book reviews

2 More Nonfiction You Don’t Want to Miss

Here are two more great books I read recently:

  1. Tennozan: The Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb — an in-depth discussion on all facets of the battle that killed more people than both atomic bombs
  2. From Holmes to Sherlock: The Story of the Men and Women Who Created an Icon — detailed biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as it applies to his iconic character, Sherlock Holmes

tennozanTennozan: The Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb

by George Feifer

My rating: 6 of 5 stars

I picked up George Feifer’s Tennozan: The Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb (Houghton Mifflin 1992) because my son is now in Okinawa Japan with the Army. Okinawa, by most measures, is one of the seminal battles between the US and Japan in WWII and the largest land-sea-air engagement in history. Though fought at the end of the War, Japan showed no appetite for giving up and threw everything she had at the Allied forces on the island. By the time the battle ended, more people were lost than in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. The word ‘tennozan’ in Japanese refers to an all-out, decisive battle. There are only a few of those in Japanese history and Okinawa is at the top of the list. Feifer has a line in the book that I failed to write down but it goes something like: Most soldiers fight until the battle is won or lost. The Japanese will fight until they’re dead, regardless of whether it’s a losing battle. It’s an attitude that filters through not just their military battles but economic and social too. It is this sort of willingness to give everything that convinced President Truman that nothing short of the atomic bomb would stop this enemy.

So, in honor of my son’s new home, I checked the 600+page book out of the library. It follows the life of three soldiers, one American, one Japanese, and one native Okinawan conscripted by the Japanese to fight for his homeland (that’s right; I didn’t even know Okinawa was a prefecture of Japan with a culture significantly different from Japan). Chapters include:

  • American Participants
  • Japanese Participants
  • Okinawa
  • Japanese Leadership
  • Civilian Dislocation
  • The Shuri Line
  • Sugar Loaf Hill
  • Close Combat
  • Civilian Suffering

You can’t read this book without coming away with intense respect for the patriotism, honor, and tenacity of the soldiers on both sides. Here are some amazing facts I didn’t know about this battle:

  • When the American fleet gathered off Okinawa’s shores, filling the ocean to the horizon, the entrenched Japanese “were pleased to see so many enemy vessels gathered for convenient destruction by Imperial planes and warships”.
  • A third of the Japanese planes deployed during the Battle of Okinawa were kamikazes.
  • Half of the 700 Japanese planes that attacked American ships on L day (Launch Day–the start of the battle, like D Day) were kamikazes.
  • Japan was defeated well before Okinawa but the Japanese wouldn’t quit. Their goal was not so much to kill the enemy as die in combat for the glory of the Rising Sun.
  • The Battle for Sugar Loaf Hill by some measures was the hardest single battle in the Pacific War and hardest for Americans anywhere in WWII.
  • 23 Medal of Honors were awarded for the Battle of Okinawa, the most of any campaign in WWII.
  • The American soldiers “come from a culture that valued individual life. [It] took time to comprehend a world where it was scorned.”
  • A solid month of unrelieved combat produced some degree of battle fatigue in nearly 100 percent of American troops.

Besides all this, I didn’t know the author–George Feifer–also co-wrote one of my favorite books from college, Solzhenitsyn.

Anyone with a love of history, problem-solving, critical thinking, and cultural differences will surely enjoy this book.


From Holmes to Sherlock: The Story of the Men and Women Who Created an IconFrom Holmes to Sherlock

by Mattias Boström and Michael Gallagher

5/5

Bostrom and Gallagher’s From Holmes to Sherlock (Mysterious Press 2017) is a thorough and detailed account of the life and adventures of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his iconic detective, Sherlock Holmes. In fact, at 608 pages, it is one of the longest biographies not about scientists or historic figures I’ve ever read. Besides being a fascinating account of Doyle’s creation of the character many swore was alive, it is also a fascinating exploration of publishing and a writers life in the late 1800s-early 1900s.

A few interesting details that caught my attention:

  • “Most of Conan Doyle’s stories followed a defined template. Usually they began with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson each sitting in an easy chair in the flat at 221b Baker Street. A client would arrive and be received by the landlady, Mrs. Hudson. Sherlock Holmes would make quick deductions after observing small details about the person in question—something about his or her clothes, hands, or posture. Watson and the client would be astounded by his perceptive capacity, but only until he explained to them just how simple it had been to arrive at that conclusion. The client would then present his or her case, which was often a sequence of events so odd, or else seemingly insignificant, that the police would simply have laughed at it.”
  • Doyle invented Sherlock Holmes through short stories.
  • Doyle wrote at a blistering place. He could write one story in just a few weeks.
  • Doyle was a successful ophthalmologist before and during his writing career.
  • As the Holmes franchise (not really a word they used back then, but it applies) grew, Doyle planned to kill off the consulting detective so he could concentrate on both his doctor career and on other characters. He didn’t though because his mother prevailed upon him to keep Holmes alive. He did eventually do away with him several times in the fictional character’s long and storied career:
“Almost ten years had passed since Conan Doyle had killed off Holmes. He was of the opinion that had he not done so, Holmes would have killed him off instead.”
mm
  • Doyle asked for exorbitant fees from his publisher when agreeing to continue writing the stories because he wanted to be turned down so he would have a good reason to quit the series. They just kept paying him whatever he asked.

That’s just a bit. You’ll have to read the book to find out the rest!

View all my reviews

More historic nonfiction:

Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailor

Gates of Fire

Killer Angels


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and  Twenty-four DaysShe is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

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43 thoughts on “2 More Nonfiction You Don’t Want to Miss

  1. Jacqui, sometimes you just have to break the rules!! 6/5!! That grabbed my attention and I was enthralled by your review and details from the book. As a Sherlock Holmes fan I was excited to read your review on this biography…I knew he was keen to kill off Sherlock but had no idea his mother ensured he was kept in. Interesting to learn he was an ophthalmologist! Thank you for these two terrific book shares…is there any way to extend time so I get a chance to read everything I want to!? 😀😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, 6 of 5 stars. That’s impressive! “Tennozan: The Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb” looks like fascinating reading. Thanks for the heads-up. I think I’ll order it for my husband for Christmas. Then I can read it too. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You just told me more about Okinawa than I knew, and I thought I knew a lot. This sounds like a fascinating book. I find it sad and terrible that an entire people would value dying for glory more than life, yet today we see evidence of the same in terrorists attacks. I wonder if Japanese psychology is still so single minded.

    As for the book about Doyle – I’m planning on one day being in the same position – my editors will pay me anything just to keep me here writing books. Yeah, that’s the ticket. (I’ve never read a Sherlock Holmes book.)

    And now for the coup: how many days did it take you to read the Feifer book?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Seventy years ago today, US forces firebombed Tokyo to force the Japanese to an early surrender in the dying months of World War II. The atomic bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have dominated the retelling of WWII history, but as a single attack the bombing of Tokyo was more destructive.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And one most people don’t know because–as you say–it became all about the atomic bombs. This books is in my top ten most influential history books that I’ve read (still love Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors as #1).

      Like

  5. Perhaps you should write the posts on Okinawa for me, Jacqui. After going through that book, I know you’re more informed than I.
    The Last of the Tin Can Soldiers is an excellent book too, I’ glad you mentioned it!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Hi Jacqui – both books look to be really interesting – thank you for your thorough notes on them … I’ve noted them – and am interested … I imagine your son is finding out all kinds of things while he’s in Japan, albeit in the USA ambit. Cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

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