering surrender. Perhaps the most striking part was his conclusion in which he discussed the horrendous costs of the war (the Soviet Union lost ten percent of its population) and how this led directly into the Cold War.

Anyway you splice it, this is a great introduction to World War II.

World War I by Vejas Gabriel Lielevicius

As one would expect from the Great Courses series, Lielevicius gives a solid overview of the First World War and takes the time to look at more than the battles—topics such as how technology changed the war and the impact of ideology. He also spends a good amount of time examining the consequences of the war. All in all, it is a solid account of the period, although I thought he was a little generous to Woodrow Wilson and I can’t really understand why there wasn’t a lecture dedicated to the impact of the Spanish Flu. Still, if you are interested in this subject, this is a fine place to start.

The World War I Trivia Book by Bill O’Neil

This may be the perfect introduction to World War I for the non-specialist. It’s fast moving, entertaining, and remarkably informative. World War I is a highly complex topic, but O’Neil brilliantly breaks it down into digestible nuggets covering an amazing amount of territory in just four hours of audiobook. Not only does he cover expected topics like the causes of the war and the big battles, he gets into a lot of the smaller but important factors in the war like why the U.S. was so reluctant to get involved and the background to the eruption of communism in Russia.

If you’re interested in history but tend to find the typical scholarly monograph overly dry, this is a great book for you. When you’re finished you’ll have a general understanding of the war and its causes, plus it’s entertaining enough that you’ll be sad when you’re done.

The World War II Trivia Book by Dwayne Walker and Bill O’Neil

I am a big fan of the World War I Trivia Book and the World War II Trivia Book maintains the prior volume’s high standards. I’ve been reading about World War II for decades and I can’t think of a better way to introduce someone to the complicated mess that spiraled into the most destructive war in human history. The authors feed you the narrative like a seven-course meal, breaking it up in easy to follow themes and then further dividing into bite-sized sections that make digestion easy and enjoyable.

I already knew the basic narrative so I focused most strongly on the many vignettes—such morsels as the Battle of Stalingrad or examples of sacrifices made on the home front. The most moving sections had to do with the Holocaust—especially their discussions of Anne Frank.

If you’re looking for a quick introduction to World War II, this Trivia Book is a wonderful place to start. I’m going to continue with their history of Vietnam.

Broken Wings by War History Journals

This is a book that is presented as history but written as historical fiction. It doesn’t appear to be an autobiography, but is written as if it were. The purpose appears to be to convey the “history” as entertainingly as possible, and in that regard it was certainly effective.

Lieutenant Ryan was an American who was obsessed with flying—so much so that when World War I broke out he traveled to Canada to enlist in their air force so he could test his skills against the Germans in aerial combat. He was a skilled and successful fighter pilot who gives an interesting account of his training and the basic problems fighter pilots encounter—problems which eventually led to his being shot down in enemy territory.

Ryan was captured and made a prisoner of war, yet his idealism won’t permit him to sit out the rest of the war. While being moved to a new prison further from the lines, he makes a daring escape and then spends 72 grueling days trying to get back across the lines rejoin his own side. His efforts would make quite an exciting movie and the authors do a good job conveying the intense peril and morale-breaking frustrations he had to contend with. While the “novel” like structure makes it difficult for me to judge whether or not it is good history or not, it is certainly an entertaining tale.

Mission to Ireland by War History Journals

This is the second volume of the War History Journals that I have read and their decision to add an introduction and afterward that helped to place the events of the book in its historical context greatly enhanced the utility of the volume. The rest of the book is written in the first person and purposefully comes off as historical fiction as War History Journal strives to make history more accessible.

I enjoyed it, learning about a German effort to supply the Irish with weapons for the coming Easter Uprising. The effort to sneak their cargo ship into Ireland is quite dramatic and informs the reader about English precautions to keep just such a thing from happening. It would be easy to forget that these were actual real events being depicted because the whole book reads like a spy thriller complete with a prison escape.

It’s hard in this format to evaluate the history itself. There are conversations reported and the first person narrative style prevents the reader from having any real sense of what is invented for dramatic story telling purposes and what is strictly true, but I think that it is still a very effective way to give people a sense of the challenges inherent in the mission and to learn a lot about a seldom discussed part of World War I.

The Battle for Saipan by Daniel Wrinn

You can always count on Daniel Wrinn to write a stirring, yet accurate, account of World War II battles. The Battle for Saipan is no different, continuing Wrinn’s chronicle of the U.S. Marines’ battle across the Pacific Ocean. With an extremely well-balanced mixture of narrative and quotations from personal accounts, he lays out what was at stake at Saipan, why the battle was different and much more difficult than those which had come before, and what the consequences were for the conflict with Japan. (Hint: Saipan was one of the critical turning points in the War in the Pacific.) I always find myself sad when I come to the end of a Wrinn book and I look forward to reading his next chapter of the war.

Bullets and Barbed Wire by Daniel Wynn

This is a gripping account of three battles for Pacific Islands during World War II. Taken together they show the evolution of Allied fighting strategy in the Pacific as the U.S. marines learned how to handle their Japanese opponents.

Despite a thick level of detail, this book reads very quickly. It’s an exciting account and often tragic as there are a significant number of men who die after we’ve followed their actions. I’ve read a lot of books on World War II and this one really brings you onto the sand and into the jungle, making you understand the stakes and the challenges as it accounts the actions of these very courageous men.

Operation Watchtower by Daniel Wrinn

How much do you know about the Battle of Guadalcanal other than that the U.S. Marine Corps played a critical role in the fighting? After reading this short book you’ll have a deep understanding of why it was so important and why it’s the battle that turned the tide of the War in the Pacific during World War II. Afterward, Japan’s ability to threaten the U.S. and its allies was severely curtailed. But the price was incredibly high on both sides.

Wrinn has written a short account packed with details and crafted into a narrative that flows very rapidly from beginning to end. If you’re looking to understand a key point in the War of the Pacific and don’t want to get bogged down in a long tedious narrative, this book is a great place to begin.