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Kamikaze - James Delgado

Part of an 1847 painting depicting fighting between Japanese and Mongol forces

2.5/5 stars

By Nick-D

Kamikaze is a history of the Mongols' use of naval power, with a focus on the two Mongol invasions of Japan in 1274 and 1281. It was written by Canadian maritime archaeologist James Delgado.

This book is essentially four volumes mixed up together. Delgado provides a general overview of East Asian maritime history, a summary account of the Mongol campaigns in China, Japan and Vietnam, a history of the rediscovery of part of the fleet wrecked off Japan and first-person reflections from his travels in Asia. This is a lot to pack into 178 pages, and the book never really hangs together.

Reflecting Delgado's expertise, the final chapters on the rediscovery of the Mongol ships and the work undertaken by maritime archaeologists to investigate their characteristics are by far the strongest part of the book; this material is detailed, well written and quite interesting. The early chapters on the maritime history of East Asia are also interesting but feel a bit like 'boiler plate' material at times, and the sections in which Delgado reflects on his personal experiences are unnecessary. While the Mongol invasions of Japan form the centerpiece of the book, Delgado's account of these campaigns unfortunately leaves a lot to be desired. The main problem with this account is its short length - the two invasions are dealt with in only 36 pages, meaning that little detail is provided on the movements of the various forces and the fighting in and near Japan. Delgado also seems to lack confidence in describing military forces and operations, and leans heavily on quoting and paraphrasing contemporary accounts of the fighting.

Overall, I was disappointed with this book. While Delgado clearly knows his stuff as a maritime archaeologist, he's no military historian. As a result, Kamikaze is probably most useful as a reference on the recent archaeological work investigating the wreaked Mongol fleets, but is of little value as a history of the campaigns themselves.

Publishing details Delgado, James (2010). Kamikaze : History's Greatest Naval Disaster. London: Vintage. ISBN 9780099532583. 

Recent external reviews

Stroud, Rick (2012). The Phantom Army of Alamein : How the Camouflage Unit and Operation Bertram Hoodwinked Rommel. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 140882910X. 

Carr, John (2012). On Spartan Wings : The Royal Hellenic Air Force in World War Two. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military. ISBN 184884798X. 

Kaplan, Fred (2013). The Insurgents : David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 1451642636. 

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