Book Review: Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR's Legendary Lost Cruiser and the Epic Saga of Her Survivors


by James D. Hornfischer

New York: Bantam Dell/Random House, 2006. Pp. viii, 530. Illus., maps, append., notes, biblio., index. $26.00. ISBN:0-553-80390-5

A powerful account of one of the most notable American warships ever, though one with little presence in the national memory.

Houston, FDR?s ?favorite? ship, had a short, but extra-ordinary wartime career, fighting in Southeast Asian waters from the outbreak of the Pacific War until she was sunk early on the morning of March 1, 1942, in a fight described by Samuel Eliot Morison as ?one of the most gallant? in the history of the navy, though one about which no details were known until after the war.

Ship of Ghosts tells a gripping story of the ship?s life and death, drawing upon memoirs, memories, and documents, including FDR?s four trips in her, her routine in the prewar fleet, and the desperate days and weeks until, heavily best, she went down off Sunda Strait in company with HMAS Perth.

But the book doesn?t stop there. It follows her crew into captivity, during which many of the men, and other Americans captured by the Japanese in Southeast Asia worked and too often died to build the infamous Siam-Burma railroad. There?s actually, a surprising amount more, including OSS rescue efforts, the tragic deaths of some men when prison-ships were torpedoed by American submarines, the liberation of the survivors, and their lives ? and reunions ? after the war.

A very good account of a stout ship and her brave crew, worth reading for anyone with an interest in war at sea.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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