In Harm's Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors

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9780792725114: In Harm's Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors

July 30, 1945. After completing a top secret mission to the island of Tinian to deliver parts of the atom bomb that would be dropped on Hiroshima, the battle cruiser USS Indianapolis was torpedoed in the South Pacific by a Japanese submarine. An estimated 300 men were killed on impact; close to 900 were cast into the sea. After five days, when the Navy accidentally realized the ship was missing, only 321 men were still alive, having battled hypothermia, sharks, and hallucinatory dementia. Four more would die in military hospitals shortly thereafter.

The highly unusual court-martial of the Indianapolis's captain, Charles Butler McVay, opened up the tragedy to scrutiny: How did the Navy fail to realize the ship was missing? Why was it traveling unescorted in enemy waters? And, perhaps most amazingly of all, how did these 317 men manage to survive?

In Harm's Way casts the tragedy of the USS Indianapolis not as a history of war, but as a portrait of men battling the sea. Interweaving the stories of three survivors--Captain McVay; the ship's doctor; and a young marine private--this astonishing human drama is brought to life in a narrative that is at once immediate and timeless.

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On July 26, 1945, the heavy cruiser Indianapolis steamed into port at the Pacific island of Tinian, carrying a cargo that would end World War II: the uranium that would be dropped on Hiroshima just three weeks later. Having delivered its load without incident, Indianapolis moved on toward the Philippines to join the great armada moving in on Japan. Though intelligence reports assured Captain Charles McVay that the route from Guam to Leyte was safe, there were Japanese submarines active in the area. On the night of July 29, having detected with sonar the clinking of dishes aboard the Indianapolis from a distance of more than a dozen miles, the submarine I-58 sank the American ship, killing nearly 900 sailors in the explosion and its terrible aftermath.

Captain McVay was quickly court-martialed for having failed to follow evasive maneuvers, "the first captain in the history of the U.S. Navy," Doug Stanton observes, "to be court-martialed subsequent to losing his ship in an act of war." Although the sailors under his command would insist that McVay had been scapegoated, and although I-58's commander testified before the court that "he would have sunk the Indianapolis no matter what course she was on," McVay was never able to clear his name. He committed suicide in 1968.

Stanton captures the drama of these events in his vigorous narrative, which augments and updates Richard Newcomb's Abandon Ship!. Stanton observes that although McVay was exonerated by an act of Congress in 2000, the conviction still stands in Navy records. Stanton's book makes a powerful case for why that conviction should be overturned, and why the captain and crew of the Indianapolis deserve honor. --Gregory McNamee

About the Author:

A former contributing editor at Esquire and Outside, Doug Stanton is now a contributing editor at Men's Journal. He received an M.F.A. from the Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa. He lives in northern Michigan. An international bestseller, In Harm's Way has been translated into German, Japanese, Danish, and Italian, and optioned by Warner Brothers to be made into a major motion picture.

In Harm's Way was a Publishers Weekly Notable Book of the Year, a Barnes and Noble.com Editor's Pick, an Amazon Historical Bestseller, and was chosen by Book magazine as "One of the ten who made it big."

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