Fifty-Three Days on Starvation Island

The World War II Battle That Saved Marine Corps Aviation


By John R Bruning

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$44.00 CAD

The pivotal true story of the first fifty-three days of the standoff between Imperial Japanese and a handful of Marine aviators defending the Americans dug in at Guadalcanal, from the New York Times bestselling author of Indestructible and Race of Aces.

On August 20, 1942, twelve Marine dive-bombers and nineteen Marine fighters landed at Guadalcanal. Their mission: defeat the Japanese navy and prevent it from sending more men and supplies to "Starvation Island," as Guadalcanal was nicknamed. The Japanese were turning the remote, jungle-covered mountain in the south Solomon Islands into an air base from which they could attack the supply lines between the U.S. and Australia. The night after the Marines landed and captured the partially completed airfield, the Imperial Navy launched a surprise night attack on the Allied fleet offshore, resulting in the worst defeat the U.S. Navy suffered in the 20th century, which prompted the abandonment of the Marines on Guadalcanal.

The Marines dug in, and waited for help, as those thirty-one pilots and twelve gunners flew against the Japanese, shooting down eighty-three planes in less than two months, while the dive bombers, carried out over thirty attacks on the Japanese fleet. Fifty-Three Days on Starvation Island follows Major John L. Smith, a magnetic leader who became America’s top fighter ace for the time; Captain Marion Carl, the Marine Corps’ first ace, and one of the few survivors of his squadron at the Battle of Midway. He would be shot down and forced to make his way back to base through twenty-five miles of Japanese-held jungle. And Major Richard Mangrum, the lawyer-turned-dive-bomber commander whose inexperienced men wrought havoc on the Japanese Navy.
New York Times bestselling author John R. Bruning depicts the desperate effort to stop the Japanese long enough for America to muster reinforcements and turn the tide at Guadalcanal. Not just the story of an incredible stand on a distant jungle island, Fifty-Three Days on Starvation Island also explores the consequences of victory to the men who secured it at a time when America had been at war for less than a year and its public had yet to fully understand what that meant. The home front they returned to after their jungle ordeal was a surreal montage of football games, nightclubs, fine dining with America’s elites, and inside looks at dysfunctional defense industries more interested in fleecing the government than properly equipping the military. Bruning tells the story of how one battle reshaped the Marine Corps and propelled its veterans into the highest positions of power just in time to lead the service into a new war in Southeast Asia.

  • Praise for Fifty-Three Days on Starvation Island
  • "Intricate and loaded with lush detail, John Bruning’s novel-like narrative non-fiction puts you behind the stick of an F4F Wildcat battling Zeros or in a mosquito-infested, muddy foxhole on Guadalcanal. Page-turning and gripping, Bruning not only honors the men he writes about but offers a fresh look at the earliest and most perilous days on Guadalcanal. Starvation Island is an outstanding addition to the history of the war in the Pacific."
    Patrick K. O’Donnell, historian and bestselling author of Into the Rising Sun and The Indispensables
  • "Fifty-Three Days on Starvation Island is a thrilling, beautifully researched account of American flyboys changing history  at a pivotal time in WWII. Top guns who truly made a difference. Don't miss this one!"
    Alex Kershaw, New York Times bestselling author of Against All Odds, The Liberator, The First Wave, and The Bedford Boys
  • "Intricately researched but intimately written, Fifty-Three Days on Starvation Island takes us into the cockpits and muddy foxholes of the aviators that fought the Japanese in the skies over Guadalcanal. Bruning writes like the best war reporters of that generation, delivering a gripping personal account of survival during the very darkest period of World War II."
    Jon Parshall, coauthor of Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway
  • “In Fifty Three Days on Starvation Island, author John R. Bruning has crafted a masterful thriller set in the malarial jungles and heavens over Guadalcanal, as a daring band of Marine Corps aviators fought to block the Japanese advance in the fateful early days of World War II. In Bruning's talented hands, readers will feel the terror of aerial combat, endure the heat and depravity of combat in the sultry tropics, and suffer the pain of losing friends and fellow aviators. This is a story of brotherhood, bravery, and the against-all-odds heroism that America so desperately needed as the nation fought to turn the tide of the war. I couldn’t put it down."
    James M. Scott, Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of Black Snow and Target Tokyo
  • "An extraordinary untold story of young men--new to combat and stranded on remote Pacific islands--testing the limits of human endurance to survive, save their brothers-in-arms, and hold the line against Imperial Japan. You will be inspired by their courage, grateful for their sacrifice, heartbroken by the trauma they carried with them, and once you read their story you will never forget." 
    Chris DeRose, New York Times Bestselling author of The Fighting Bunch
  • “In Fifty-Three Days on Starvation Island, John R. Bruning has marshaled his formidable skills as a military historian in a labor of love about the legendary Marine aviators who slowed the Japanese military juggernaut at Guadalcanal in 1942. Bruning’s pages crackle with acts of extraordinary valor, harrowing close calls, and bold blows struck against a skilled and determined enemy. Again and again, we’re reminded of the decisive role that Marine heroes like Marion E. Carl, Dick Mangrum, and John L. Smith played at Guadalcanal as the outcome of World War II hung in the balance. Twenty-two of these aviators gave their lives in the fight. Bruning’s Fifty-Three Days on Starvation Island is a soaring memorial to their sacrifice.”
    Gregg Jones, Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of Most Honorable Son: A Forgotten Hero’s Fight Against Fascism and Hate During World War II and Last Stand at Khe Sanh: The U.S. Marines’ Finest Hour in Vietnam
  • Fifty-Three Days on Starvation Island does an exceptional job of humanizing its subjects…[making] these people come alive eighty years later."
    Lethal Minds Journal
  • “Highly detailed… this expert history… examines a heroic element that has received less attention. This a lucidly written…account of the Guadalcanal air campaign… undoubtedly entertaining. Heroism was abundant at Guadalcanal, but these fliers stand out, and Bruning captures the action well.”
    Kirkus Reviews
  • “This [is an] exhilarating account….Adding depth to the white-knuckle heroics is Bruning’s detailed depiction of the aftermath for these three officers…. WWII history buffs will be engrossed.”
    Publishers Weekly
  • Praise for Indestructible
  • "Paul Irvin Gunn's time in World War II is the stuff of legends - and its fast-paced, page-turning telling in Bruning's book does the man's Herculean feats justice.... The book reads more like an overly-detailed movie script than a work of historical non-fiction, complete with a heart-wrenching love story and heroic conclusion....Indestructible offers a glimpse of the Pacific theater like you've never before seen."
    Men's Journal
  • "This is a beautifully told story of a family separated by war, and of an extraordinary father, driven to avenge his family, who by sheer force of character changed the nature of warfare. A superbly told tale of love, honor, courage and devotion."
    Alex Kershaw, author of Avenue of Spies
  • "This thriller-like narrative not only reveals the disturbing plight of courageous American families held in Japanese internment camps, but also delivers a gripping portrait of a uniquely American hero, Pappy Gunn, who fought two wars--one for his country and one to rescue his wife and children."
    James Bradley, bestselling author of Flags of Our Fathers, Flyboys, The Imperial Cruise, and The China Mirage
  • "Here is a true story with something for everyone. Love, war, treachery, adventure, and above all an intimate portrait of the made-for-Hollywood life of a man who broke all the rules and remade them to his liking. Finally, we have a book that does justice to the legend of Colonel Paul 'Pappy' Gunn, a giant among heroes of World War II. John Bruning shows us a big-hearted man determined to save his family--and a brilliant scientist-pilot who was determined to win the war along the way."
    Adam Makos, author of A Higher Call and Devotion
  • "From the opening pages, Bruning grabs you by the collar and pulls you into the story, not letting go as he masterfully guides you through a part of World War II that is largely unknown. This is the work of a skilled wordsmith who knows how to tell a story."
    Gregory A. Freeman, author of The Forgotten 500
  • "Set against the sprawling and violent Pacific War, Indestructible is the incredible story of one man's courage, tenacity and dogged fight to rescue his family caught behind enemy lines. The book left me with chills."
    James M. Scott, author of Target Tokyo: Jimmy Doolittle and the Raid that Avenged Pearl Harbor
  • "In INDESTRUCTIBLE, Bruning does a fine job of recounting two parallel storylines, alternating between Gunn's unconventional brilliance in cobbling together aircraft for the defense of Australia and the campaign in New Guinea, and his family's battle against starvation, the Japanese, and-not least-their fellow internees in the notorious Santo Tomas camp."
    WWII Magazine
  • “Exceptional…. Bruning is laser focused on the characters when they get to battle [on Guadalcanal] and the frenetic energy he describes is palpable…. A very good World War II story.”
  • “Compelling… unique.”
    “The Pacific War Channel” podcast
  • Praise for Race of Aces
  • "Bruning is at his best when he delves into the pilots' anguish and obsessions...[his] work is a testament and a memorial not just to a handful of tragic heroes, but to those left bereft by this unique and explosive competition on the other side of the world."
    The New York Times
  • "Race of Aces fascinates because of its attention to detail and strong characterization of these remarkable men."
    The Wall Street Journal
  • "Race of Aces brings you into the cockpit of the lethal, fast-paced world of fighter pilots as they strive to achieve ace-level status...Bruning's unique and intimate look at the struggles of these men to balance honor, duty to country, and their pursuit to be the best makes this account even more fascinating. This is a book you can't put down, and a story you will reflect upon long after turning the last page."
    Sara Vladic, New York Times bestselling coauthor of Indianapolis
  • "[Bruning] crafts vivid profiles of the Army Air Forces fight pilots... their struggles, both personal and military, are movingly told....Exquisitely polished prose alternately describes the dog-fighting above remote jungles and relationships with sweethearts back home. Prodigious digging into mission reports, old newspaper dispatches, diaries and correspondence plus extensive interviews of survivors and family members contribute to a sweeping narrative that is likely to be the definitive history of the Rickenbacker-inspired contest. Highly recommended."
    Philip Handleman, Aviation History
  • "Race of Aces is a superb read, taking us through the high-stakes world of our great Aces and the WWII air war...Extraordinary. Wear your G suit and hang on -- this must-read will become a classic."
    Dan Pedersen, Founder of the Topgun program and bestselling author of Topgun: An American Story
  • "The riveting and emotional story of five American fighter pilots caught up in a deadly competition to claim the title of our nation's Ace of Aces, this book is so powerfully written that you can almost smell the engine exhaust and feel the G-forces in those furious dogfights. Race of Aces is quite simply is one of the best books ever written on World War II and cements Bruning's place as one of our generation's best combat historians."
    David Bellavia, Medal of Honor Recipient and author of House to House: A Soldier's Memoir
  • "In Race of Aces, John R. Bruning brilliantly recreates the excitement and terror of one of the greatest untold stories of World War II: the nerve-shredding three-year contest to become America's deadliest fighter pilot. Exhaustively researched and expertly written -- with dogfights as vivid and gripping as any I've read -- the book confirms Bruning's status as the premier war historian of the air."
    Saul David, author of The Force and Operation Thunderbolt

On Sale
May 14, 2024
Page Count
528 pages
Hachette Books

John R Bruning

About the Author

John R. Bruning is the author or collaborating writer of the national bestseller Indestructible, as well as Outlaw Platoon written with Sean Parnell, Shadow of the Sword with Jeremiah Workman, How to Break a Terrorist with Matthew Alexander, House to House with David Bellavia, The Devil's Sandbox, and Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent with Fred Burton. 

Bruning is well traveled as an embedded combat correspondent. For his reporting in Afghanistan, the Department of Defense presented him with the Thomas Jefferson Award in 2010. For his work with the Oregon National Guard, he was inducted into the 162nd Infantry Regiment in September 2011 as an honorary member. John lives in Independence, Oregon, and has two children.

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