Tower of Skulls
In 1937, the swath of the globe east from India to the Pacific Ocean enclosed half the world’s population, all save a fraction enduring under some form of colonialism. Japan’s onslaught into China that year unleashed a tidal wave of events that fundamentally transformed this region and killed about twenty-five million people. From just two nation states with real sovereignty, Thailand and Japan, and two with compromised sovereignty, China and Mongolia, the region today encompasses at least nineteen major sovereign nations. This extraordinary World War II narrative vividly describes in exquisite detail the battles across this entire region and links those struggles on many levels with their profound twenty-first-century legacies.Beginning with China’s long-neglected years of heroic, costly resistance, Tower of Skulls explodes outward to campaigns including Singapore, the Philippines, the Netherlands East Indies, India, and Burma, as well as across the Pacific to Pearl Harbor. These pages cast penetrating light on how struggles in Europe and Asia merged into a tightly entwined global war. They feature not just battles, but also the sweeping political, economic, and social effects of the war, and are graced with a rich tapestry of individual characters from top-tier political and military figures down to ordinary servicemen, as well as the accounts of civilians of all races and ages.In this first volume of a trilogy, award-winning historian Richard B. Frank draws on rich archival research and recently discovered documentary evidence to tell an epic story that gave birth to the world we live in now.

Tower of Skulls Details

TitleTower of Skulls
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseMar 3rd, 2020
PublisherW. W. Norton Company
ISBN-139781324002109
Rating
GenreHistory, Nonfiction, Military, Military History, War, World War II, North American Hi..., American History

Tower of Skulls Review

  • Grouchy Historian
    January 1, 1970
    I would give this book 6 stars if I could. It will truly change how you think about WW2. The interaction of China and Russia to the Pacific War and the way Japan mostly blundered into a war they knew they couldnt win was eye opening to learn. Cant wait for the next book. I would give this book 6 stars if I could. It will truly change how you think about WW2. The interaction of China and Russia to the Pacific War and the way Japan mostly blundered into a war they knew they couldn’t win was eye opening to learn. Can’t wait for the next book.
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  • Peter Goodman
    January 1, 1970
    Tower of Skulls: a history of the Asia-Pacific War, July, 1937-May, 1942, by Richard B. Frank (Norton, 2020). Frank has already established himself as a superb historian of World War II, with Guadalcanal and Downfall: the end of the Imperial Japanese Empire. But this book, the first volume of a trilogy, is a stupendous achievement, greater than the predecessors (I have not read his biography of MacArthur). Frank begins at the beginning---Japans war in China---rather than Pearl Harbor, which “Tower of Skulls: a history of the Asia-Pacific War, July, 1937-May, 1942,” by Richard B. Frank (Norton, 2020). Frank has already established himself as a superb historian of World War II, with “Guadalcanal” and “Downfall: the end of the Imperial Japanese Empire.” But this book, the first volume of a trilogy, is a stupendous achievement, greater than the predecessors (I have not read his biography of MacArthur). Frank begins at the beginning---Japan’s war in China---rather than Pearl Harbor, which Americans usually think of as the beginning. He doesn’t get to the date that lives in infamy until Chapter 10, P. 229 of a 522-page book. The first half is devoted to what happened in China, starting with the strange affair of the Marco Polo Bridge in 1937. Indeed, first Frank describes the state of China up to that point---not a single unified state but a set of fractured satrapies, with Chiang Kai-shek doggedly trying to create one nation. The Bolsheviks, especially Stalin, thought he was the right guy for the job and supported him. Mao Tse-Tung was barely an afterthought. Chiang was smart, tough, upright. But Japan, already ensconced in Manchuria, was out to build an empire. Or rather, some of its officers were. Some of the time. Among the disconcerting threads woven into this history are the strange tendency of Japanese generals, and even lower down the ranks, to disobey direct orders, or to lie about what they were doing, to advance their own careers and their dreams of what Japan should be. These tendencies flowed along with, and underneath, the rivalry (if not outright hatred) between the Army and the Navy. So Japan begins its war in China, which was considered to be so weak any resistance would melt away like tissue in a stream. And the Chinese armed forces were weak: poorly armed, badly led, untrained. Yet they did somehow manage to hold off the far superior Japanese armed forces, in, for example, the battle of Shanghai, a sanguinary Asian Stalingrad, which cost the invaders far more than they expected, and took longer to accomplish. The Chinese slowly learned how to fight the Japanese, whose logistics were tenuous: let them advance, then attack the flanks and rear. But the Japanese were obscenely brutal. They routinely beheaded, bayoneted, tortured anyone who resisted, and often not even when they resisted. The Rape of Nanking was exactly that. Throughout, Japanese soldiers killed their prisoners, often in the most despicable ways. They were far more vicious than the Germans, whose soldiers kept under control. While this warfare was going on, Chiang kept asking for help. At first he was supported by the Germans; then by the Soviets; ultimately by the Americans. The Americans did not want to get terribly involved, but they did not want to give the Japanese a completely free hand. Isolationism was very strong; Many, if not a majority, of Americans did not want to become involved in any war. Although the Navy had considered Japan to be its primary foe, and much of its planning involved a war with the Empire. Without myself going into the details, I will say that Frank swims deep in the weeds, describing not just the machinations of the politicians and generals, but the ---minutiae is the wrong word---his account is almost lapidary in its reconstruction of what was happening down to the company and platoon level. He gives an excellent account of the Nomonhan Incident, in which a Japanese invading force is slaughtered by the Soviets under Zhukov. As for Pearl Harbor: Frank describes what was involved not just in breaking the Japanese codes, but in trying to get usable information out of the messages. The Japanese used many levels of deception to keep their target secret. The Americans knew an attack was coming, and pretty much when. But they were never able to figure where---and they never once suspected Pearl Harbor. On the other hand, Admiral Kimmel and General Short were derelict in not responding to the warnings they were given by Washington, not scattering their aircraft, not putting crews on alert, etc. In any case, no way was it a plot by FDR. The Americans tried everything they could short of war to stop the Japanese assaults in China. And the Japanese knew they had a limited amount of resources and time to finish their plans before they ran out of fuel. Again, Frank’s detail of the attack is clear-eyed. He does not hesitate to call out earlier historians and chroniclers: there was no way the Japanese could have sent a third wave to destroy the fuel and ammunition dumps. That’s a myth, he says: it would have taken too long to rearm the planes, the fleet was short of fuel, any third attack would have ended in darkness with the subsequent loss of a lot of planes. In the Philippines, he has no patience for MacArthur’s egotistical incompetence; he also describes how weak the Philippine forces were. But he also shows that the Japanese were not so smart themselves. And then there is his account of the Singapore and Burma campaigns. He doesn’t think much of Stilwell, and considers that Barbara Tuchman bought into Stilwell’s own version. Oh, I could go on. What a book. I can’t wait for the next two volumes. It is not that Frank is doing for the Pacific what Rick Atkinson did for the European campaign. He is breaking new ground about a portion of the war that is essentially unknown in the US. https://wwnorton.com/books/9781324002109
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  • Willis
    January 1, 1970
    This is the first in a planned trilogy. This first volume covers the beginning of the war between China and Japan and its expansion until the peak of Japanese occupation throughout the Asia area. Include the conquests of Burma, Malaysia, China, Phillipines and Pearl Harbor. Goes into a lot of details and really gives you a sense of the broad scope of what was happening relative to the European theater of war.
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  • Steve
    January 1, 1970
    This is the first volume of the series of the war in Asia and the Pacific during World War II. When Japanese troops invaded China in 1937, it was a prelude to World War II. This book has events from the Japanese invasion of China to the Bataan Death March and the fall of Corregidor in the Philippines in 1942.
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  • Larry
    January 1, 1970
    The first of three-volumes, Frank's work is magisterial in its coverage and valuable in its analysis. (as an example, the section on the attack on Pearl Harbor). It gives Japan's China war its proper attention.
  • Nimal
    January 1, 1970
    Good story
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