The Year of Peril: America in 1942

Yale Univ. May 2020. 400p. ISBN 9780300233780. $30. HIST
The U.S. response to the threat of the Axis powers after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1945 was not the swift and divisive response of the historical imagination. Campbell (history, Univ. of Kentucky; The Gateway Arch) makes a compelling case that the stressors post-Pearl Harbor revealed long-simmering divisions and inadequacies in the country’s populace and infrastructure. The year 1942 stands as one of widespread U.S. struggle, and the author takes an in-depth look at what happened throughout the country in terms of social, political, and economic events. Chapters are divided by month, with each focusing on a mix of domestic, political, and military issues. While Pearl Harbor looms large, the book also addresses events that would impact policy over the coming years. Campbell jumps from the Pacific Theater, where American troops were challenged on the battlefield, to the domestic front, where new immigrants faced hostilities. In addition to focusing on U.S. military build-up to World War II, Campbell also explores social and economic stresses from the Civil War and Great Depression that continued to influence the nation.
VERDICT While this may appear to be yet another history of World War II, Campbell’s book sets itself apart by revealing a fractionalized society and showing the moment of fragility before America became a contender on the global stage.

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