The Winds of War (1971)

by Herman Wouk

Almost 900 pages long, The Winds of War is only the first half of Herman Wouk’s World War II epic, which continues with War and Remembrance (1978). The two novels tell the story of an American naval family, the Henrys, who are swept into the tide of world events in the years leading up to and during the war. The Winds of War begins six months before Germany's invasion of Poland in 1939 and ends shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor in late 1941.

Family head Victor “Pug” Henry is a career naval officer who wants to command his own ship but keeps getting sent as naval attaché to European cities. Not that he should feel deprived of adventure as a diplomat: he consults with FDR; meets the likes of Churchill, Hitler, and Goring; and has hair-raising experiences like riding on a bomber plane.

The Winds of War is recommended more for its history than Wouk’s skill with characterization. Pug and his family members—socialite wife Rhoda; son Warren, a willing naval aviator; son Byron, a reluctant submariner; independent-minded daughter Madeline, working in New York; and Jewish daughter-in-law Natalie—are role players who serve the plot. That’s especially true of Natalie, who is detained in Europe with her baby and uncle as the Nazi threat grows.

Wouk devoted 13 years of research and writing to The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, “the main tale I have to tell." Their extraordinary length is explained by his intention to tell the whole story of World War II from start to finish, including the Holocaust. In The Winds of War Wouk was especially concerned with the folly of Americans in being late to recognize the threat that Hitler represented. In service to the full story, the German perspective is brought into that novel through occasional chapters written by a fictional German general. 


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