A chilling account of the US Air Force's brutally effective firebombing raids on Japan's most populous cities during the final months of WW II. For all its occasionally graceless style, the text provides a compelling, gut-level record of the horrific carnage. Military historians on both sides agree that the incendiary forays, which began on the night of March 9, 1945, ""were the single most important factor"" in breaking morale on Japan's home front. Psychic damage apart, the firebombing of Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, and Kobe reduced large sections of these conurbations to ashes, costing over 300,000 civilians their lives and leaving another 2 million homeless. By contrast, the death toll in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the first atom-bomb targets, was 112,000. Edoin makes a generally good job of recounting how and why the firebomb attacks were launched. He notes, for instance, that the American high command (urged on by General Curtis LeMay) found justification via intelligence reports that Japan's military authorities had subcontracted vital defense work to cottage industries. Other factors were the availability of B-29 superfortresses for low-level missions, the capture of island strongholds like Iwo Jima for fighter bases, the vulnerability of Japan's highly flammable wood and paper structures, and widely known weaknesses in the home islands' air defenses. The real strength of the narrative, however, stems from the stories. Edoin obtained from those who endured the hellish aerial assaults. By way of example, one woman who survived the firestorms still has nightmares about being strafed by B-29s--an impossibility since the giant craft had been stripped of armament to boost their payloads. Tokyo's red-light district was leveled in the first raid, and the city lost its most famous geishas. Almost inevitably, there's a yarn about a family (the Ikumas) who fled the scorched earth of Kobe for the putative safety of Hiroshima. An evenhanded memento mori whose impact is partially blunted by sporadically awkward writing.