This is a quite remarkable assemblage of anecdotes detailing the carnage wrought by Japanese aerial and naval suicide campaigns conducted against Allied forces in the Pacific during World War II. The bulk of the book consists of explicit, blow-by-blow descriptions of a number of these horrifyingly deadly attacks. Sears obviously went to great lengths to obtain official action summaries, diaries, letters, first-hand accounts by survivors, interviews with unsuccessful attackers, and many other sources providing vivid portrayals of the incidents.
Despite the value of Sears' depictions as a record of the atrocities resulting from the kamikaze phenomenon, this book's readability and overall value are diminished by several significant defects. The text contains multitudes of punctuation goofs, mistaken or misleading word choices, and other basic typographical errors that any competent copy editor should catch on the first reading. Sears, obviously an experienced Navy man, throws many acronyms and other jargon into his narratives, often neglecting to define them at first use. A glossary explains many of these terms, but the requirement to consult it so frequently detracts from the flow of reading.
A more serious weakness is the inconsistency of both fact and commentary in Sears' attempts to frame his battle reports with summaries of the major events in the tide of war in the Pacific. The frustrating thing is that he does a marvelous job of introducing many of the pivotal battles and decisions in a way that even the least knowledgeable of readers can understand. But, probably in an effort to remain concise, in some places he omits or skews facts to the extent that those same neophyte readers may come away with misconceptions that might never be corrected. For instance, the Battle of Midway is dismissed in a paragraph without any indication of the crucial role of this engagement in shaping the rest of the Pacific air war. Sears' description of the SBD Dauntless dive bomber not only misspells its designation as SPD, but confuses it with its predecessor, the SB2U-3 Vindicator, mistakenly bestowing the latter's unfortunate nickname of "wind indicator" on the far more airworthy Dauntless. The universally respected Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher receives short shrift throughout the book, coming across to any uninitiated reader as a hesitant, obstructionist figure mainly responsible for losing carriers Lexington (CV-2) and Yorktown (CV-5) and serving more as an obstacle than a competent leader at Guadalcanal. (Sears probably picked up his negative view of Fletcher from Samuel Eliot Morison, who had been offended by the publicity-shy admiral's refusal to cooperate with his naval history research.)
One of the more ironic gaps is Sears' failure to provide any detail in mentioning the gallant sacrifice of the American ships of Taffy 3 during the Battle Off Samar in October 1944. As described by James Hornfischer in his excellent book The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy's Finest Hour, destroyer Johnston and destroyer escort Samuel B. Roberts charged the battleships and heavy cruisers of Admiral Korita's armada at point-blank range with such ferocity that the Japanese fled in disarray, thereby sparing the Leyte landings from probable disruption. In the face of certain destruction, USS Johnston executed not one but two attack runs, the second after the ship had already been riddled with shells and many of the crew were dead. This heroism presents such an obvious parallel to the deliberately suicidal behavior of the kamikazes that its omission is incomprehensible in a book of this level of detail, particularly since Sears himself is a former destroyer officer. On the other side of the conflict, Japan's long-standing traditions of death with honor and respect for suicide receive little attention, and there's no mention of the naval officer generally credited with drawing up the first plan for a Special Attack Corps, Lt. Comm. Jo Eiichiro, whose samurai heritage undoubtedly spawned the concept.
I think the most damaging lapse is the book's denouement without a thorough treatment of the potential for catastrophe inherent in a land invasion of the Japanese home islands. After sprinkling numerous implied comparisons of damage caused by kamikazes in outlying areas with a presumably vastly greater toll to be inflicted during the final battle, Sears ends his account with only a cursory mention of the atomic bombs and a few anecdotes illustrating the joys (and problems) meeting homecoming sailors and airmen after the war. In light of Sears' diligence in research and access to original databases and first-hand sources, it seems likely that he should be able to contribute significantly to the ongoing discussion of hypothetical losses due to suicide attacks that purport to justify the use of the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Appendices listing ships and crew victimized by kamikazes are limited to those personally researched by Sears. Hundreds more were targeted by suicide planes, and their story remains to be documented by a more complete, if perhaps less graphic, chronicle. Although this is an outstanding record of the ghastly effects of many individual suicide attacks, it cannot stand alone as a history and analysis of suicide missions in general, their significance in the overall war picture, or their lasting effects on victims from both sides.