Book Review – Kaigun by David Evans & Mark Peattie

Kaigun: Strategy, Tactics, and Technology in the Imperial Japanese Navy 1887-1941 by David C. Evans & Mark R. Peattie

Many personal memoirs and general histories have been written about the Asia-Pacific Theater of WW2, but a lot of the authoritative information is scattered among numerous books. Even fewer books examine the doctrinal and technological development of an East Asian navy. David Evans and Mark Peattie’s Kaigun: Strategy, Tactics, and Technology in the Imperial Japanese Navy 1887-1941, is a serious read, but worth the effort. There is a massive amount of information contained in this door-stopper. To be sure, much of the information in this book can be found in earlier works, but this is one of the first works that contained it all in one place. This is not simply a rehash of previously known information either, as the authors conducted original research for this work. Considered by many to be the definitive book on the topic, almost every book I’ve read on the Imperial Japanese Navy published after 1997 uses this work as a reference.

While the title implies a heavy technical examination of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN), at its core Kaigun is really about the overall development of the IJN. It covers the navy from its early beginnings to just before the start of the Pacific War in December of 1941. It traces the development of not only tactics and technology, but also of the people, doctrines, and thinking behind it. You quickly realize that a country does not simply go out and build a navy. There’s a multitude of political, economic, and technological factors that play into what gets built, where the budget goes, and who makes the decisions. In short, by the time you’re done with this tome, you’ll have an extremely well-rounded understanding of why the IJN was the way it was. Not many books can do that.

This is a book that’s definitely aimed at the scholar of military history. It contains extensive endnotes and a massive bibliography. Evans and Peattie were both Japanologists whose extensive knowledge of Japanese history and language allowed them to bring new information to light from translated documents. This book appears to more or less be a culmination of their work.

If I have any criticism of the book, it’s that if you’re doing research on a particular topic related to the IJN, then you may end up jumping around the book to collate the information since it’s more or less is organized both chronologically and by topic. The only other thing this book lacks is a broader discussion of the development of Japanese naval aviation. Interestingly, that topic was meant to be covered in Kaigun, but, for reasons of length, was excised and covered in a separate book by Mark Peattie titled Sunburst: The Rise of Japanese Naval Air Power, 1909-1941. (also worth reading).

Overall: 5 out of 5. Of all of the military history books I’ve read on the Imperial Japanese Navy, this is my absolute favorite. If you’re at all interested in the IJN, buy this book, read it, and keep it on your shelf!

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