In spite of the US Navy's success at Midway, James Hornfisher says that "combat readiness simply wasn't the order of the day" (pg 87) - and it showed painfully at Guadalcanal. Over the course of about four months in late 1942 the Navy engaged in several sea battles with ships from the Japanese fleet (IJN). This was different from Midway, where planes fought each other hundreds of miles from their carriers. At Guadalcanal the fighting was mostly battleships, cruisers, and destroyers and a lot of them went to the bottom of Ironbottom Sound. And, in spite of the fact that US commanders were frequently caught unawares and generally failed to take advantage of radar, losses and casualties were about the same for both sides, but the US held on to the island and began to push back the Japanese. It was a costly experience for the navy to learn how to fight in a new age.
Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal focuses more on the naval side of the battle than the conflicts on the island, and Hornfisher makes each battle come alive. He doesn't write for the novice history reader, but those who are already used to reading such books will love the excitement. There were a lot of people, places, ships, and even planes involved, and it can seem a bit overwhelming at times. I find I enjoy it more when I don't worry so much about trying to remember every name and detail and keep everything straight, but maybe that'll come with increased familiarity, too.
But Hornfisher has a way with words, and his writing pulls you in to the story making it hard to put down. What I like most is how insightful his books are. He includes the accounts of admirals and regular sailors in his narrative, and sets it against the greater backdrop of events and pulls out the important lessons. He points out that major navies during WWII were "between the age of fighting sail and the age of nuclear propulsion when fuel was consumable and therefore a critical limit on their reach" (pg 37) and how this factored into objectives and events. His first book, The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy's Finest Hour is one of my all-time favorites, and if this one lacks anything in comparison it's the more inspirational ending of the other. Nonetheless, highly recommended reading for those interested in WWII history.