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Ship of Ghosts


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About the Author

James D. Hornfischer, a native of Massachusetts, is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Neptune's Inferno, Ship of Ghosts, and The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, which won the Samuel Eliot Morison Award for Naval Literature. Two of his widely acclaimed works about the U.S. Navy in World War II are selections of the U.S. Navy's professional reading list. A graduate of Colgate University and the University of Texas at Austin, he lives with his wife and their three children in Austin, Texas.


The heavy cruiser USS Houston, FDR's favorite warship, was stationed south of Manila during the attack on Pearl Harbor. After December 7, it rendezvoused with other American, Australian, British, and Dutch ships to form a fleet in the Dutch East Indies. While assaulting a Japanese convoy, it was sunk in a heated battle at Sunda Strait. Many of the crew were killed, but others survived only to be imprisoned in Japanese camps. Hornfischer (The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors) focuses primarily on life in the various prison and labor camps to which the Houston's men were sent, from shipyards in Japan to the camp whose inmates built the infamous Burma-Thailand railway (dramatized in The Bridge on the River Kwai). Many in these camps died from a combination of disease, malnourishment, torture, and abuse, if not outright murder. Others survived, and still others escaped with the help of agents from the newly formed OSS, predecessor to the CIA. This colorful book does a fine job of telling these tales, but brevity is not one of Hornfischer's strengths; the lengthy narrative at times bogs down in detail. A strong and interesting book that better editing would have made stronger; for public libraries. Matthew J. Wayman, Pennsylvania State Univ., Abington Coll. Lib. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

This engrossing WWII epic by Hornfischer (The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors) recounts the exploits of the Houston, mainstay of the skimpy Allied fleet opposing the Japanese onslaught in the war's early days, until her sinking in a desperate battle with overwhelming Japanese forces in the Java Sea in 1942. This part of the story features a superb evocation of naval combat as the harnessing of immense destructive forces booming eight-inch guns, plunging bombs, stealthy torpedoes by the crew's frenzied yet meticulous choreography. The narrative then shifts gears to follow the Houston's several hundred survivors through Japanese POW camps in Southeast Asia, focusing on the labor camps on the Burma-Thailand railway (glamorized in the movie Bridge on the River Kwai). Shorn of their weapons and confronting starvation, disease and the brutality of Japanese guards, the prisoners cultivated a different kind of heroism, where survival hung on the ability to absorb hardship and humiliation without complaint, and the pilfering of an egg or a can of condensed milk for the dying was the ultimate act of courage. The result is a gripping, well-told memorial to Greatest Generation martyrdom. Photos. (Nov. 7) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

"Ship of Ghosts would be an unforgettable book if only for its brilliantly wrought account of the massive, chaotic sea battle that destroyed the USS Houston. But that is only the beginning of a story that grows more harrowing with every chapter, and that finally leaves the reader amazed at what human beings are capable of achieving and enduring." --Stephen Harrigan, author of Challenger Park and The Gates of the Alamo

"On sea and on land, these intrepid sailors endured enough for a thousand lifetimes. In this riveting account, Hornfischer carefully reconstructs a story none of us should be allowed to forget."--Hampton Sides, author of Blood and Thunder and Ghost Soldiers

"Hornfischer has produced another meticulously researched naval history page-turner in Ship of Ghosts. He manages to fuse powerful human stories into the great flow of historical events with a singular story-telling talent."--John F. Lehman, former Secretary of the Navy, author of On Seas of Glory "Hornfischer has done it again. His narrative is fine-tuned and always compelling but where he truly excels is in his evocative, often lyrical descriptions of combat at sea. Those who enjoyed his previous best-seller will love Ship of Ghosts--military history at its finest."--Alex Kershaw, author of The Bedford Boys and The Few "Masterly...[the] description of the huge and terrifying naval engagements are as overwhelming a stretch of historical writing as I have ever come across.... Beautifully written and heartgripping."--Adam Nicolson, author of God's Secretaries "Recounts perhaps the most devastating untold saga of World War II in piercing detail."--Donovan Webster, author of The Burma Road "Hornfischer is quickly establishing himself as doing for the Navy what popular historian Stephen Ambrose did for the Army.... So great is the drama of the Houston and its survivors that this story seems to tell itself." --Rocky Mountain News "With vivid and visceral descriptions of the chaos and valor onboard the doomed Houston...the author penetrates the thoughts and fears of adrenaline-pumped sailors in the heat of combat.... Hornfischer masterfully shapes the narrative.... breathing life into an unforgettable epic of human endurance." --USA Today "Hornfischer has painted a compelling picture of one of the most gallant ships and one of the grimmest campaigns in American naval history. He has a positive genius for depicting the surface-warfare sailor in a tight spot. May he write long and give them more memorials." -Booklist, starred review "What kind of yarn is Ship of Ghosts? Put Stephen Ambrose aboard the cruiser once known as 'the Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast.' Next, bring Patrick O'Brien for nautical detail and high seas drama. Then factor in Joseph Conrad for tales of men under stress in exotic climes.... Naval history of the highest order." -Metrowest [Boston] Daily News

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