Underdogs focuses on the Marine Corps during the well-studied period from 1940 to 1965, but it takes a cultural approach that is still rare in the field of Marine history. Aaron O'Connell argues that how Marines thought about themselves and how they engaged the world around them were primary factors in the development of the Corps, taking it from pre-World War II insignificance to respected status and a major role in national defense.

O'Connell, a Marine Reserve officer and history professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, brings an understanding of the Corps to his task that many cultural historians might not. He also is a first-class researcher, unearthing sources that few have plumbed, such as details regarding the influential role of the Corps in the script for the classic movie The Sands of Iwo Jima (1949).

The book paints a mixed picture of the Corps. O'Connell initially explains how selective...

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