"The Winds of War" by Herman Wouk (1971)
Herman Wouk was born in 1915, and somehow, 99 years later, he continues to be alive. He is almost a work of history unto himself.
He wrote a sequel to this book, "War and Remembrance," in 1978. Both "The Winds of War" and "War and Remembrance" were also adapted into television miniseries back in the 1980s. None other than Robert Mitchum starred as Pug Henry.
"The Winds of War" is the story of Victor "Pug" Henry, a naval officer with hopes of commanding a battleship. At the beginning of the story he, his wife Rhoda, his sons Warren and Byron, and his daughter Madeline are living in the United States. Pug is then called to serve as the naval attache to Berlin. His wife Rhoda is a rather venial woman, and Pug's assignments around the globe put strain on their marriage. As tensions increase between Germany and England their sons are married, join the Navy, and become the fathers of sons in their own right. The daughter, Madeline, pursues a career in New York.
The whole thing is very (soap) operatic, with a series of improbable events leading America's entry into the war. Pug Henry is a likable enough character, but I found his romantic dilemmas inconsistent with his character. Most exasperating of all is Byron's wife, Natalie, who at several points in the story puts both herself and her unborn child in harm's way. She is so annoying, in fact, that at several points in the story I wanted her to die.
But the true weakness of this book lies not in characterization. Its true weakness lies in the author's compulsion towards historicity. His need to narrate certain historical elements pulls one right out of the story, and this book would have been a lot better if it hadn't got bogged down in details. The chapters featuring the musings of the fictional General Roon were particularly pointless, and could have been excised without hurting the novel.
This said, it's easy to see why "The Winds of War" proved to be such fruitful subject matter for a TV miniseries. It practically screams "TV miniseries" from beginning to end. In this it strongly resembles other such books from the 1970s, books like James Clavell's "Shogun" and Colleen McCullough's "The Thorn Birds."
Reading "The Winds of War" now, one wonders what happened to such historical epics, and why they have fallen out of fashion with modern readers. Perhaps it has something to do with modern sensibilities, or perhaps books like "The Winds of War" just oversaturated the market. Having waded through this book, I am inclined toward the latter opinion.
So do I recommend this book? Not really. It's just not very good. But if you're on a train or an airplane, and happen to find a copy of it lying around, you might use it to divert yourself for a few hours. If nothing else, it's REALLY long, and it will help you pass the time as well as any other historical epic from that era.