A first-rate biography of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, arguably Japan's finest naval strategist and field commander during WW II. Ever prolific, Hoyt (Carrier Wars, p. 749; MacArthur's Navy, p. 1448; et al.) draws on previously untapped archival sources and personal interviews to provide a human-scale account of the man who planned the preemptive strike against Pearl Harbor. As the author makes clear, however, Yamamoto was a decidedly reluctant dragon. Having served as an attachâ€š in Washington, D.C., and negotiator at disarmament conferences, he fully appreciated America's industrial might, but, when overtaken by events, nonetheless worked loyally and, for a time, effectively to achieve his militarist government's objectives. Nâ€š Takano in 1884, Yamamoto (who subsequently took the name of a samurai family without male heirs) graduated from his country's naval academy in time to fight (and be wounded) in the Russo-Japanese War. Rising through the ranks as a career officer, he was an early advocate of air power. Hoyt notes, though, that in his build-up of the imperial fleet Yamamoto (a nondrinker but an active womanizer) failed to realize the submarine's potential--an oversight that dearly cost him and the island nation. As he had predicted before the sneak attack on Hawaii, Yamamoto and his forces ran wild throughout the Pacific theater for over six months. Thereafter, the timidity of subordinates like Chuichi Nagumo and the Allies' superior resources began to turn the tide. Decisively defeated at Midway, the Japanese scored signal victories in the Solomons campaign, albeit with staggering losses of aircraft, capital ships, and pilots that could not immediately be made good. In the spring of 1943, the US intercepted and decoded an incautious message that the punctual Yamamoto was to make an inspection of front-line air bases. At FDR's express order, the admiral's plane was shot down over Bougainville, killing all aboard and thereby eliminating a formidable US adversary. A compelling portrait, complete with sociopolitical perspectives, of a gallant warrior who, had he not fallen, might well have delayed, if not altered, WW II's triumphal outcome. The consistently absorbing text has 16 pages of rare photographs.