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The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War

The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War

by Malcolm Gladwell

Unabridged — 5 hours, 49 minutes

Malcolm Gladwell

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Overview

In The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War, Malcolm Gladwell, author of New York Times bestsellers including Talking to Strangers and host of the podcast Revisionist History, uses original interviews, archival footage and his trademark insight to weave together the stories of a Dutch genius and his homemade computer, a band of brothers in central Alabama, a British psychopath, and pyromaniacal chemists at Harvard. As listeners hear these stories unfurl, Gladwell examines one of the greatest moral challenges in modern American history.

Most military thinkers in the years leading up to World War II saw the airplane as an afterthought. But a small band of idealistic strategists had a different view. This “Bomber Mafia” asked: What if precision bombing could, just by taking out critical choke points - industrial or transportation hubs - cripple the enemy and make war far less lethal?

In Revisionist History, Gladwell re-examines moments from the past and asks whether we got it right the first time. In The Bomber Mafia, he employs all the production techniques that make Revisionist History so engaging, stepping back from the bombing of Tokyo, the deadliest night of the war, and asking, “Was it worth it?” The attack was the brainchild of General Curtis LeMay, whose brutal pragmatism and scorched-earth tactics in Japan cost thousands of civilian lives but may have spared more by averting a planned US invasion.

Things might have gone differently had LeMay's predecessor, General Haywood Hansell, remained in charge. As a key member of the Bomber Mafia, Haywood's theories of precision bombing had been foiled by bad weather, enemy jet fighters, and human error. When he and Curtis LeMay squared off for a leadership handover in the jungles of Guam, LeMay emerged victorious, leading to the darkest night of World War II.



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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

03/22/2021

Gladwell (Talking to Strangers) delivers a ruminative, anecdotal account of what led up to the deadliest air raid of WWII: the firebombing of Tokyo by U.S. forces in March 1945. Expanding on a recent multiepisode arc of his Revisionist History podcast, Gladwell begins with the development in the 1920s of the Norden bombsight, which gave pilots the ability to aim at specific targets, rather than drop their bombs indiscriminately. A group of young U.S. Army Air Corps pilots including Haywood Hansell enthusiastically endorsed the bombsight and other new aviation technologies and their potential for reducing casualties. Hansell eventually took charge of U.S. bomber units in England during WWII, and used “precision bombing” techniques to target German factories and supply lines. But when he arrived on the Mariana Islands to command the U.S. air attack on Japan in 1944, bad weather and the jet stream near Tokyo made precision bombing impossible. After refusing to launch a full-scale napalm attack, Hansell was replaced by Gen. Curtis LeMay, who directed the raid on Tokyo that killed an estimated 100,000 people. Gladwell provides plenty of colorful details and poses intriguing questions about the morality of warfare, but this history feels more tossed off than fully fledged. Still, Gladwell’s fans will savor the insights into “how technology slips away from its intended path.” (Apr.)

From the Publisher

Gripping… Gladwell is a wonderful storyteller… in [his] deft hands, the Air Force generals of World War II come back to life… I enjoyed this short book thoroughly, and would have been happy if it had been twice as long.”—Thomas E. Ricks, New York Times Book Review

“A thought-provoking, accessible account of how people respond to difficult choices in difficult times... Gladwell’s easy conversational style works well… and his admiration for the Bomber Mafia shines through. His portraits of individuals are compelling."—Diana Preston, Washington Post

“Truly compelling… written in New York Times bestseller Malcolm Gladwell's characteristic approachable, story-telling style.”—Zibby Owens, Good Morning America

"A riveting tale of persistence, obsession, innovation, and the incalculable wages of war... The Bomber Mafia looks at one of the greatest moral challenges of the Second World War."—Michael Lewis, Against the Rules

“Malcolm Gladwell is a one-in-a-generation kind of writer… He has an uncanny way of finding the story within the story and pointing out the important lessons often hiding in plain sight.”—Bryan Elliott, Inc.com

“Excellent revisionist history… another Gladwell everything-you-thought-you-knew-was-wrong page-turner.”—Kirkus (starred review)

“[A] brilliantly told parable… As ever with Gladwell… the story boils down to people at moments of crisis… books and parables alike rely on their narrative as much as their message. And for a book that is not a war story, this one is brilliantly, brilliantly told.”—James McConnachie, Sunday Times (UK)

“A ruminative, anecdotal account of what led up to the deadliest air raid of WWII… Gladwell provides plenty of colorful details and poses intriguing questions about the morality of warfare… fans will savor the insights into ‘how technology slips away from its intended path.’”—Publishers Weekly

Kirkus Reviews

★ 2021-03-10
Another Gladwell everything-you-thought-you-knew-was-wrong page-turner, this one addressing a historical question that still provokes controversy.

During the unprecedented slaughter of World War I, bombers played a trivial role. However, by the 1930s, many military thinkers concluded that they were the weapon of the future. Were they right? Gladwell concentrates on the careers of Gens. Curtis LeMay and Haywood Hansell, but the author includes several of his characteristic educative, entertaining detours—e.g., histories of napalm and the Norden bombsight. Between the wars, all rising American Air Corps officers attended the Air Corps Tactical School in Alabama. A small part of the faculty, the Bomber Mafia, taught that high-altitude, daylight, precision-bombing would win wars. During World War II, Mafia stalwart Hansell sent fleets of bombers to destroy German and Japanese industrial targets. Unfortunately, due to weather, enemy resistance, and failure of the overhyped Norden bombsight, the bombs mostly missed. Gladwell delivers a fairly flattering portrait of LeMay, who “had a mind that moved only forward, never side­ways…[and] was rational and imperturbable and incapable of self-doubt.” Heading the 21st Bomber Command in the Pacific in the fall of 1944, Hansell was conducting high-altitude precision daylight bombing of Japan, with the usual poor results. Replacing him in January 1945, LeMay did no better—until he changed tactics, sending missions at night, at low level, loaded with firebombs. His first round of bombing created a firestorm that killed an estimated 100,000 Tokyo civilians. LeMay’s bombers went on to devastate 67 Japanese cities, and the raids continued until the day of surrender. In his opinion, the atomic bombs were superfluous; the real work had already been done. Some historians call this a humanitarian crime that failed to shorten the war. Evenhanded as usual, Gladwell does not take sides, but he quotes a Japanese historian who disagreed: “if they don’t surrender, the Soviets invade, and then the Americans invade, and Japan gets carved up, just as Germany and the Korean peninsula eventually were.”

Excellent revisionist history.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940177284224
Publisher: Pushkin Industries
Publication date: 04/27/2021
Edition description: Unabridged

Customer Reviews