Islands of Destiny is a book about the Solomons Islands campaign from mid-1942 to 1943. The thesis, which is pretty sound, is that this is the real ‘turning point’ of the Pacific War, where the balance finally shifted from the initial Japanese dominance to the final overwhelming US advantage.
Even after the defeat at Midway, the Japanese were still on the strategic offensive in the South Pacific, threatening to cut the trade route to Australia, or strain it by requiring a huge diversion. This ended with Operation Shoestring, the snatching of Guadalcanal’s Henderson field from the Japanese. For months after that, the battle for the island continued on more or less even terms between the two sides. There were surface ship actions, carrier battles, and ground and air combat. Both sides were straining to supply this combat far from either sides’ bases. Both sides were trying to learn how to conduct a war on the job.
Unlike most books, this one goes into the combats after Guadalcanal fell and the US moved up the island chain toward the base at Rabaul. This was also the period where the production of the US really started to come on line and dominate the theater. At the start, the Japanese had dreams of strangling the Marines on one island. By the end, the Japanese were themselves cut off and bypassed as the US moved on toward Japan.
The book does not go into huge detail on any one action, as it is a more strategic view. There is a lot of information on the code breaking efforts on both sides and its effects. It tends to be more even-handed in its coverage, following the US and its problems and the Japanese and theirs. The problems of each side often had a counterpart on the other.
While in the end the US and its production and development would have overcome the Japanese, this ‘swing period’ before that could happen was difficult – the Japanese had more skilled pilots and good weapons, and their Navy was better handled. Although the cost was high, this campaign kept the Japanese busy here and wore down the edge. By the end of the campaign, superior radar, aircraft and swarms of carriers and support ships made all the other campaigns a foregone conclusion.