The Eagle’s Claw: A Novel of the Battle of Midway

Written by Jeff Shaara
Review by Jon G. Bradley

Acclaimed novelist Shaara paints a very intimate portrayal of one of the most famous battles of World War II: the Battle of Midway. Following approximately six months after the disaster that was Pearl Harbor, this unexpected American victory changed the course of the war and foreshadowed the eventual defeat of the Empire of Japan. The salient observation that “Intelligence is not science. Nor is it tactics” provides a thread that permeates the novel.

This saga of June 1942 has been dissected in scores of histories, novels, biographies, and cinematic presentations. There are precious few new details to be discovered, especially as the result is clearly known; nonetheless, Shaara brings a fresh personal touch to the drama. For example, Admiral Yamamato maintained a mistress, Admiral Nimitz played horseshoes to relax, and Lieutenant Baker experienced undiagnosed PTSD.

Retelling well-known historical events is fraught with danger. By concentrating on key individuals alternately within both the Japanese and American military hierarchy, the reader begins to see somewhat staid historical characters more as individuals each with his own flaws, foibles, and inconsistencies.

The few clear black-and-white maps clarify the vastness of the ocean. Further, the author describes several American soldiers, sailors and airmen and offers insights into their pasts; however, also describing a few Japanese of similar rank would have offered a more balanced narrative.

Overall, Shaara weaves together several strands that mesh together in the gigantic battle. He is to be congratulated for eschewing the brutality of combat by concentrating more on the results than on statistics and casualties. He does not pretend that battle is sterile, but creatively focuses the view to portray the overall consequences. Interestingly, a clear denouement offers the reader an insight into the post-action lives of many of the key actors.