The definitive account of General Douglas MacArthur's rise during World War II, from the author of the best seller The Admirals. World War II changed the course of history. Douglas MacArthur changed the course of World War II. Macarthur at War goes deeper into this transformative period of his life than previous biographies, drilling into the military strategy that Walter R. Borneman is so skilled at conveying and exploring how personality and ego translate into military successes and failures. Architect of stunning triumphs and inexplicable defeats, General MacArthur is the most intriguing military leader of the 20th century. There was never any middle ground with MacArthur. This in-depth study of the most critical period of his career shows how MacArthur's influence spread far beyond the war-torn Pacific.
"More than any other book I have read, MacArthur at War gives readers a unique portrait of the great general with his almost incredible combination of admirable and detestable qualities. Nearly as important are the insights into unflappable General George C. Marshall, who managed MacArthur's gifts and flaws to wrest victory from near defeat in a global war." (Thomas Fleming, author of The New Dealers' War: FDR and the War Within World War II)
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I believed when I first saw this book that it concerned itself with MacArthur’s military actions during World War II and I assumed it to be an analysis of how he fought his campaigns, the setbacks and successes and his military approach. While some of that is covered that is not what this book is primarily about. Instead this book spends a great deal of time discussing MacArthur’s failing - his tendency to exaggerate his problems, his imperiousness and mild paranoia and his grandstanding. Very little time is spent analyzing his military successes although considerable time is spent doing so with his failures.
Anyone who has read about Douglas MacArthur knows that he was a complex and varied person - part military strategist, part self promoter, part actor and always very ambitious, and the same can be said of other colorful military figures during World War II - George Patton and Bernard Montgomery foremost among them. Leadership is not always a simple and straight forward thing. George Patton was flamboyant and colorful, always acting for his troops and always a self promoter. Bernard Montgomery was equally colorful and believed himself to be the only one who really understood how to fight the war. Douglas MacArthur was no different, although perhaps he was a bit more successful at some of his failings than the others.
The book attempts to be a fair and balanced history of MacArthur during World War II, but fails in that attempt as the bias of the author is clear. The writing is full of phrases like “It was almost as if” when referring to MacArthur’s actions, his conversations are often called “tirades”, his responses to reports called “rants” and “lectures”. A great amount of time is spent on his failures, especially his failure to properly prepare for the initial Japanese attack against Luzon and the failure to properly stockpile food for the retreat into Bataan and Corregidor, and rightly so, but this is rarely balanced with a similar discussion concerning his successes. In addition the author seems to assume he knows what was going on in MacArthur’s mind during several incidents during the war and is inconsistent in his writing about Eddie Rickenbacker’s trip to see MacArthur during the war. This meeting, which the author refers to in two places in the book, is first qualified to make clear that no one knows, to this day, what message Rickenbacker was taking to MacArthur from Washington but, in the second reference the author assumes he does know and states so without even seeming to understand the inconsistency. He is clearly guessing, but treats his guesses as facts.
On the other hand the book seems to have been meticulously researched and small details that I have never seen in any other book concerning MacArthur’s actions are described so, for the first time, I was able to understand why food was not properly stockpiled in Corregidor before the retreat, why MacArthur’s planes were caught on the ground in the initial Japanese attack and why MacArthur wrongly assumed the number of Japanese soldiers he would have to fight upon his return to the Philippines. So, in some ways, the book provides a welcome addition to my knowledge of MacArthur’s actions during World War II, although some of what is written has to be taken with the understanding of what appears to be the author’s bias concerning his subject.
The book ends with MacArthur’s landing in Japan to take up his duties as Supreme Commander in Japan at the end of World War II and thus does not cover his work there, nor his leadership during the Korean War nor Truman’s dismissal of him, and the resulting firestorm, during that war.
The book is narrated by David Baker who does an excellent job. In rating this book I have tried to balance the clearly articulate writing and the new information against what I see as the author’s bias toward his subject. Had I been able to I would have given the book 3 1/2 stars but, since that is not possible, I have given it 4 stars, giving the author the benefit of the doubt. As a word of caution to readers I would mention that it is helpful to read William Manchester’s book “American Caesar” to get a different view of Douglas MacArthur and his role during World War II.