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John Willard Toland (June 29, 1912 in La Crosse, Wisconsin - January 4, 2004 in Danbury, Connecticut) was an American author and historian. He is best known for his bestselling biography of Adolf Hitler and for his Pulitzer Prize-winning World War II history of Japan, The Rising Sun.
Toland was a graduate of Williams College, and he also attended the Yale School of Drama for a time. His original goal was to become a playwright. In the summers between his college years, he travelled with hobos and wrote several plays with hobos as central characters, none of which achieved the stage. In 1961, Toland said that in his early years as a writer he had been "about as big a failure as a man can be".He claimed to have written six complete novels, 26 plays, and a hundred short stories before successfully completing his first sale, a short story he sold to The American Magazine in 1954 for $165. At one point he managed to publish an article on dirigibles in Look magazine; it proved extremely popular and led to his career as a historian. Dirigibles were also the subject of his first full published book, entitled Ships in the Sky and published in 1957.
Perhaps his most important work, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1971, is The Rising Sun. Based on original and extensive interviews with high Japanese officials who survived the war, the book chronicles Imperial Japan from the military rebellion of February 1936 to the end of World War II. The book won the Pulitzer because it was the first book in English to tell the history of the war in the Pacific from the Japanese point of view, rather than from an American perspective.
The stories of the battles for the stepping stones to Japan, the islands in the Pacific which had come under Japanese domination, are told from the perspective of the commander sitting in his cave rather than from that of the heroic forces engaged in the assault. Most of these commanders committed suicide at the conclusion of the battle, but Toland was able to reconstruct their viewpoint from letters to their wives and from reports they sent to Tokyo.
Toland tried to write history as a straightforward narrative, with minimal analysis or judgment. One exception to his general approach is his Infamy: Pearl Harbor and Its Aftermath about the Pearl Harbor attack and the investigations of it, in which he wrote about evidence that President Franklin Roosevelt knew in advance of plans to attack the naval base but remained silent. The book was widely criticized at the time. Since the original publication, Toland added new evidence and rebutted early critics. Also, an anonymous source, known as "Seaman Z" (Robert D. Ogg) has since come forth to publicly tell his story.
While predominantly a non-fiction author, Toland also wrote two historical novels, Gods of War and Occupation. He says in his autobiography that he earned little money from his Pulitzer Prize-winning, The Rising Sun, but was set for life from the earnings of his biography of Hitler, for which he also did original research.
Toland died of pneumonia on January 4, 2004, at Danbury Hospital in Connecticut.