Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Wednesday, November 12, 2021

Last month, I received a couple of review copies of Hachette Book Group’s latest book releases, courtesy of Hachette online marketing director Kelly Leonard. Last week, I reviewed the first book, Brad Meltzer’s “The Book of Lies”. Below is my review for the second book of the two books Kelly provided me, Robert J. Mrazek’s “A Dawn Like Thunder: The True Story of Torpedo Squadron Eight”:

While I’m an enthusiastic student of history, I’ve stated in this space before that I don’t find the deep-drilled nuts-and-bolts behind historic events particularly interesting. This is especially the case when it comes to military history: The details behind troop configurations, armament employments, etc. that so fascinates fans of this field of study frankly bores me to tears. I appreciate the information, but I prefer to read about the broader strategic actions and consequences that shaped the past (and present).

With that, “Dawn Like Thunder” isn’t exactly targeted at me. The book chronicles the formation and experiences of the 35 soldiers who made up Torpedo Squadron Eight. This U.S. Navy fighter pilot squad saw some of the heaviest air warfare in World War II’s Pacific Theater, including pivotal action in the battles of Midway and Guadalcanal. By its nature, this account boils down the greater epoch of a world war into the microcosm of a handful of individuals and their families.

I appreciate this approach to humanize history, and it’s certainly got a long track record. But given my bias, “Thunder” would have to present its story in a particularly compelling way for me to not get bogged down in what I consider to be excruciating minutiae.

Unfortunately, author Mrazek doesn’t do this. He provides a good deal of lifestory background on the men of the Torpedo Eight, making good use of the well-documented research he did (including extensive personal interviews with survivors and their families). But even with the amount of verbiage devoted to them, I never felt any of the principle players come alive in this retelling. Despite portrayals that pointed out their different hometowns, backgrounds, and personalities, Mrazek does a poor job of truly distinguishing the individuals from one another — this guy was pretty much like this other guy, give or take a few years on the birthday and/or some minor quirk.

The failure of the character portraits to captivate has a domino effect: If you don’t particularly care about a particular name, you won’t particularly care about what happens to him later. This doesn’t detract from these men’s true-life stories — the failure lies in this book’s storytelling. But it does make the resulting read through the naval battles and island-hopping campaigns rather laborious. The requisite amount of spec information on aircraft, warships, and weaponry is sprinkled throughout, and while it’s not overdone, the lack of a stronger supporting narrative made those passages that much more tedious.

While reading “Thunder”, I had the unrelated opportunity to read through most of Tom Brokaw’s “The Greatest Generation”. Comparing the two books isn’t my intent, as they deal with different aspects of the same era. But I did find myself wishing that “Thunder” featured a flow and general readability like “Generation”: More engaging and memorable by a longshot. Which leads me, again, to wonder how “Thunder’s” story would have related with someone else writing it. Only in the epilogues describing the Torpedo Eight’s post-war lives did Mrazek approach this level of engagement.

If you can get past these shortcomings, “Thunder” serves well as a typical account of a band-of-brothers wartime testament. It’s certainly well-researched, both on the personal level and in the larger brushstrokes of battle history. If only the stories that were intended to enliven this historical record had been more compelling, it would have been a worthwhile read.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 11/12/2021 12:39 PM
Category: Book Review, History
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  1. THIS ONE IS MINE: LA’S SAD PEOPLE…

    My visit last month with Hachette Book Group’s Kelly Leonard continues to pay back- in reading material. In addition to the two books that Kelly herself gave for my review, her associate Miriam Parker sent along an additional new release….

    Trackback by Population Statistic — 11/24/2008 @ 12:20 PM

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