Summary and book reviews of In Harm's Way by Doug Stanton

In Harm's Way

by Doug Stanton

In Harm's Way
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2001, 320 pages
    May 2002, 384 pages

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Book Summary

A harrowing, adrenaline-charged account of America's worst naval disaster at sea -- and of the heroism of the men who, against all odds, survived.

On July 30, 1945, after completing a top secret mission to deliver parts of the atom bomb "Little Boy," which 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 upon impact; close to 900 sailors were cast into the Pacific Ocean, where they remained, undetected by the navy, for nearly five days. Battered by a savage sea, they struggled to survive, fighting off hypothermia, sharks, physical and mental exhaustion, and, finally, hallucinatory dementia. By the time rescue -- which was purely accidental -- arrived, all but 321 men had lost their lives; 4 more would die in military hospitals shortly thereafter.

The captain's subsequent and highly unusual court-martial left many questions unanswered: How did the navy fail to realize the Indianapolis was missing? Why was the cruiser traveling unescorted in enemy waters? And perhaps most amazing of all, how did these 317 men manage to survive?

Drawing on new material and extensive interviews with survivors, In Harm's Way relates 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 -- Charles Butler McVay, the captain; Lewis Haynes, the ship's doctor; and Private Giles McCoy, a young marine -- journalist Doug Stanton has brought this astonishing human drama to life in a narrative that is at once immediate and timeless. The definitive account of a little-known chapter in World War II history, In Harm's Way is destined to become a classic tale of war, survival, and extraordinary courage.

SUNDAY, JULY 15, 1945
San Francisco, California

The ship was still tied up in the harbor at Mare Island, but already the captain felt it was drifting out of his control.

Marching up the gangway of the vessel under his command, the USS Indianapolis, Captain Charles McVay was a man perplexed. Reaching the top, he turned toward the stern, saluted the flag, and strode on through the bronze light of the chill California morning, stepping past the electricians, painters, and engineers working on deck. No one watching the forty-six-year-old McVay, dressed smartly in his khaki and crisp campaign hat -- its black vinyl bill decorated with gold braid that the enlisted men called "scrambled eggs" -- would have guessed the depth of his concern. He hid it well.

He had just come from an early morning meeting at U.S. naval headquarters in downtown San Francisco. The meeting, with Admiral William R. Purnell and Captain William S. Parsons, had been disappointingly quick and to the point:...

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Media Reviews

Author Blurb James Bradley, author of Flags of Our Fathers
Doug Stanton has done this country a service by bringing the incredible yet almost-forgotten story of the USS Indianapolis to heart-pounding life. Do yourself a favor. Read In Harm's Way.

Author Blurb Stephen E. Ambrose, author of Nothing Like It in the World
For millions of people everywhere, World War II had moments, hours, days of horror and terror. For Captain Charles McVay and his crew, their five days in the ocean were gruesome and terrible almost beyond description. But through painstaking research and a brilliant use of oral history, Doug Stanton has told the tale. He writes carefully and judiciously, with a sense of timing and an eye for the right detail, to make this the most frightening book I've ever read.

Author Blurb Tom Brokaw, author of The Greatest Generation
In Harm's Way is a stunning book. The story of the USS Indianapolis is one of the most harrowing tales of World War II -- and Doug Stanton takes you through every terrifying moment in a vivid and utterly memorable account.

Author Blurb Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down
A thoroughly researched, powerfully-written account of a nightmare at sea, one of the most poignant tragedies and injustices of World War II. I was struck throughout by the extraordinary heroism of the marines and sailors who survived, all the more remarkable because they do not see it in themselves.

Author Blurb Rick Atkinson, author of The Long Gray Line and Crusade
A haunting story of valor, iniquity, and young men in peril on the sea. Once the Indianapolis steams into the crosshairs of the Japanese submarine I-58, In Harm's Way is impossible to put down. Doug Stanton's account of the Indy's sinking and the harrowing aftermath is as infuriating, mesmerizing, and heartbreaking as any tale yet told of the great war in the Pacific.

Reader Reviews

Michael Danich

Hard to put down. A real story about real men in a real and unbelievable situation. We should never forget what these men did for our country. I laughed and cried. The book puts you there next to them throughout the event. This book was long overdue ...   Read More

Carlos Felfoldi

Great book
Great book. Need to read it.

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