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Islands of Hell: The U.S. Marines in the Western Pacific, 1944-1945    by Eric Hammel order for
Islands of Hell
by Eric Hammel
Order:  USA  Can
Zenith Press, 2010 (2010)
* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

Offering a pictorial history of one of the bloodiest and most costly campaigns in the Pacific theatre of World War II, this coffee table size volume features 567 black and white photos and seven maps.

Released in conjunction with the HBO mini-series The Pacific, Islands of Hell focuses on the Mariannas, Peleliu, and Iwo Jima and Okinawa. The author provides an introduction for each section, and narrative that accompanies the photographic record of the fighting.

Responding to a question about the book's candid and sometimes graphic portrayal of combat and its aftermath, Eric Hammel said, 'We tend to view wars as antiseptic and easy: no one on TV news is ever seen dying and the 'good guys always win.' The candid photographic record of war as it really takes place tells a far different story, a story of inner struggle by men who are as afraid of death and injury as any TV viewer would be.'

He continues, 'The surprise and inspiration in the photographic record is that mere mortals get up and advance when they are told to do so. Resistance shows in body language in every photo, but there they go, forward, to contact the enemy.'

As Hammel chronicles the taking of the islands (beginning in 1944) that would be stepping stones providing a launching pad for American B-29 bombers that would allow for an aerial assault on Japan itself, the reader realizes that the cost in human suffering and lives lost was significant. In the past the brutal struggle to control Iwo Jima has received the most attention but, as this book so vividly illustrates, taking the other islands was far from being a cakewalk!

Islands of Hell is a bit pricey, but anyone who is interested in military history, the U.S. Marines or World War II will find this is a must have volume. At twice the price, given the photographic record it offers, this book would be a steal.

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