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Crucible of Hell

From award-winning historian Saul David, an action-packed and powerful new narrative of the Battle of Okinawa – the last great clash of the Second World War, and one that had profound consequences for the modern world.

For eighty-three blood-soaked days, the fighting on the island of Okinawa plumbed depths of savagery as bad as anything seen on the Eastern Front. When it was over, almost a quarter of a million people had lost their lives, making it by far the bloodiest US battle of the Pacific. In Okinawa, the death toll included thousands of civilians lost to mass suicide, convinced by Japanese propaganda that they would otherwise be raped and murdered by the enemy. On the US side, David argues that the horror of the battle ultimately determined President Truman’s choice to use atomic bombs in August 1945.

It is a brutal, heart-rending story, and one David tells with masterly attention to detail: the cramped cockpit of a kamikaze plane, the claustrophobic gun turret of a warship under attack, and a half-submerged foxhole amidst the squalor and battle detritus. The narrative follows generals, presidents and emperors, as well as the humbler experiences of ordinary servicemen and families on both sides, and the Okinawan civilians who were caught so tragically between the warring parties.

Using graphic eyewitness accounts and declassified documents from archives in three continents, Saul David illuminates a shocking chapter of history that is too often missing from Western-centric narratives of the Second World War.

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Reviews of Crucible of Hell

"Historians of the Pacific war too often portray the Japanese as soulless automatons fighting relentlessly without qualms or fear. Saul David restores an essential human dimension - both sides are brave, stoic, frightened, barbaric and occasionally cowardly. This is war at its most personable, brutal and depressing"

Gerard DeGroot, Times/Sunday Times History Books of the Year

"Magisterial... David describes the action with a clarity and deftness uncommon in military historians"

Simon Heffer, Daily Telegraph History Books of 2020

"Saul David is a brilliant historian … In shocking and jaw-dropping detail, he brings a battle that deserves far greater prominence and understanding vividly back to life"

James Holland, Favourite Reads of 2020, Waterstones.com

"Brilliant … harrowing. The attention to detail is exemplary: we see the conflict from just about every angle"

Keith Lowe, Books of the Year for 2020, BBC History Magazine

"Saul David...is peerless now among our military historians... [A] superb book... David cleverly weaves in the story of [the atom bomb] with an account of the fighting on the island. It is in the latter that the meticulousness of his research really starts to display itself... In his descriptions of the Japanese pilots, soldiers and civilians David creates a vivid picture of a culture that seems on a different planet... A highly readable and informative book that often reads like a screenplay, but depicts suffering that was all too real."

Simon Heffer, Daily Telegraph

"Written with verve and style... If you like your war bold and bloody, its here in abundance… David brings the ghastly mayhem of war to life in a vivid way. You can almost feel the ghoulishness of Hacksaw Ridge and smell the stench of death in the caves cut into the Shuri Heights."

Malcolm Murfett, Literary Review

"Superbly researched, well-written... This books reminds us...that the defining characteristic of war is the mass destruction of individuals, both physically and psychologically."

Jay Elwes, The Spectator

"David restores a human dimension to this battle - both sides are brave, stoic, frightened, barbaric and occasionally cowardly. This is narrative history at its most visceral as battles unfold almost in real time… In short chapters David shifts between American and Japanese fronts, providing a gripping reconstruction of the action."

Gerard DeGroot, The Times

"Excellent. Saul David's gripping narrative is admirably clear."

Antony Beevor

"Vivid and deeply moving, Crucible of Hell paints a rich portrait of one of the most horrific battles in modern memory. David masterfully evokes the desperation and courage of soldiers, civilians, and commanders on both sides, constantly switching perspectives to capture the deep story of Okinawa's horror. Hard to put down, harder to forget."

Stephan Talty, author of Saving Bravo: The Greatest Rescue Mission in Navy SEAL History

"Gripping, even gruesome, yet deeply moving, Crucible of Hell sweeps us masterfully from a coral charnel house in the Pacific to the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima."

David Reynolds, author of In Command of History and Island Stories