Guadalcanal Diary was described as a classic from the moment of its publication. In 1955, it was printed in a special edition for the young adult reader. The qualities that recommend it to young readers, as well as older ones, are easy to see. Its style is simple, its story is clearly presented, and its subject is of universal interest and importance: war and the experiences of those who wage it.
Tregaskis was fortunate in the choice of his subject and in his timing. The book was published while the Pacific war was still on the front pages of American newspapers. Although he later reported on wars in Europe, Korea, and Vietnam—nine, all told—none of his efforts is as memorable as this book. It serves well as an introduction to all modern wars, for it describes the combatants, conditions, and events of war with a realism that is sufficient to his purpose, to explain events in sequence, highlighting what is significant without pausing too often or too long on the gore. The record that emerges stands alongside Stephen Crane’s classic novel The Red Badge of Courage (1895) as a view of battle from the soldier’s perspective. Tregaskis’ narrative, however, describes what its author actually sees and hears. It has the enduring quality of good, realistic narrative, and the enduring value of objective truth.