"'Shanghai 1937' has all the elements of a fabulous historical novel... Comparisons by online reviewers to Antony Beevor, author of 'Stalingrad' and 'Berlin,' are justly deserved." --Taiwan Today "Mr Harmsen is an excellent writer. … see full wiki
There have more than likely been several thousand books written about World War II, both the European front and the Pacific part. It seems that the subject of the fight between Japan and China might be covered a bit when speaking of the Burma Road and such, but it's very rare to find a book that covers the beginning of the conflict between these two nations. Granted "The Rape of Nanking" tells the awful story of the slaughter inflicted on the citizens of that city by the Japanese, but this new very well written book tells the reader what came before that tragedy.
Shanghai in the 30s was a very cosmopolitan city, quite Westernized in many areas, but also with a sizable native population. The Japanese army, striking down from its fight in Manchuria, decided to take control of this city, as it was extremely important to the Chinese Nationalist government as a harbor for both shipping and receiving goods. Taking the city would effectively cut off the Chinese from easy access to Western goods and services.
The conflict began with a small incident at an airport, but eventually blew out of all proportion to what was initially intended. The Japanese began to send in a multitude of troops, and the Chinese rushed thousands of soldiers, many quite inadequately trained, into the area of the city. The book reveals the shortcomings of the Chinese high command, who might have been able to quash this fight at the beginning, but did not exert the effort to do so, partly due to the interference of the Chinese leader. The Japanese army was rigidly controlled from the top, and there was no room for individual initiative from lower level commanders, which hampered their drive for success. The same could be said for the Chinese, although it wasn't as stratified.
This battle was, for the most part, a city fight, with all of the horror and terror and destruction that the world has come to know all too well. It was a new phenomenon at that time, only to be surpassed by the battle for Stalingrad, which had much in common with this struggle.
If you want to learn new things about the beginnings of the war in Asia, you can do yourself a great favor by reading this book. It is well worth it!