December 7, 1941

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The last volume of the late Gordon Prange’s trilogy of historical studies about the “date that will live in infamy” in American history, DECEMBER 7, 1941 focuses on the events immediately surrounding the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The action actually spans three days, December 6 through 8. Prange and his collaborators draw on years of research and careful collection of oral and written accounts from Americans who lived through the bombings and from Japanese who carried out the attack to present a spine-chilling account of those fateful seventy-two hours. Little of the historian’s own analysis is presented; instead, the participants are largely allowed to tell their own stories. Nevertheless, the reader comes to sense the sad lack of American psychological preparedness for war.

Though Prange includes anecdotes about events in Washington, D.C. (and a few from Tokyo), the majority of the reminiscences are from those who were on the scene. Each chapter meticulously details the impressions of these men and women, both those of importance and the many more who were simply soldiers, sailors, or civilian bystanders. Although the volume is history, it reads much like a popular suspense novel.

Using chronology as an organizing principle, Prange and his collaborators interweave snippets of story in a manner reminiscent of Tom Clancy’s in THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, with one major difference: The reader of DECEMBER 7, 1941 races through the text without hope for a happy ending. Prange can offer solace only in the possibility that by understanding what went wrong in the past the United States can hope to avoid future catastrophe. The result is a compelling tale of national sorrow, curiously intermixed with tales of individual heroism equal to the best one finds in fiction.