"Admiral Nimitz: The Commander of the Pacific Ocean Theater" (Palgrave Macmillan), by Brayton Harris: In the run-up to World War II, Japan had a clear naval advantage over the U.S. It had a larger agile fleet manned by legions of experienced sailors.
Yet in battle after battle, Adm. Chester Nimitz led U.S. troops against those formidable odds and came out on top.
That raises a series of natural questions: What was his secret? How did he succeed where a lesser leader might have failed? And what can we learn from his example today to help us be more successful in our own lives?
Unfortunately, "Admiral Nimitz: The Commander of the Pacific Ocean Theater" doesn't provide enough of those answers. Author Brayton Harris does recount plenty of details of Nimitz's life, enough to thrill any fan of military history, but the book lacks the depth that a broader audience might appreciate.
"Admiral Nimitz" adheres to a strict chronology. The first line tells us when Nimitz was born, and the last two lines tell us when he died. In between, Harris provides a step-by-step review, in order, of every major event in Nimitz's life.
The technique comes across as academic: This happened, then this happened, then this happened. What's missing is a deeper context that would help us understand the significance behind those events.
For example, after commanding several small vessels, Nimitz was awarded a rapid succession of promotions. The reader is left to infer that Nimitz must have done his job well, but it's hard to draw any lessons from his example without knowing more. We do learn details of his performance and personality, but it's not clear what he did better than his colleagues who didn't get promoted.
Years later, with World War II well under way, Nimitz leads naval troops in a series of island invasions in the Pacific. The author does a fine job of describing the steep odds that Nimitz has to overcome. In fact, Harris does such a good job that the reader might be forgiven for assuming that Nimitz would lose most of the battles.
But then we're abruptly told that the U.S. did indeed win the battles, and with consistently fewer casualties. Again, the question: How? The book doesn't always make that clear.
The answer probably has to do with brilliant strategy and a leadership style that inspired unwavering loyalty. But the anecdotes and occasional glimpses that we get about Nimitz's interactions with his staff don't go far enough to reveal the full secrets.
To be fair, Harris didn't have a lot of that sort of material to work with. Nimitz was somewhat reclusive, often shifting the limelight toward others, so there weren't a wealth of written resources for the author to draw upon.
Instead Harris relied on help from Nimitz's family, who provided plenty of nuggets that help keep the story interesting.
"Admiral Nimitz" is certainly a thorough review of the naval hero's life, from beginning to end. The book will appeal to military buffs who love dates and details, and who want to relive America's World War II glory. But readers who want to know what made Nimitz so special and what they can learn from his example may want to look elsewhere.