Gordon W. Prange, author of Miracle at Midway, devoted nearly forty years of research to the subject of the invasion of Pearl Harbor and the battles in the Pacific during World War II. The late Dr. Prange was a Professor of History at the University of Maryland who served in the Historical Section of General Douglas MacArthur's Headquarters. An entire library of books, magazines, newspapers, speeches, and documents (including seized military documents) are dedicated to his name at the University of Maryland. The Gordon W. Prange Collection, as it is called, contains virtually everything published in Japan from 1945 to 1949. His research is quite objective, containing both the American and Japanese sides of the story. Unfortunately, Dr. Prange passed away in 1980 and did not publish Miracle at Midway. Dr. Donald M. Goldstein, Associate Professor of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh as well as Katherine V. Dillon, Chief Warrant Officer of the United States Air Force, compiled the book from various manuscripts Prange had written. Miracle at Midway was originally published by McGraw-Hill Book Company, but was reprinted in 1983 by Penguin Books.
Miracle at Midway is a historical narrative of the occurrences before, during, and after The Battle of Midway in the Pacific Ocean. The book begins somewhat slowly, but this pace is almost required to give those new to the subject the necessary introduction and background of the situation, the leaders, the philosophy, and the equipment of both the Americans and the Japanese. Once this is taken care of, the pace quickens.
Above all else, this book is a comprehensive account of the Battle of Midway that is technically and historically accurate. Due to the incredible amount of research that went in to the book, equal time is given to viewing the battle from each side. Accordingly much time is given to America's Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet (CinCPAC), Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, and both Japan's Commander in Chief of the Combined Fleet, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto and Commander in Chief of the 1st Air Fleet, Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo. Besides the battle itself, one of Admiral Nimitz' struggles was the logistical nightmare of trying to squeeze the bulk of the Pacific fleet in, on, and around this small atoll; keeping all the additional equipment maintained, fueled, and protected; finding space and food for all the men while at the same time hiding all of this additional activity from the enemy. This effort continued in addition to the major repairs required after Pearl Harbor and the Battle of the Coral Sea, and the daily scouting for an enemy whose exact location was unknown. Admiral Yamamoto had his own problems before the battle. His fleet had to maintain radio silence, watch out for enemy submarines, struggle with decreasing morale due to the long voyage at sea, and fight the unpredictable weather conditions.
The authors make several points in this book. This first of these deals with the enormous impact that US Military Intelligence made on the war. The cryptanalysts in the Combat Intelligence Office, familiarly known as "Hypo", were responsible for cracking the Japanese Code which eventually allowed the US to read Japanese secret messages as if they were written in plain English. Through some trickery, Admiral Nimitz was able to confirm that the Japanese planned to attack Midway.
Another major point made was that part of the reason for the downfall of Japan was their overconfidence and embellishment of their achievements. On numerous occasions including Pearl Harbor and the battle of the Coral Sea, the Japanese incorrectly identified various ships which were sunk or destroyed, only to later have some of these ships defeat them in the battle at Midway. The nearly flawless attack on Pearl Harbor left the Japanese believing the Americans were weak and too diverse to come together and fight as a unit. The flawed intelligence reports underestimating which and how many ships the American's had ready to fight only increased the confidence of the Japanese. Ironically, while they were overconfident, the Japanese forces were completely unprepared for this battle, which is in contrast to the well thought out attack of Pearl Harbor. Their pilots were not experienced, they had very little information on their enemy, and they had not even begun plans on how to support or supply the island if they had won.
Though it almost goes without saying, this battle marks the end of the superiority of such naval ships as the cruiser and destroyer and ushers in such powers as the aircraft carrier and its "mobile cargo", the attack planes. The authors also make it clear that though Nimitz and his fleet fought well, it was as much luck as anything that won the battle for the US.
Miracle at Midway uses a combination of chronological and topical organization depending on where each method can be used effectively. During the battles, the topical organization is used out of necessity. This is because there is entirely too much going on at the same time and in different places to try and put the events in order of time. Instead, the actions of a single man, plane, or ship (or group of men, planes, or ships) is focused on, then the spotlight moves to the action going on somewhere else.
This book is extremely well documented. Not only are there footnotes throughout, but there are also nearly 1500 notes separated by chapter in the appendix. The selected bibliography lists hundreds of primary source materials including official statements, ship logs, official and unofficial diaries, interviews, letters, and reports as well as a long list of secondary source materials from books, magazines, and newspapers. Also included are maps, charts, pictures, an order of battle, list of abbreviations, list of key personnel, and a chronology spanning nearly six months.
Critics seem to agree that this is an excellent book on the subject. Sample excerpts such include: "... a matchless portrait", "Prange was one of the few historians with a sense of style", "this is a majestic sequel to his At Dawn We Slept", "... a brilliant account of this complicated battle", and "...a clear, balanced, technically accurate account with penetrating insights". About the only negative thing they have to say is that this book does not offer any startling new views, which is something the authors plainly stated in the introduction, "This volume compliments, rather than supplants, other fine works in this area."
Though I found it somewhat hard to follow at times due to the enormous amount of information coupled with the fact that I did not have much background knowledge of the battle prior to reading this book, it was quite interesting. If one is looking for a book, not only about the Battle of Midway, but on the beginning of a new era of naval power and the turning point of the War in the Pacific Theater, this book is one to put on your list. As one of the author's, Donald Goldstein states, "This work presents the best account of both sides -- the Japanese and the Americans -- of one of the most crucial battles in US Naval history. While additional research is ongoing, as of September 1, 1998, nothing has been published that supercedes what we have written. We (the US) were extremely lucky, and it was the turning point of the war in the Pacific."
I took a class called the American Way of War from one of the authors of the book, Dr. Donald Goldstein. Dr. Goldstein is an internationally known expert on the Pacific Theater during World War II. This was written as a book review for this class. Node your homework.