To better understand the Japanese attack that propelled the United States into World War II, this list of books on Pearl Harbor will do just the trick. And I’ve included something for everyone—both history buffs and those just casually interested, fiction lovers, children, and everyone in between.
Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor is a complex yet endlessly interesting historical event (at least in my opinion). While working to earn my master’s degree in World War II Studies, I studied the Pearl Harbor attack endlessly and in depth. I read, dare I say, a boatload of books and wrote a sea of papers on the subject.
So, if you want to read up on this historical event before (or after) your trip to Hawaii and visit to the Pearl Harbor memorials and museums, allow me to introduce you to some great books to check out. (In no particular order)
Books on the attack itself
If you only know the basics about December 7, 1941, these books on Pearl Harbor will shed some light on exactly what happened that infamous day.
1. Sunday in Hell: Pearl Harbor Minute By Minute by Bill McWilliams
Sunday in Hell: Pearl Harbor Minute By Minute by Bill McWilliams is a highly detailed minute-by-minute account of the attack told through the points of view of generals, admirals, politicians, soldiers, civilians, and more. Get your copy here.
2. Day of Infamy: The Bombing of Pearl Harbor by Walter Lord
Day of Infamy: The Bombing of Pearl Harbor by Walter Lord is a highly-rated retelling of the Pearl Harbor attack using various sources. Includes incredible details and tons of first-person interviews. Get your copy here.
3. Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy by Eri Hotta
Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy by Eri Hotta is an account of the Pearl Harbor attack from the Japanese point of view. A “groundbreaking” book that promises to revolutionize how you think of the Pacific war. Get your copy here.
Books on why Japan attacked
It’s not enough to know what happened at Pearl Harbor though. What’s really important is why it happened. These books on Pearl Harbor focus on all the stuff that led up to Japan’s attack, how they got to that point, what they hoped to achieve, why they felt they had no choice, and much more. (This is my personal favorite Pearl Harbor topic—it’s so interesting!)
4. Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions That Changed the World by Ian Kershaw
Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions That Changed the World by Ian Kershaw – Specifically, chapter 3 (“Tokyo, Summer and Autumn 1940: Japan Decides to Seize the ‘Golden Opportunity’”) and chapter 8 (Tokyo, Autumn 1941: Japan Decides to Go to War).”
These chapters present a (seriously) thorough examination of the circumstances and events that led up to the Pearl Harbor attack. Get your copy here.
5. Japan’s Imperial Army: Its Rise and Fall, 1853-1945 by Edward J. Drea
I’ll admit that Japan’s Imperial Army: Its Rise and Fall, 1853-1945 by Edward J. Drea isn’t for everyone—history buffs only need apply—but if you want to go even further back to understand the roots of why Japan attacked the U.S., this is an excellent source. Get your copy here.
Children’s books on Pearl Harbor
Here are a few books that explain the Pearl Harbor attack for younger audiences: (But also for people who just want to learn the basics – no judgment! “Explain it to me like I’m 4.”)
6. On the Horizon by Lois Lowry
On the Horizon by Lois Lowry is a fictional account of “people whose lives were lost or forever altered by the twin tragedies of Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima” that’s geared towards 10 to 12-year-olds. Get your copy here.
7. What Was Pearl Harbor? by Patricia Brennan Demuth
This is part of the What Was…? historical book series for children. Other titles include:
- What Was the Bombing of Hiroshima? by Jess Brallier
- What Was the Holocaust? by Gail Herman
- What Was D-Day? another by Patricia Brennan Demuth
8. The History of Pearl Harbor by Susan B. Katz
The History of Pearl Harbor: A World War II Book for New Readers by Susan B. Katz is another illustrated account of the Pearl Harbor attack geared toward elementary school students. Get your copy here.
This is also part of a historical book series for children, but this is the only title related to World War II. You can check the whole series out here though if you’re interested.
Also read: Visiting WWII Sites with Kids: Can You? Should You?
Historical fiction books on Pearl Harbor
For those of you who can’t get enough historical fiction, there are several books on Pearl Harbor that are right up your alley. There’s carnage, grief, bravery, hope, love, all the usual stuff.
9. The Girls of Pearl Harbor by Soraya M. Lane
The Girls of Pearl Harbor by Soraya M. Lane is a tale of how the Pearl Harbor attack changes the lives of four young nurses who join the US Army Nurse Corps and get stationed in Hawaii. Get your copy here.
10. A Letter from Pearl Harbor by Anna Stuart
A Letter from Pearl Harbor by Anna Stuart is based on a true story and called a “heartbreaking page-turner.” The synopsis: “Ninety-eight-year-old Ginny’s last wish is for her granddaughter to complete a treasure hunt containing clues to her past. Clues that reveal her life as one of the first female pilots at Pearl Harbor, and a devastating World War Two secret.” Get your copy here.
11. Heroes: A Novel of Pearl Harbor by Alan Gratz
Heroes: A Novel of Pearl Harbor by Alan Gratz is “an action-packed, inventive, and powerful take on the attack on Pearl Harbor,” as only this #1 New York Times bestselling author can tell it. Get your copy here.
12. To Wake the Giant: A Novel of Pearl Harbor by Jeff Shaara
The military fiction novel To Wake the Giant: A Novel of Pearl Harbor by Jeff Shaara retells the Pearl Harbor attack through the eyes of many different characters on all sides. The author is a New York Times bestseller. Get your copy here.
Also read: Here’s How Much All Pearl Harbor Tickets Cost + Easy Ways to Save
Pearl Harbor memoirs
Here are some of the most popular memoirs from Pearl Harbor survivors and others whose lives were affected by the December 7th attack. If you’re looking for stories of survival, heroism, and eyewitness accounts, here you go.
13. All the Gallant Men by Donald Stratton
14. Descent into Darkness: A Navy Diver’s Memoir by Edward C. Raymer
Descent into Darkness: Pearl Harbor, 1941 – A Navy Diver’s Memoir by Edward C. Raymer is a memoir from one of the salvage men tasked with rescuing the sailors and Marines trapped on the ships sunk during the Pearl Harbor attack. Get your copy here.
15. For That One Day: The Memoirs of Mitsuo Fuchida by Douglas T. Shinsato and Tadanori Urabe
For a different take on the Pearl Harbor attack, here’s For That One Day: The Memoirs of Mitsuo Fuchida, the Commander of the Attack on Pearl Harbor by Douglas T. Shinsato and Tadanori Urab – the autobiography of Commander Fuchida that was only “discovered” in 2007 in his son’s basement in New Jersey. Get your copy here.
Illustrated books on Pearl Harbor
These two books immensely helped me through graduate school. If you’re a visual learner, books like these are the best way to understand the scale of the war.
16. World War II Infographics by Lopez, Aubin, Bernard, and Guillerat
World War II Infographics by Jean Lopez, Nicolas Aubin, Vincent Bernard, and Nicolas Guillerat is an absolutely priceless book for visual learners. It covers the entire war (and the Pearl Harbor attack) using maps and infographics.
This is such a brilliant source for understanding things like damages, force numbers, ships and aircraft, timelines, and more. Get your copy here.
17. World War II Map By Map by DK and the Smithsonian Institution
World War II Map By Map by DK and the Smithsonian Institution is a large, detailed, and “compelling geographical guide” to World War II. It really helps you get a sense of the magnitude of the war’s events, locations, and geography.
It covers the entire war but the Pearl Harbor pages do a great job of helping you understand how the attack unfolded. Get your copy here.
Books on the Pearl Harbor memorial
World War II monuments/memorials/museums is my main area of study so I find the stuff in these books so fascinating. But also, I truly believe more people should read about this aspect of history. Memorials aren’t as simple and straightforward as they seem. “History” and “what happened” is different to just about everyone; there’s rarely a consensus.
These books cover how those sentiments factored into the creation of the Pearl Harbor National Memorial that you are about to visit (or already have visited).
18. Memorializing Pearl Harbor by Geoffrey M. White
Memorializing Pearl Harbor: Unfinished Histories and the Work of Remembrance by Geoffrey M. White examines the challenges surrounding the creation of a memorial to the Pearl Harbor attack.
It covers controversies about public history, national memory, and museum practices; and considers what the memorial means to Japanese veterans, Japanese Americans, Native Hawaiians, and others. Get your copy here.
19. Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields by Edward Linenthal
Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields by Edward Linenthal – specifically, chapter 5 on Pearl Harbor (“Rust and Sea and Memory in This Strange Graveyard”) – examines how different groups of Americans have competed to control, define, and own the national stories of our historic events, and how they argue about how to commemorate them. Get your copy here.
Books on Pearl Harbor today
The following is one of the most interesting books on Pearl Harbor that I’ve read. It examines how the Pearl Harbor attack affected Americans in the immediate aftermath, but also how the “Pearl Harbor effect” has continued to shape everything we know today. This one is such an eye-opener! I promise it will change how you think about the war and how we remember it.
20. A Date Which Will Live: Pearl Harbor in American Memory by Emily S. Rosenberg
A Date Which Will Live: Pearl Harbor in American Memory by Emily S. Rosenberg presents an excellent look at how the Pearl Harbor attack has come to be remembered as a result of its place in movies, books, memorials, pop culture, and beyond. Get your copy here.
Also read: All the Places to Eat Near Pearl Harbor That You Can Walk to
Happy reading! Here’s hoping you learn a bunch of new stuff you didn’t know before.
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