The Bomber Mafia

A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War

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Pub Date 27 Apr 2021 | Archive Date 27 Jul 2021

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A “truly compelling” (Good Morning America) New York Times bestseller that explores how technology and best intentions collide in the heat of war—from the creator and host of the podcast Revisionist History.

In The Bomber Mafia, Malcolm Gladwell weaves 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 to examine 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, the “Bomber Mafia,” asked: What if precision bombing could cripple the enemy and make war far less lethal?  
In contrast, the bombing of Tokyo on the deadliest night of the war 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 even more by averting a planned US invasion. In The Bomber Mafia, Gladwell asks, “Was it worth it?”
Things might have gone differently had LeMay’s predecessor, General Haywood Hansell, remained in charge. Hansell believed in precision bombing, but 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. The Bomber Mafia is a riveting tale of persistence, innovation, and the incalculable wages of war.

A “truly compelling” (Good Morning America) New York Times bestseller that explores how technology and best intentions collide in the heat of war—from the creator and host of the podcast Revisionist...

Advance Praise

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

“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

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

“A ruminative, anecdotal account of what led up to the deadliest air...

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ISBN 9780316296618
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Featured Reviews

Basically, air power proponents were like surgeons ("cure anything and everything with a knife") and bombing proponents like neurosurgeons ("fixing God's mistakes and better than any other surgical branch"). Pretty much the history of how the military went from ground wars to air wars and theoretically narrowing the drop zones of bombs (pipe dreams). It is well researched and focuses on several specific mechanical engineers and physicists, especially those who appear lost to history.
I requested and received a free temporary ebook copy from Little, Brown and Company via NetGalley. Thank you.

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Gladwell was born in England, raised in rural Ontario and now lives in New York. He is the author of many non-fiction books including "Talking to Strangers", "Outliers" and The Tipping Point". This new release was originally part of his podcast and is a history book. The Bomber Mafia was the derogatory term used for a group of American military men, led in part by General Haywood Hansell, who believed that long range bombers could win the war. Moreover Hansell believed that precision bombing would shorten the war and lead to less civilian casualties. All of this was before there was an Air Force and the planes were under the command of the Navy. In contrast to this was General Curtis LeMay, who was known for both his brutality and fearlessness. The book takes us to the Marianas islands (including Guam) and the bombing of Japan. Both fascinating and educational, this short book is a wonderful recommendation for history fans. I really enjoyed it.

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Like all Gladwell books, The Bomber Mafia made me see things I thought I knew about in a new light. In this case, I didn't know these exact stories, but it shifted my view of the war ever so slightly. I learned a lot, and this non fiction reads like a story.

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World War II bombing is a topic I have very little interest in, but I couldn't NOT read/listen to a book by Malcolm Gladwell. It was riveting!!
Although, it's very different from his other social psychology books, he still managed to inject a lot of Gladwell type questions into it and will leave you thinking "What is a better way to fight a war?" and "Where does morality fit into that question?"

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I am a long-time Gladwell fan. As soon as he announces a new book, I'm signing up. I really enjoy his writing style and the insights he brings to everyday life and experience. This newest book is very different from his previous ones - from the cover (blue instead of white) to the subject matter (more singularly-focused than usual) and the narrative style (focusing on one set of people/events rather than scattered examples across locations, time frames, and populations). Yet it was a distinctly Gladwellian book for all those differences, and I enjoyed it every bit as much as his previous, more directly sociologically-focused, works. I don't normally read "war books" - and make no mistake, this is a war book. But it's also a study of sociology and people and personalities, and that's where Gladwell shines to my mind. It's a marvelous way to learn something about a new topic, and I thoroughly enjoyed this one!

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As a history buff, I am always on the lookout for new books in history, on a topic that is fascinating to me, the World Wars and the use of air power. This book was no exception! The author of “The Bomber Mafia” writes about the role the Army Air Force played in bringing the conclusion to World War Two sooner than expected. From the men who were in command, to the technology used and its inventors strived to find a a way to shorten the war, in a more humane way, to minimize casualties and damages. It can be a struggle against one’s own conscience versus the objective of it’s leaders, in bringing solutions to end the death and destruction, that war brings. In this case, how this group of men nicknamed the Bomber Mafia, and the inventions of the time, came together to force the Japanese to finally surrender, thus shortening and lessening the effects of the ongoing ground war. It is an interesting read, with more of an emphasis on telling a story rather than being a documentary with just facts, figures and detailed battle strategies. The brief stories and antidotes, in the words of the principal actors, lighten the mood, while showcasing the serious dilemma facing these men, makes the book more readable and memorable! Malcolm Gladwell is a gifted storyteller and historian! Thank you for the opportunity to review this book!

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An absolutely intriguing story about the two very different approaches to the use of aerial bombing in World War II as exemplified by Heyward Hansell, who favored targeted bombing, and Curtis LeMaye, who was a proponent of incendiary bombing, which targeted large swaths of the civilian population as well as defined targets.
While the development of the technology for both types of bombing was formidable, the initial results of the targeted bombing were disappointing and this led to the widespread use of incendiary bombing, which were much more catastrophic and destroyed significant portions of cities and their populations.
The story behind the development of these bombings is chilling and should serve as a cautionary tale.
The book is well-researched and Gladstone is an excellent and accomplished author although it seemed to me this subject was a departure from his usual topics. His writing provides a stark contrast between these men and the approaches they employed to fight this war.
Highly recommended for history buffs, especially WWII.

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Malcolm Gladwell takes a deep dive into the history of aerial bombing and conflicting philosophies about how to take the fight to the enemy. In the 1920s and 1930s a group of aviators who became known as the Bomber Mafia created a theory that precise targeting of manufacturing areas will cripple the enemy and lead to peace. A counter theory was to indiscriminately bomb any place and anyone in enemy territory including soldiers and civilians. During World War II precision bombing proved ineffective leading to an alarming number of American airmen’s deaths in Europe. In 1944 in the Pacific theater the bombing philosophy switched when dropping napalm was introduced to create fires in Japanese cities killing a horrifying number of civilians. This well researched book makes readers realize the argument of precision versus indiscriminate bombing continues today with smart bombs and drones that often lead to civilian deaths. Highly recommended for readers of military history.

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Historical texts often fail as teaching tools because they present a topic in a linear fashion, telling a story from a timeline. Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Bomber Mafia, would never do that. As all history is the past, it is worthy of reflection, thus it is crucial to simultaneously navigate both the past and present.

The Bomber Mafia takes a moral dilemma, military strategy during WWII, and entwines it with modern thought and reflection because what the Bomber Mafia believed as part of its core values wasn't quite possible at the time they hoped to put their principles into action. This is the story of Curtis LeMay and Haywood Hansell, it is the story of precision bombing and the advent of napalm. It is the story of when war changed from a boots-on-the-ground battle to strategic airstrikes. This is the book AP US II teachers should be assigning as summer reading because Gladwell reflects on a turning point that influences foreign policy and military strategy for the remainder of the twentieth century. It is truly fantastic and encourages a deep dive back into history textbooks. The past is humanized. There's room for debate. There are paths that lead us all to our own moral compass. And when you come to that final page, you realize you NEED to talk about this book.

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Malcolm Gladwell is a remarkable writer, combining the best of research and accessibility. All his books have been best sellers, and The Bomber Mafia I am sure will be no exception. He has the uncanny ability to make a reader care about topics that they never previously considered. He also digs deep into facets of a subject that the usual treatment doesn’t bring out. In The Bomber Mafia Gladwell put his lens on the topic of the development of U.S. policies on the best use of air power during World War II. For my husband, a student of World War II, there were new insights and even the introduction of little known players. For me, whose knowledge of that period in American history is limited to some great novels and movies, he created a play of larger-than-life personalities and clearly presented the battle between the schools of thought on War: why we fight, what we hope to achieve and the consequences of these actions. The story was laid out so carefully and logically that even a novice could see the ramifications of these decisions made so many years ago.
If you are already familiar with this subject from Gladwell’s podcast, Revisionist History, I encourage you to pick this up anyway. He digs deeper and adds so much he didn’t have time for in the audio blog. You will be glad to learn even more about the fascinating battle of ideas and the men who championed them.

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A buddy read/listen with my 18yo son which has sparked interesting discussions:
Malcolm Gladwell’s newest The Bomber Mafia
Years before the Second World War, in a sleepy air force base in central Alabama, a small group of renegade pilots put forth a radical idea: What if we made bombing so accurate that wars could be fought entirely from the air?

Malcolm Gladwell has returned with a story of what happened when that dream was put to the test. A tale of innovation and obsession, in which he asks: What happens when technology and best intentions collide in the heat of war? And what is the price of progress?

Since Malcolm Gladwell is a successful Podcaster and we had both the audio and e-book we have to conclude the audio for this one beats the ebook: various interviews, old original interview snippets or sound bites, sound effects, background music- everything is very well executed. We were very impressed.

It was fabulous to share this experience with my teen who loves nonfiction books specifically on history subjects.

Very late to catch up but this was my May nonfiction read ! I liked learning a little more back story on this specific segment of WWII.

Thank you NetGalley, Little Brown Books and Pushkin Industries for the ARC and ALC in exchange for an honest review

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