John Toland (historian)

John Willard Toland (June 29, 1912 – January 4, 2004)[1] was an American writer and historian. He is best known for a biography of Adolf Hitler[2] and a Pulitzer Prize-winning history of World War II-era Japan, The Rising Sun.

John Toland
Toland in 1971
Born(1912-06-29)June 29, 1912
La Crosse, Wisconsin
DiedJanuary 4, 2004(2004-01-04) (aged 91)
Danbury, Connecticut
EducationWilliams College
Notable awardsPulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction


Toland was born in 1912 in La Crosse, Wisconsin. He graduated from Williams College and attended the Yale School of Drama for a time.[1] His original goal was to become a playwright. In the summers between college years, he traveled with hobos and wrote several plays with hobos as central characters, none of which were performed. He recalled in 1961 that in his early years as a writer he had been "about as big a failure as a man can be".[1] He claimed to have written six complete novels, 26 plays, and a hundred short stories before completing his first sale, a short story for which The American Magazine paid $165 in 1954.[1] At one point he managed to get an article on dirigibles into LOOK magazine; it proved extremely popular and led to his career as a historian. Dirigibles were the subject of his first full-length published book, Ships in the Sky (1957).[1]

His most important work may be The Rising Sun (Random House, 1970), for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 1971.[3] Based on original and extensive interviews with high-ranking Japanese officials who survived the war, the book chronicles the Empire of Japan from the military rebellion of February 1936 to the end of World War II. It won the Pulitzer because it was the first book in English to tell the history of the Pacific War from the Japanese point of view, rather than the prevailing American one.

Historical Controversy

Toland generally tried to write history works as a straightforward narrative, with minimal analysis or judgment. One exception to his general approach is Infamy: Pearl Harbor and Its Aftermath, about the Pearl Harbor attack and its subsequent investigation, where he presented evidence that President Franklin D. Roosevelt knew in advance of plans to attack the naval base but remained silent. The book was widely criticized at the time.[4]


While predominantly a writer of nonfiction, Toland also wrote two historical novels, Gods of War and Occupation. He says in his 1997 autobiography that he earned little money from his prize-winner The Rising Sun but was set for life from the earnings of Adolf Hitler, for which he also did original research.

Toland died of pneumonia on January 4, 2004, at Danbury Hospital in Danbury, Connecticut.[1]


External video
Booknotes interview with Toland on Captured by History, September 14, 1997, C-SPAN
  • Ships in the Sky: The Story of the Great Dirigibles (New York: Henry Holt; London: F. Muller, 1957)
  • Battle: The Story of the Bulge, 1959, ISBN 0-8032-9437-9.
  • But Not in Shame: The Six Months After Pearl Harbor, 1962, ISBN 0-345-25748-0
  • The Dillinger Days, 1963, ISBN 0-306-80626-6.
  • The Flying Tigers - Copyrighted 1963 First Printing From Laurel-Leaf Books 1979. Published by Dell Publishing ISBN 0-440-92621-1
  • The Last 100 Days: The Tumultuous and Controversial Story of the Final Days of World War II in Europe, 1966, reprint (2003) ISBN 0-8129-6859-X
  • The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945, 1970 HC ISBN 0-394-44311-X, reprint ISBN 0-8129-6858-1.
  • The Great Dirigibles: Their Triumphs & Disasters, 1972, ISBN 0-486-21397-8.
  • Adolf Hitler: The Definitive Biography, 1976, ISBN 0-385-42053-6.
  • No Man's Land: 1918, The Last Year of the Great War, 1980, ISBN 0-385-11291-2
  • Infamy: Pearl Harbor And Its Aftermath, 1982, ISBN 0-385-42051-X
  • Gods of War, 1985, ISBN 0-385-18007-1.
  • Occupation, 1987, ISBN 0-385-19819-1
  • In Mortal Combat: Korea 1950-1953, 1991, ISBN 0-688-10079-1
  • Captured by History: One Man's Vision of Our Tumultuous Century, 1997, ISBN 0-312-15490-9


  • 'Death of a Dirigible', February 1959, American Heritage, Volume X Number 2, pp 18–23

See also


  1. Barnes, Bart (January 6, 2004). "Historian John Toland Dies; Won Pulitzer for 'Rising Sun'". The Washington Post. Page B05.
  2. Associated Press (January 6, 2004). "Author Toland dies at age 91". La Crosse Tribune. Archived 2004-08-23. Retrieved 2013-10-25.
  3. "General Nonfiction". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2013-11-12.
  4. United Press International (December 4, 1983). "Sailor in Pearl Harbor Waraning (sic) is Identified". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-12-23.
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