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W.W. Norton
"Target Tokyo" is by James M. Scott.

"TARGET TOKYO: Jimmy Doolittle and the Raid That Avenged Pearl Harbor," by James M. Scott, $35, 648 pages (nf)

In “Target Tokyo: Jimmy Doolittle and the Raid That Avenged Pearl Harbor,” author James M. Scott offers an exhaustive work of history detailing the momentous April 1942 bombing mission over Tokyo.

The book starts with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the chaotic aftermath as U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and his senior military commanders worked to prepare America for a long war, and also to plan retaliation for the Japanese sneak attack. Eventually, Army Air Corps Col. Jimmy Doolittle was chosen to head up a project to bomb Japan.

The book details Doolittle's prewar life and exploits, and his efforts to ready the crew for the mission as well as looking at the technical challenges of preparing 16 B-25 Mitchell bombers to take off from aircraft carriers. Scott details each plane's crew as they left the deck of the USS Hornet and their experiences bombing their targets in Japan.

The next half of the work is dedicated to the aftermath. Scott looks at the tremendous boost to American morale, and the corresponding slide in Japanese confidence. Japanese retaliation for the raid on the Chinese people, many of whom had helped the airmen after the raid, often took the form of chemical and biological warfare.

Virtually all of the planes were lost as crews crash-landed or bailed out over China. While many, including Doolittle, were able to make their way back to the United States, several were captured by the Japanese in occupied China, tortured and executed after a sham trial. Scott devotes much of the work to the heroic courage and sacrifice of the 80 airmen involved.

“Target Tokyo” is nothing short of brilliant, offering readers an in-depth look at the grand implications of the raid on the world stage as well as an intimate, human narrative of war. Scott's work is a tribute to all of these men, from the planners of the raid, to the men who carried it out, to the families of those involved.

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To give one example of the book's many illustrations of heroism, Scott reports on Dave Thatcher, a gunner on the crew of the Ruptured Duck, one of the 16 B-25s. When the Ruptured Duck crash-landed in China, the plane's captain, Ted Lawson, was severely injured along with most of the crew. Thatcher, relatively unhurt, cared for his fellow fliers virtually around the clock for the next few weeks with no medicine and little hope.

With its comprehensive research and compelling, edge-of-your-seat narrative, Scott's work may very well be the definitive work on the Doolittle raid for years to come.

“Target Tokyo” contains descriptions of wartime violence and torture, as well as a few instances of profanity.

Cody K. Carlson holds a master's in history from the University of Utah and teaches at Salt Lake Community College. An avid player of board games, he blogs at thediscriminatinggamer.com. Email: ckcarlson76@gmail.com