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Book Review: Days of Infamy by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen

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Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen have teamed up before; their trilogy of alternate Civil War history was received quite well. In that series, they examined the consequences of a Confederate victory in July 1863, and the outcome of Lee's assault on Washington, D.C. Before that, in the ill-fated 1945, they showed us a world where the Third Reich dominates Europe and threatens the United States.

This current series started with Pearl Harbor; in fact, if you have not read that book, this book, though entertaining, won't make as much sense. Pearl Harbor establishes the "point of divergence" in this alternate history – Yamamoto himself is present during the attack on Pearl Harbor, and a third assault is launched against the island, causing more material damage and generating more chaos than it did in "real life." Days of Infamy shows what happens as a result of that divergence.

The United States Navy is reeling after the attack in Hawaii, but the hunt for the Japanese fleet is on. Of course, Yamamoto is searching for the American carriers, and has a carefully laid trap set for them. The American carrier groups are split, and are forced to observe strict radio silence to prevent the Japanese fleet from finding them. It's a complex naval chess game, played out in the Pacific Ocean, with real casualties. The inexperience of the American troops is highlighted, as many of the pilots flying into combat have only recently graduated from flight school. Many don't make it to their second mission, falling prey to the superior Japanese planes and pilots.

The thing I appreciate most about this book is how believable it is. As with their Civil War series, Gingrich and Forstchen have crafted a narrative that sounds like it really happened. The benefit of alternate histories is their ability to make us think about how important one minor event can be to the outcome of a battle, a war, and more. As bad as the attack on Pearl Harbor was, it could have been much worse, and the aftermath could have been vastly different from what we read in the history books.

The characters in the Days of Infamy are very true to life, though there's not much development in the narrative. Of course, the events of the book take place between 7:45 PM on December 7 and 10:00 AM on December 11, so there's not a lot of time for characters to develop and change. But Gingrich and Forstchen have packed a lot into 3 1/2 days. The pacing of the book can sometimes leave you breathless, and more than once I found myself reading "just one more page" after I'd just finished two chapters. This is a great beach read for people who don't always read beach books.

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About Warren Kelly