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An exploration of how technology and best intentions collide in the heat of war 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 militar An exploration of how technology and best intentions collide in the heat of war 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.


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An exploration of how technology and best intentions collide in the heat of war 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 militar An exploration of how technology and best intentions collide in the heat of war 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.

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

  1. 4 out of 5

    Regina

    Malcolm Gladwell has a brand new book, and it’s different than his previous ones. You can easily tell this by its vibrant ocean-blue cover, which is quite a departure from the text-on-white-background style used on all his others. I have a love/indifference thing going with Gladwell. If he writes something, I’m going to listen to the audiobook of it, no question. Yet I end up rating each one 3 stars. The pattern seems to be that he spends an entire book telling and showing me what his thesis is, Malcolm Gladwell has a brand new book, and it’s different than his previous ones. You can easily tell this by its vibrant ocean-blue cover, which is quite a departure from the text-on-white-background style used on all his others. I have a love/indifference thing going with Gladwell. If he writes something, I’m going to listen to the audiobook of it, no question. Yet I end up rating each one 3 stars. The pattern seems to be that he spends an entire book telling and showing me what his thesis is, and inevitably at its end I think, “So what was the point of all that?” (Notable exception here is Outliers. Read that one if you haven’t.) In The Bomber Mafia, he hones in on a specific period of history. In the wake of millions of casualties from ground warfare in World War I, a group of US military men focused on creating a bombing system that would be so accurate that it could take out very specific targets that would cripple enemies while minimizing human loss. The system was then implemented in World War II to varying results. Because I was able to focus on the book as a historical text, I had much more success following along. The audiobook is an experience in itself, complete with sound effects, music, and old interviews from the men he profiles (and even some of their bombings’ survivors). This is a case where the audiobook surely trumps the print version. In fact, Gladwell points out that the audio format is the original text, and the hardback is the secondary product. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend The Bomber Mafia to anyone with even a remote interest in the history of warfare. The audiobook is currently available on the Hoopla library app for immediate download. Blog: www.confettibookshelf.com IG: @confettibookshelf

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kay

    3.5⭐ This is my first Malcolm Gladwell book. Are all his audiobook this good? I mean WOW! I'm very impressed with the production; soundtrack, sound effects, radio clips, and interviews, I thought the TV was on in another room. This is a brief history of WWII aerial bombing campaign with focus on precision bombing to reduce civilian casualties. I've read different opinions on its accuracy, which I'm not even getting into since I'm not an expert or have read that many WWII history books. Still, thi 3.5⭐ This is my first Malcolm Gladwell book. Are all his audiobook this good? I mean WOW! I'm very impressed with the production; soundtrack, sound effects, radio clips, and interviews, I thought the TV was on in another room. This is a brief history of WWII aerial bombing campaign with focus on precision bombing to reduce civilian casualties. I've read different opinions on its accuracy, which I'm not even getting into since I'm not an expert or have read that many WWII history books. Still, this is an interesting subject.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    The deadliest raid of WWII, what led up to it and who was involved. This was a stunning but entertaining audio books, one I probably wouldn't have picked up if it wasn't written by Gladwell. Just not a subject I seem out, nor do I think I would have liked it as much had I read. The Audio features music, sound effects, spoken archival interviews, even one by Ronald Reagan and Gladwell's voice was perfect for the narration. Norden, LeMay, the Air force, DuPont, a full range of characters that inven The deadliest raid of WWII, what led up to it and who was involved. This was a stunning but entertaining audio books, one I probably wouldn't have picked up if it wasn't written by Gladwell. Just not a subject I seem out, nor do I think I would have liked it as much had I read. The Audio features music, sound effects, spoken archival interviews, even one by Ronald Reagan and Gladwell's voice was perfect for the narration. Norden, LeMay, the Air force, DuPont, a full range of characters that invented ways to make war more effective, with the hope that this war would be the last. Highlights how technological advances are often used in ways they were not meant. Limited in scope, short in play time, I found this thought provoking.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    I chose this book (an advance reading copy), from NetGalley believing it was a fictional thriller set in the Pacific theatre of World War II. How wrong was I, but in a blink of an eye I had a book I couldn’t put down. This is an account of a group of senior minds in the USA airforce who became fixated on precision bombing to reduce innocent civilian casualties and hasten the end of conflict by strategically bombing factories and war production vital for your enemy’s ability to continue to fight o I chose this book (an advance reading copy), from NetGalley believing it was a fictional thriller set in the Pacific theatre of World War II. How wrong was I, but in a blink of an eye I had a book I couldn’t put down. This is an account of a group of senior minds in the USA airforce who became fixated on precision bombing to reduce innocent civilian casualties and hasten the end of conflict by strategically bombing factories and war production vital for your enemy’s ability to continue to fight on. This was a group of obsessive but influential men who wanted to avoid the British approach at all costs as their aircrews were trained with computer like bombsights, and needed to raid in clear skies from high attitude. I did know that the British bombed at night while the Americans seemed to have the more dangerous daytime raids over Germany. But I didn’t know why - this book simply explains why this was the status quo. I was also aware of Bomber Harris who led the fire bombing on Germany, and I have read about how this impacted cities like Dresden. This book again casts a more discerning eye on this situation and outcome. I knew the Americans dropped two atomic weapons to shorten the war and bring Japan to its knees and accept surrender to save countless lives needed to invade those islands. This book is so much more; not just filling a few gaps in my knowledge but informing me, just how little I knew about the changing role of the airforce. This development of how warplanes were deployed is quite fascinating. The simple geography of how Japan was simply outside the range of bombers. The most compelling account is the clash of ideas and the pragmatic solutions sought to wage war on a distant enemy. That Japanese cities were bombed beyond those I knew about, in a fashion I scarcely want to image. The further we get from these events the less we seem to appreciate it was a different time and lacking much of the technology we now take for granted. Block buster films have made World War II seem more real and technically adept in all things military but this book was needed for me to grasp the significance of warfare in the 1940s. It also explains the genesis of ideas and responses to events. Why Vietnam was fought by the Americans in certain ways and how the immediacy and public opinion can stifle democracies engaging in a clean fight and fair contest. I found his book totally absorbing, history made alive and although non-fiction, it did read like a wartime thriller.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    (3.5 stars.) Probably Gladwell's weakest book -- the narrative itself is engaging, but the themes/ideas are confused and muddled, as ultimately the two schools of thought (LeMay the pragmatist vs. Hansell the idealist) are both true and also both in agreement. Gladwell's critique of Hansell's targeted attack on Germany's ball-bearing factories is in fact incorrect (Speer noted that the U.S. could have ended the war if they'd just done a couple more bombing runs, and the failure of the operation (3.5 stars.) Probably Gladwell's weakest book -- the narrative itself is engaging, but the themes/ideas are confused and muddled, as ultimately the two schools of thought (LeMay the pragmatist vs. Hansell the idealist) are both true and also both in agreement. Gladwell's critique of Hansell's targeted attack on Germany's ball-bearing factories is in fact incorrect (Speer noted that the U.S. could have ended the war if they'd just done a couple more bombing runs, and the failure of the operation was due to a logistical error), and Hansell ultimately agreed with LeMay's firebombing of Japan but just didn't personally have the stomach for it (understandably). Bomber Mafia's melodramatic portrayal of Hansell as a saintly Don Quixote tragically clinging to his false faith in strategic strikes is . . . curious, to say the least. There are also random too-long tangents that are never really incorporated into the main narrative (the Norden bombsight, napalm, etc.), where it became clear that he was trying to pad the thinly-researched material of the podcast episode in order to sell it as a book. Gladwell's usual "pulling interesting insights out of the obvious," in this case, ends with just "the obvious": (1) in war, it's morally good to keep civilian deaths to a minimum and do targeted, strategic strikes instead of wide-scale firebombing, but (2) if you're unable to do strategic strikes in, say, Japan in 1945 due to various technological shortcomings and problems with weather/terrain, and yet want to prevent millions of deaths that would occur in a protracted conflict, then maybe it's arguably okay to firebomb Japanese cities in order to prevent such deaths. (As Gladwell points out, the Japanese government awarded LeMay its highest honor in 1964 and thanked him for firebombing their own citizens, as this ended the war in August 1945 and prevented the deaths of millions of Japanese from starvation in the winter of 1945-1946.) The obvious truth of both (1) and (2) -- a truth which was quite clear to both LeMay and Hansell (if not to some of their predecessors), and is in fact clear to anyone who has ever learned the basic facts about WW2 in high school -- makes me wonder why Gladwell wrote an entire book pretending that there was some sort of deep philosophical divide here . . .? Still, certainly a riveting narrative and the character sketches are quite good.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Girish

    "Without persistence, principles are meaningless. Because one day your dream may come true. And if you cannot keep that dream alive in teh interim, then who are you?" War stories are a new genre for those used to Macolm Gladwell's unique brand of nonfiction. And yet, this book is something that keeps you invested as it is presented as a bit more than a piece of history. Curtis Lemay and Haywood Hansell are opposite ends of a spectrum in the high adrenaline combat Air Force. While one is a celebr "Without persistence, principles are meaningless. Because one day your dream may come true. And if you cannot keep that dream alive in teh interim, then who are you?" War stories are a new genre for those used to Macolm Gladwell's unique brand of nonfiction. And yet, this book is something that keeps you invested as it is presented as a bit more than a piece of history. Curtis Lemay and Haywood Hansell are opposite ends of a spectrum in the high adrenaline combat Air Force. While one is a celebrated hero, the other was an idealist whose principles allowed him to be sidelined in the annals of history. The book starts with a very real problem. People growing up on cartoons and movies see planes dropping bombs/shooting targets as if done through cross hairs. But the problem the Bomber Mafia was trying to solve has both physics and moral angles. With battles in the air having the power to win you the war, can we do precision bombing to help reduce the casualties of war? If you have ever tried to throw a can from a moving car into a thrash can - you would understand the math/physics behind it. Just that, with bomber B29s the problem is infinitely more complex with visibility, weather conditions and anti-aircraft guns to combat with. The annals of WW-II is replete with cities razed to ground across all countries (though advertised, thanks to popular media/winning side account, only the Allied cities). Kurt Vonnegut's seminal book Slaughterhouse five took the allied bombing (pointless) of Dresden through the POV of Prisioners of war. This was not a standalone incident. The mushroom cloud of atomic bombs downplays the role of air strikes which annihilated the cities with a view to break the morale of the forces. The book in that backdrop is a story of idealism. The Bomber mafia under Hansell are out to minimize the destruction and focused on throwing a spanner in the works of war. Their promise, their journey gets delivered a bit too late for it to have any significant bearing on the war. But the story deserves to be told. What I enjoyed in addition was the narrative consistency that made facts being the backdrop of a compelling story. Loved it and I would recommend it to history buffs! Note: I would like to thank Penguin Press UK (Sarah Wright) and the Netgalley for providing the ARC of the book. The book is getting released on 27th April.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Truman32

    Malcolm Gladwell goes all historical in his newest book, The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, a Cheese Sandwich Left Uneaten, and the Longest Night of the Second World War. During this global skirmish, airplane technology advanced dramatically, and many idealistic military thinkers believed that the ability to do precision bombing would make warfare much less lethal. As many would say, the newfangled bombsite now equipped in the basic package of all U.S bombers would enable “a bombardier to Malcolm Gladwell goes all historical in his newest book, The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, a Cheese Sandwich Left Uneaten, and the Longest Night of the Second World War. During this global skirmish, airplane technology advanced dramatically, and many idealistic military thinkers believed that the ability to do precision bombing would make warfare much less lethal. As many would say, the newfangled bombsite now equipped in the basic package of all U.S bombers would enable “a bombardier to drop a bomb into a pickle barrel from six miles up.” Honestly, this confused me. Why would we go to war against pickles? Sure, they might be dangerous if stuffed into our naughty orifices while we are sleeping. But offhand I can think of so many other foods we should bomb first. Take those in the dangerous category such as the spikey pineapple or a horned melon. Those suckers can really do some damage if you catch one in the kisser. The imposter foods should also be moved up on the bomb list. Take capers—these are definitely not peas. Why must they act like peas? Blow them up for lying to us!!! While we are at it, I feel that nobody sane would really mind if a barrel of olive loaf, or green bean casserole catches a bomb or two. Sadly, precision bombing is really tough (particularly in the 1940’s with no radar) and is quickly swapped out with a new idea—napalming civilians in Japan. Sigh. The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, an Ice cream Sundae with Sprinkles and Gummy Worms, and the Longest Night of the Second World War is extremely interesting and full of many shades of grey. There are no easy answers. Since precision bombing is now our de facto military action these days, this book gives an introduction of how far we have come. Just leave the pickles alone.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Leftbanker

    For the love of Mohamed, Jesus, and Rabbi Bernstein, why doesn’t this guy just write a history book and leave out his outlandishly stupid theories? He’s a talented writer, but why does he go outside his area of expertise? Builder argued that you cannot understand how the three main branches of the American military behave and make decisions unless you understand how different their cultures are. And to prove this point, Builder said, just look at the chapels on each of the service academy campuse For the love of Mohamed, Jesus, and Rabbi Bernstein, why doesn’t this guy just write a history book and leave out his outlandishly stupid theories? He’s a talented writer, but why does he go outside his area of expertise? Builder argued that you cannot understand how the three main branches of the American military behave and make decisions unless you understand how different their cultures are. And to prove this point, Builder said, just look at the chapels on each of the service academy campuses. Gladwell never bothers to ask why a military academy in a secular nation needs to build a house of worship in the first place. If you are a cadet and feel the need to pray, go off-post and find your church. This isn't the job of the U.S. government. Gladwell praises the Air Force for its forward-thinking because its chapel at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs can’t keep the rain out. He paints this as some sort of futuristic genius on the part of the architect who couldn’t foresee the bad weather and wind on the high plains in Colorado. Evidently, Gladwell has never heard of the B1 bomber and what a complete and total piece of shit this sink-hole of money has been over decades while showcasing some of the USAFs dreadful "forward thinking" over the years. Instead of looking at this chapel as a complete failure in engineering as he should (he calls it a “radical new mind-set”), Gladwell laughs it off, basically saying that the USAF is too forward-thinking and futuristic to keep the rain out today.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    I listened to this as an audiobook, and it was a fantastic experience: so much archival audio, so many interesting sound effects. Like much of Malcolm Gladwell's work, this is a book about unintended consequences: how a bombsight, clouds, and the Jet Stream, (among other factors) turned the idea of using bombers to MINIMIZE civilian casualties in World War Two to one of using bombers to MAXIMIZE civilian casualties. The story is riveting and horrifying at once. And Gladwell's analysis, as always I listened to this as an audiobook, and it was a fantastic experience: so much archival audio, so many interesting sound effects. Like much of Malcolm Gladwell's work, this is a book about unintended consequences: how a bombsight, clouds, and the Jet Stream, (among other factors) turned the idea of using bombers to MINIMIZE civilian casualties in World War Two to one of using bombers to MAXIMIZE civilian casualties. The story is riveting and horrifying at once. And Gladwell's analysis, as always, will leave you pondering so many "what if's?"

  10. 5 out of 5

    Krista

    Because airpower was young, the faculty of the Tactical School was young — in their twenties and thirties, full of the ambition of youth. They got drunk on the weekends, flew warplanes for fun, and raced each other in their cars. Their motto was: Proficimus more irretenti: “We make progress unhindered by custom.” The leaders of the Air Corps Tactical School were labeled “the Bomber Mafia.” It was not intended as a compliment — these were the days of Al Capone and Lucky Luciano and shoot-outs on Because airpower was young, the faculty of the Tactical School was young — in their twenties and thirties, full of the ambition of youth. They got drunk on the weekends, flew warplanes for fun, and raced each other in their cars. Their motto was: Proficimus more irretenti: “We make progress unhindered by custom.” The leaders of the Air Corps Tactical School were labeled “the Bomber Mafia.” It was not intended as a compliment — these were the days of Al Capone and Lucky Luciano and shoot-outs on the streets. But the Air Corps faculty thought the outcast label quite suited them. And it stuck. The Bomber Mafia is a different kind of book from the magpie mind of Malcolm Gladwell: Although there are several fascinating digressions*, this is primarily the straightforward story of the birth of the US Air Force in the aftermath of WWI, how they strove to perfect precision bombing before the American entry into WWII, and how the realities of battle can trump philosophical best intentions. I’m no aficionado of WWII trivia and there were many stories here I hadn’t heard before; much was fascinating. Still, this felt a little light for Gladwell; his conclusions a little pat. He explains in the intro that he has had a lifelong obsession with war histories (and with bombers in particular), so it might just be that Gladwell is too close-up with this material to see a bigger picture? And I see from other reviews that this was originally an audiobook (with audio clips of interviews, music, and sound effects), so that might be the better format in which to experience this? But at any rate, I was not disappointed overall: Gladwell cracks open some interesting nuts of history here and I was happy to squirrel it all away in my own generalist’s mind. (Note: I read an ARC through NetGalley and passages quoted may not be in their final forms.) The Bomber Mafia is a case study in how dreams go awry. And how, when some new, shiny idea drops down from the heavens, it does not land, softly, in our laps. It lands hard, on the ground, and shatters. The story I’m about to tell is not really a war story. Although it mostly takes place in wartime. It is the story of a Dutch genius and his homemade computer. A band of brothers in central Alabama. A British psychopath. Pyromaniacal chemists in a basement lab at Harvard. It’s a story about the messiness of our intentions, because we always forget the mess when we look back. And at the heart of it all are Haywood Hansell and Curtis LeMay, who squared off in the jungles of Guam. One was sent home. One stayed on, with a result that would lead to the darkest night of the Second World War. Consider their story and ask yourself — What would I have done? Which side would I have been on? Gladwell starts with the birth of the US Air Force at the Air Corps Tactical School in Montgomery, Alabama (the aviation version of the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, or the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.) In the wake of WWI’s devastation for infantrymen, these early dreamers, the “Bomber Mafia”, conceived of a world in which airplanes could replace soldiers on the ground, flying into the heart of enemy territory and disabling “chokepoints” of war manufactury. There’s interesting bits about Carl Norden and his invention of the first bombsights that would allow for precision bombing (the legend goes that with a Norden bombsight, you could drop a bomb into a pickle barrel from six miles up), and what Gladwell stresses most of all, is that the founding philosophy of the US Air Force was that precision bombing would reduce the deaths of soldiers and civilians by solely targeting munitions factories and refineries and the like. Action moves to WWII, and in the European theatre, Churchill expects the USAF to join the RAF in their “morale bombing” operations (targeting Dresden and Münster to force German surrender despite the Blitz on London having not broken English resolve), and when the story moves to the Marianas islands in the Pacific, the real heart of the Air Force’s philosophical dilemma is reached: Japan must be defeated at any cost, and when General Haywood Hansell’s precision bombing runs prove to be costly and ineffective, he will be replaced by General Curtis LeMay; a commander unafraid to fill his men’s bombers with weaponised napalm and burn Japan to the ground. The full attack lasted almost three hours; 1,665 tons of napalm were dropped. LeMay’s planners had worked out in advance that this many firebombs, dropped in such tight proximity, would create a firestorm — a conflagration of such intensity that it would create and sustain its own wind system. They were correct. Everything burned for sixteen square miles. Buildings burst into flame before the fire ever reached them. Mothers ran from the fire with their babies strapped to their backs only to discover — when they stopped to rest — that their babies were on fire. People jumped into the canals off the Sumida River, only to drown when the tide came in or when hundreds of others jumped on top of them. People tried to hang on to steel bridges until the metal grew too hot to the touch, and then they fell to their deaths. General LeMay would say after the war that the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been superfluous; the real work had already been done to force Japan’s surrender. And in a fascinating twist, the Japanese government would eventually bestow on LeMay their highest honor for a foreigner — the First-Class Order of Merit of the Grand Cordon of the Rising Sun — in appreciation for his help in rebuilding the Japanese Air Force. A Japanese historian is quoted as saying that he wanted to thank the Americans for the firebombing and the atomic bombs; if the Japanese government hadn’t been forced to surrender, there would have been a devastating land invasion, the Soviets would have carved the country up, and there would have been mass starvation in the winter of 1945 if General MacArthur hadn’t mobilised massive amounts of food aid. Despite it being concluded of the first night of firebombing that “Probably more persons lost their lives by fire at Tokyo in a six-hour period than at any time in the history of man”, the point can be made that this subversion of the precision-bombing-to-avoid-deaths philosophy went on to save countless more lives. So, as Gladwell asks in the beginning, put in the position of General Hansell (morally opposed to firebombing) or LeMay (reluctantly accepting of), what would you do? There is a lot to fascinate in this narrative — Gladwell pulls threads from many directions to weave a unified whole — but it’s not a very long read and didn’t grip me with the moral quandary at its heart. A little slight, a little pat, but definitely interesting while it lasted. Rounding up to four stars. *Digressions of note: The stunning architecture of the Air Force Academy Chapel that reinforces that branch of the military’s commitment to the unconventional; the western approach to bombing Japan started from India and travelled over the Himalayas (a route known as the “Hump” or “the aluminum trail” for the scattered debris from hundreds of airplane crashes); although the jet stream over Tokyo was unknown to American pilots in 1945, it had been discovered in the ‘20s by Japanese scientist Wasaburo Ooishi, but he only published his findings in Esperanto (ha!).

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lou

    The Bomber Mafia is an exploration of how technology and best intentions collide in the heat of war in which bestselling history writer Malcolm Gladwell 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 to examine one of the greatest moral challenges in modern American history. Most military thinkers in the The Bomber Mafia is an exploration of how technology and best intentions collide in the heat of war in which bestselling history writer Malcolm Gladwell 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 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 aeroplane as an afterthought. But a small band of idealistic strategists, The Bomber Mafia, had a different view. They 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. However, he may have spared even 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, Hansell’s theories of precision bombing had been foiled by bad weather 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. The Bomber Mafia is a riveting tale of persistence, innovation, and the incalculable wages of war. This is a compelling, enthralling and intensely captivating piece of history writing and has a richly described and information-packed nonfiction narrative. It's plain for all to see that it is extensively researched and penned by a passionate history connoisseur and lover of World War II stories. It's thoroughly engrossing and at many points reads like a thriller or espionage novel in the sense that unexpected events occur, atrocities happen and the writing flows seamlessly allowing it to read all the more easily. A scintillating, palpably tense and eminently readable book from start to conclusion and a no-brainer for those into history books written by experts in their field. Highly recommended.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Brendan Monroe

    I've enjoyed all the Malcolm Gladwell books I've ever read ... until now. Maybe because this isn't really a book at all — it's a glorified podcast. "The Bomber Mafia" just failed to interest me. Maybe it's because this is very much focused on a particular episode of military history, and I've never really been a military history kind of guy, or maybe it's because this is just really, really dry until around the final 30 minutes or so. I was advised to get the audio version of this, and I'm sure gl I've enjoyed all the Malcolm Gladwell books I've ever read ... until now. Maybe because this isn't really a book at all — it's a glorified podcast. "The Bomber Mafia" just failed to interest me. Maybe it's because this is very much focused on a particular episode of military history, and I've never really been a military history kind of guy, or maybe it's because this is just really, really dry until around the final 30 minutes or so. I was advised to get the audio version of this, and I'm sure glad I did. As much as I didn't care for the book itself, I don't think I would have even finished the print version. That's because Gladwell has loaded this thing chock-a-block full of audio interviews, radio clips, sound effects, and more. Even then, Gladwell — who narrates this, as he does all his audiobooks — isn't reading the book on audio, he's performing aloud as he would in his podcast "Revisionist History." I can only imagine reading the print edition would be a somewhat frustrating experience if it reads anything like how the audiobook sounds. When you're making something for audio, like a podcast, the words you say, the structure of your sentences, the general tone, are just going to be different than they would if you were putting them down to be published in a physical book. Why this isn't just a podcast is beyond me. First of all, this is only five hours and a bit, far too short for a book if you ask me, and again, probably a fifth of that is recorded interviews. Would you really want to read a book in which 20% consists of just transcripts of interviews and audio clips? That said, it's a pretty cool listening experience — because it was designed for audio. It was the content that left me wanting. Despite its short length, there is just so much build-up here for what serves to be the book's climax — the firebombing of Tokyo. The two main players here are General Curtis LeMay and the man he'd replace as commander of bomber command in the Pacific Theater in the Second World War, General Haywood Hansell. Hansell was a supporter of precision bombing campaigns, while LeMay was an advocate of what we might literally refer to as scorched earth tactics. Bomb everything, indiscriminately. Men, women, and children. Armed combatants andcivilians. Hence the firebombing of Tokyo and dozens of other Japanese cities. LeMay comes off as a John Wayne figure of sorts. A cocksure gunslinger who takes the law into his own hands and guns down the bad guys — and their children. Hansell is LeMay's contemplative counterpart, endlessly debating the moral quandaries of an issue. Because he lacks LeMay's flashiness and chutzpah he's overshadowed by the latter and pushed into the shadows even though his influence and advocacy for precision bombing and fewer civilian casualties obviously won him the future. Near the end, "The Bomber Mafia" poses its central question — is Curtis LeMay, the general who believed that the most humane response to war was to be as brutal as possible in the belief that such brutality would bring an earlier end to war, thus saving more lives, a war hero or a war criminal? Whether in an effort to maintain his neutrality or because he's genuinely unsure, Gladwell vacillates on the issue. He references a Japanese historian who states, quite interestingly, that were it not for LeMay, the Soviet Union would have invaded Japan followed by the US, leading to a Japan divided between American and Soviet control, much like Germany was for the second half of the century. In this historian's mind, LeMay was responsible for ending the war earlier than it otherwise would have ended, sparing both American and Japanese lives. Maybe. I have no reason to doubt that this would have been the outcome. The problem is in then absolving LeMay for the death of so many hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of Japanese civilians. The accounts of the firebombings across Japan that Gladwell includes here are terrifying ... and morally grotesque. Couldn't any war criminal justify their brutality in this way? Couldn't the Nazis have waved away their atrocities in much the same way? If LeMay is a hero, where does the line between heroism and barbarism lie? "The Bomber Mafia" would have made for a good podcast if it were around a third of the length. As it stands, it's all far too much preamble leading up to one very interesting question.

  13. 4 out of 5

    David C Ward

    A glib and anecdotal gesture at understanding the practical and moral issues of aerial bombing. There are many better and deeper studies of both issues. It doesn’t give a cogent summary of air force tactics (on all sides) in WWII including the basic fact that the British turned to night, area bombing because daytime precision bombing didn’t work and the losses were horrendous, as they would be for the Americans. (Gladwell to the contrary, Churchill’s pal Prof. Lindemann had little to do with it A glib and anecdotal gesture at understanding the practical and moral issues of aerial bombing. There are many better and deeper studies of both issues. It doesn’t give a cogent summary of air force tactics (on all sides) in WWII including the basic fact that the British turned to night, area bombing because daytime precision bombing didn’t work and the losses were horrendous, as they would be for the Americans. (Gladwell to the contrary, Churchill’s pal Prof. Lindemann had little to do with it - he was an interfering crank and busybody.) The book has no sense of the dynamic of the war as it progressed. For one thing, the allies had to bomb Germany as much as they could to keep Stalin on side before DDay. The bloody slog of island hopping in the pacific against obdurate Japanese opposition ratcheted up the desperation to defeat Japan from the air, etc.etc. Also: since I don’t really trust Gladwell, I would like an independent source that the aviators in Alabama in the 1930s, coming up with a precision bombing doctrine, actually called themselves a “Mafia.” And: B29 Enola Gay did not drop both atomic bombs - Bock’s Car dropped the Nagasaki bomb.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    A remarkable audiobook with an interesting cast of characters. If you like WWII or Malcolm Gladwell, this is the book for you.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy Booty

    I have in the past read and thoroughly enjoyed pieces by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker, I have listened to and enjoyed his podcasts and I pre-ordered this book with great anticipation thinking that I would learn a different side to a subject I have read much about. I have never been so disappointed in the purchase of a book. This book centers on the Bomber Mafia, a group of aviators who developed a theory, widely shared, that war could be conducted by way air combat with little need for the I have in the past read and thoroughly enjoyed pieces by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker, I have listened to and enjoyed his podcasts and I pre-ordered this book with great anticipation thinking that I would learn a different side to a subject I have read much about. I have never been so disappointed in the purchase of a book. This book centers on the Bomber Mafia, a group of aviators who developed a theory, widely shared, that war could be conducted by way air combat with little need for the widespread bloody trench warfare and death of emblematic of WW I. To the extent that there can be hope for a civilized war, these folks had it. And it was shared by all of the allies prior to and at the outset of WWII. Civillians should not and would not be warred upon unless they were actually combatants or working in war related industries. Wars would be brief as the winner would be the one to first stop the enemy's capacity to make war by eliminating a needed resource. The British tried it, so did the Americans and the conclusion drawn by the war's leaders was that it did not work. The shift was made from bombing the producers of resources to bombing the populations of the countries themselves. This story has been told very well in a number of books and documentaries. Bombing Germany a documentary shown frequently on PBS comes to mind. Most of the many books on the Eight Airforce also do. Most recently, Twighlight of the Gods by Ian Tolland did a masterful job in recounting the same events at the center of this book. Gladwell's effort looks and reads like a paper typed at the last minute by a highschool student . The book is slim, the type looks like it was set for someone with impaired vision. Large numbers of long quotes from very few sources predominate. Professor Tami Biddle is cited 8 times in the index and most of those represent paragraphs in a book which is 206 pages long. I honestly think she should be listed as co-author. Last but not least, Gladwell comes to a simplistic conclusion about a complex subject still argued about today. Do not buy this book.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Leah

    This is not the typical psychological deep dive as all of Malcolm's previous books. It was more like a neat project that he was always interested in so he researched it and decided to share it. If you are interested in the World Wars, Planes, Bomber planes, precision bombing, strategic initiatives, progress, then this book is for you. The book does provide some thought provoking topics that make you think psychologically, philosophically, and morally. I think the most interesting thing for me was This is not the typical psychological deep dive as all of Malcolm's previous books. It was more like a neat project that he was always interested in so he researched it and decided to share it. If you are interested in the World Wars, Planes, Bomber planes, precision bombing, strategic initiatives, progress, then this book is for you. The book does provide some thought provoking topics that make you think psychologically, philosophically, and morally. I think the most interesting thing for me was how difficult it was to bomb precisely if at all. There were so many factors like weather, speed of the plan, altitude, the tilt and spin of the earth lol

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    A deep dive into a forgotten issue from WWII through the eyes of two men - Haywood Hansell and Curtis LaMay. The question - do you save lives by shrinking war, or by expanding it? As always with Gladwell the best parts are the fascinating nuggets he digs up during his extensive research - the history of the Norden bomb site, the 1936 flood in Pittsburgh that started a domino effect halting airplane production and launching the “chokepoint” theory, the Americans discovering the existence of the Je A deep dive into a forgotten issue from WWII through the eyes of two men - Haywood Hansell and Curtis LaMay. The question - do you save lives by shrinking war, or by expanding it? As always with Gladwell the best parts are the fascinating nuggets he digs up during his extensive research - the history of the Norden bomb site, the 1936 flood in Pittsburgh that started a domino effect halting airplane production and launching the “chokepoint” theory, the Americans discovering the existence of the Jet Stream at the exact worst time, the air route over the Himalayas known as “The Hump” or “The Aluminum Trail” because of all the planes that crashed.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Walter

    This book gets a solid "Meh" from me. Mainly, I had some issues with his thesis which starts out with a group of idealists termed the "Bomber Mafia" who sought to use technology such as the novel bomb-sights, to carry out precision bombing while minimizing innocent loss of life. This, of course, was in direct opposition to the bombing philosophy of Curtis Lemay, who believed in area bombing and the destruction of civilian targets in order to obliterate the enemy's morale. He was the brain behind This book gets a solid "Meh" from me. Mainly, I had some issues with his thesis which starts out with a group of idealists termed the "Bomber Mafia" who sought to use technology such as the novel bomb-sights, to carry out precision bombing while minimizing innocent loss of life. This, of course, was in direct opposition to the bombing philosophy of Curtis Lemay, who believed in area bombing and the destruction of civilian targets in order to obliterate the enemy's morale. He was the brain behind the firebombing of Tokyo, which killed thousands indiscriminately. Now, if you name the book after the "good-guys" i.e. the precision bombing crews, you'd expect them to get the upper hand at some point. Nope. The book pretty much confirms that, given the time period and the technology available, the quickest way to end the war was to carpet bomb everything to hell. Lemay was right. The end. It's a muddled and confused book, It's like starting your argument claiming you're about to prove the existence of God, but you conclude turning into an atheist... But Gladwell is a gifted storyteller and it did keep me engaged throughout and at least I learned something.

  19. 4 out of 5

    David Quijano

    I make a point of reading every Malcolm Gladwell book. I also listen to his podcast. When I learned he was writing a book titled The Bomber Mafia, I figured there would be a lot of overlap with his podcast and I was right. This resulting book, which was made as an audiobook first, then converted into written form, is basically a slightly more detailed version of his series of podcast episodes on the same subject. The Bomber Mafia is the story of a group of intellectuals within the US military who I make a point of reading every Malcolm Gladwell book. I also listen to his podcast. When I learned he was writing a book titled The Bomber Mafia, I figured there would be a lot of overlap with his podcast and I was right. This resulting book, which was made as an audiobook first, then converted into written form, is basically a slightly more detailed version of his series of podcast episodes on the same subject. The Bomber Mafia is the story of a group of intellectuals within the US military who pioneered the idea of precision bombing prior to WWII. The idea was to make wars shorter, less deadly, and, therefore, more humane. The “Bomber Mafia” figured that a relatively small number of strategically placed bombs could take out the infrastructure critical to executing a war. Additionally, they hoped to bomb from high altitudes, making their bombing crews less vulnerable to the defenses of another country. The overall goal was for the United States to be able to cripple another country with almost no cost to our own forces. In order to achieve this goal, the group pushed the military to adopt new technologies that would make precision bombing possible, and once it became clear that war was imminent, they hoped their ideas would help bring a swift end to the war. Unfortunately, WWII didn’t play out the way the “Bomber Mafia” hoped. It turned out that the jet stream, which was previously a mostly unknown phenomenon, made bombing at high altitudes in Japan impossible with the technology at the time. Furthermore, precision bombing required the bombing crews to be able to see the targets. This meant that bombing had to take place during the day and at low altitudes. The issue was further complicated by the fact that weather made visibility impossible in much of Japan and Europe during WWII. Gladwell illustrates the difficulty of bombing Japan by describing one mission that took place in 1944. At the time, the only way to bomb mainland Japan was to use India as a base for the attack, refuel in China, and continue onto Kyushu, the southernmost part of Japan and the only part within the range of their bombers. On this particular mission, ninety-two B29’s left Calcutta, India, but only seventy-nine made it to China. Due to weather and mechanical issues, only forty-seven actually made it to the target (a steelworks) on Kyushu. Of those, only fifteen actually saw the factory and one was able to hit the target. It didn’t take long for people to realize that the strategy was not effective. Not only was precision bombing an oxymoron due to technological limitations, but these daytime, low-altitude bombing missions came with heavy casualties. Soon the Americans realized that if you take the goal of precision out of the bombing missions, you could fly at night, and even in bad weather, and greatly increase the chances of survival while still doing some damage to the enemy. The Bomber Mafia is an interesting book and kind of a deep dive into a very specific part of history. I have often wondered why the British and Americans resorted to indiscriminate bombing during WWII after it was clear that it didn’t work against the Brits during the Battle of Britain. Gladwell does a good job addressing questions like this, but where he succeeds most is showing how far American policy had to come to arrive at their conclusion. America was committed to precision bombing in the lead up to WWII and Gladwell shows that even if that policy lost out in the short-term, it won in the long-term. The Bomber Mafia is a good book. Gladwell presents this great moral debate amongst the US military during WWII: to bomb civilians, or not. It would have been easy for him to shit all over Curtis LeMay (the guy in charge of bombing Japan near the end of the war), but instead Gladwell is pretty fair to him. LeMay was trying to win a war, and although the strategy was awful, it is understandable given the circumstances. Gladwell also includes a recounting of the fire-bombing of Japan from the perspective of a survivor. Again, Gladwell just did a good job at presenting information from all sides and was quite thoughtful. At times, Gladwell can be too “hot take” for me. He completely avoids that in this book. My only real issue with this book is that it is very narrow in scope, and mostly covers info that was in his podcast. For people into this subject, I think The Splendid and the Vile, which covers the Battle of Britain) would make a great companion read with The Bomber Mafia. I would recommend this book to anyone who is into pop history or a fan of Malcolm Gladwell. I give it 3.5 stars.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Bill Kupersmith

    I'm not sure what lessons we can learn today for the story of the visionaries in the US Army Air Corps (as it then was) of the 1930s who were trying to divise techniques to win a war with a minimum of unnecessary suffering and bloodshed. The idea was to attack the enemy's warmaking capacity by striking critical targets, factories making essential components such as ball bearings. Which required optical/mechanical devices to enable an aircraft 30,000 feet flying at 300 mph to deliver a bomb into I'm not sure what lessons we can learn today for the story of the visionaries in the US Army Air Corps (as it then was) of the 1930s who were trying to divise techniques to win a war with a minimum of unnecessary suffering and bloodshed. The idea was to attack the enemy's warmaking capacity by striking critical targets, factories making essential components such as ball bearings. Which required optical/mechanical devices to enable an aircraft 30,000 feet flying at 300 mph to deliver a bomb into an area, if not quite a pickle barrel, at least as small as a school car park. Which proved costly against Germany and impossible against Japan. The hero of this book is Haywood Hansell and though his successor in the air offensive against Japsn Curtis LeMay is not exactly the villain, the firebombing campaign LeMay initiated was totally opposite everything Hansell and the "Bomber Mafia" envisioned, causing more than 100,000 deaths of innocent civilians. And that was before the two atomic bombs were dropped. Since the Second World War microchips and lasers have made possible precision beyond the dreams of those visionaries, but in the past seventy-five years there have fortunately been no serious armed conflicts between industrialized nations. The role of bombers in World War II is still debated. by military historians. Ironically, neither Germany nor Japan had a strategic bomber force even though they gave us the Blitz and the Pearl Harbor attack. It was the British and Americans who conducted the bomber offensive against German and Japanese cities. Some think it was simply a war crime, others that it provided ancillary support in shortening the war but never lived up to the predictions of its enthusiasts. Neither Korea or Vietnam, nor the Middle East, have provided the kind of targets that strategic bombing was expected to destroy. Air Power has been employed almost entirely in tactical combat roles, often against irregular forces. Looking towards East Asia, however, one can see ominous possibilites once again for large-scale precision weapons, probably launched at huge distances from ships and land installations.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Darla

    This book totally obliterated my long held perceptions of the war in the Pacific. I would have preferred to listen to the book as it was originally a podcast. Since my library only had the book version, I decided to jump on the hold list and consume the information in that format. From the very beginning, Gladwell sets up the contrast between Haywood Hansell and Curtis LeMay. Both were generals and helped develop our Air Force from the ground up. They had a vision for using air power to shorten This book totally obliterated my long held perceptions of the war in the Pacific. I would have preferred to listen to the book as it was originally a podcast. Since my library only had the book version, I decided to jump on the hold list and consume the information in that format. From the very beginning, Gladwell sets up the contrast between Haywood Hansell and Curtis LeMay. Both were generals and helped develop our Air Force from the ground up. They had a vision for using air power to shorten wars and reduce collateral damage. Their story and the decisions they made had a direct impact on WW II and on warfare going forward. Fascinating and engrossing with Gladwell's signature style. Highly recommended!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Candie

    DNF I got a third of the way through this and just wasn't enjoying it at all. Please note though for people who enjoy Malcom Gladwell books, that I had no idea really what this book was about, I just saw his name and borrowed it. I have really enjoyed many of his books in the past but this is nothing like his other books. He usually writes books on social psychology and this is not that, it's more historical. I'm not even going to rate it because it just isn't a topic I enjoy, it's not that it wa DNF I got a third of the way through this and just wasn't enjoying it at all. Please note though for people who enjoy Malcom Gladwell books, that I had no idea really what this book was about, I just saw his name and borrowed it. I have really enjoyed many of his books in the past but this is nothing like his other books. He usually writes books on social psychology and this is not that, it's more historical. I'm not even going to rate it because it just isn't a topic I enjoy, it's not that it was a bad book. I don't think.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    Malcolm Gladwell mines academic research on technology, social sciences and crunches it to bring a rendition to the public eye. Among his popular early books are The Tipping Point (2000), Blink (2005), and Outliers (2008). But in Mafia Bomber: A Dream, a Temptation and the Longest Night of the Second World War (2021) he switches gears and tells us about the development and applications of air power before and during WWII. I have a personal interest in Gladwell's story and find it an interesting Malcolm Gladwell mines academic research on technology, social sciences and crunches it to bring a rendition to the public eye. Among his popular early books are The Tipping Point (2000), Blink (2005), and Outliers (2008). But in Mafia Bomber: A Dream, a Temptation and the Longest Night of the Second World War (2021) he switches gears and tells us about the development and applications of air power before and during WWII. I have a personal interest in Gladwell's story and find it an interesting perspective that will add little to the brain pan of WWII air buffs. Still, it is a concise (180 pages) summary of the high points of the benefits of new technology and new ideas in the air war in Europe and the Pacific. The only downside in the book is an occasional and light moral pummeling when Gladwell inserts himself in his topic—I'll also use that privilege. Preparing for War: The Bomber Mafia In the post-WWI period America's air power was the province of the Army Air Corps under the Department of the Army. Air Corps officers felt that the protocols of an Army once dominated by the cavalry didn't fit the age of air. A decision was made to form an Air Corps Tactical School (ACTS)—a university of the air—to study air technology and tactics, and to bring those lessons into pilot training. The place chosen was Maxwell Field in Montgomery, Alabama, as far from the regular Army as possible. Maxwell had been an aviation repair facility after WWI and was a pilot training center. The ACTS was formed there in 1931 for both pilot training and research into air power. The dozen or so ACTS faculty—the Bomber Mafia—were outcasts from the regular Army devoted to developing the airplane as a bomber. Among the early members was Claire Chennault, whose grandstanding was unappreciated and he was drummed out. The Bomber Mafia set to work to develop new tactics and technology for delivering explosives to the most needy. They pursued topics like aluminum and steel skins, larger engines, and aids to high-altitude daylight bombing. The latter was the adoption of the Norden bombsight, a complicated device invented by Carl Norden, a Dutch inventor, to reduce deaths by improving the precision of bombing. The Norden bombsite was designed for pinpoint ("pickle barrel") accuracy from altitudes as high as 30,000 feet, well above the reach of the fighter planes of the day. It would usher in a new era of precision high-altitude daylight bombing (called "strategic bombing") that could pinpoint military facilities—aircraft factories and their supply chains, oil storage facilities, and so on. This would limit collateral damage by delivering the packages directly to the target. Or so it was hoped. Strategic Bombing The new Norden bombsight was placed on the B-17 "Heavy Bomber" that dominated the Eighth Air Force's bomber arsenal in Europe. It would later become a key instrument on the B-29 "Very Heavy Bomber" assigned to the Pacific Theater's newly-formed XXI Bomber Command of the newly-formed Twentieth Air Force. It's first test was two back-to-back attacks on the German ball-bearing facilities at Schweinfurt, Germany. According to the post-war Strategic Bombing Survey the results were disappointing: Schweinfurt's ball-bearing production was cut by about one-third but alternative sources of ball-bearings existed in Sweden so there was no noticeable effect on the Luftwaffe's capability while the facilities were rebuilt. The cost of this miniscule result was 60 B-17s were lost and over 500 airmen killed, wounded, or captured. It was not a good start. This set off a debate over two competing air tactics to force an enemy to give up: the new high-altitude daylight bombing of military facilities—Strategic Bombing—and the age old "let's just kill them all" tactic of area bombing: bomb the daylights out of the general population and force the civilians to revolt or in some other way get their government to concede. Area Bombing Gladwell considers Professor Frederick Lindemann to be the architect of Britain's area bombing in Europe. He reports that in 1960 the British writer and physical chemist C. P. Snow gave a lecture at Harvard University on WWII. In it Snow praised-with-damnation the contributions to the British war effort of an anglicized German physicist named Frederick Lindemann. We know of Lindemann as Churchill's close friend and key science advisor, the man who scrounged up the numbers Churchill used when he told Parliament (and anyone who'd listen) that German aircraft production and the inventory of Luftwaffe's war planes, was far greater than government figures indicated. Lindemann had received his Ph. D. in Germany before WWI. As the son of a wealthy German engineer and an American heiress, Lindemann was enormously wealthy so he fit nicely into Churchill's notions of leadership-by-aristocracy. Lindemann was, in effect, Churchill's secret weapon, the perfect counterpoint (Gladwell says) to Churchill's "poor common sense and numerical illiteracy." [Geez, Malcolm!] Lindemann's influence went well beyond recording the numbers. He also eschewed the notion of strategic bombing of military facilities as a road to victory, believing instead in area bombing—obliterating vast areas of civilian territory to beat the population into submission and revolt. C. P. Snow's take on Lindemann was that as brilliant as he was, he never required evidence to back up the superiority of area bombing. Indeed, area bombing was Hitler's strategy in the Battle of Britain, where its effect seems to have been only to solidify English sentiment against Germany rather than induce rebellion against the British government. Churchill was open to Lindemann's area bombing—think Dresden and Cologne—and he appointed General Arthur "Bomber" Harris, aka "The Butcher," to lead Britain's bomber command. Gladwell claims that Harris was simply a psychopath; perhaps so, but could that be a winning psychology in total war? Sadly, wars are rarely won by specific strategies; they're won by pummeling the opponent until he no longer has the resources or the will to continue. And there will be blood! The Pacific Air War The Marianas Islands—Guam, Tinian and Saipan—were situated 1,400 miles from Tokyo, a 14-hour round trip well outside the range of any existing aircraft until the B-29 arrived. This was a high-altitude plane (30,000 feet) with a pressurized and heated fuselage that cruised at 200 miles per hour, carried eleven crew members, had a sizeable and payload including 5,000 gallons of fuel, bristled with .50-caliber machine guns, and had a range of over 3,000 miles. It would arrive in November, 1944 and the three Marianas islands would become its platform. Guam was the first of the Japanese-occupied Marianas islands to be taken, followed by Tinian and, in July of 1944, Tinian's very close neighbor Saipan. Construction began on several of the largest airports in the world, topping out with Tinian's North Field and it's four 8,500-foot runways. From these "airports" the newly-created Twentieth Army Air Force—headed by General Haywood Hansel Jr, the former Eighth Air Force chief planner—launched the new B-29 bombers that could make the trip to Japan or Korea, and back. These bombers eventually became a 1,000-strong fleet of B-29s dedicated, at least initially, to long-distance high-altitude pinpoint bombing. The notion of precision high-altitude bombing of Japan failed to meet expectations just as it had in Europe. Clouds and smoke obscured vision and the newly-discovered Jet Stream that passed directly over Japan, emasculated the bombsight: it buffeted the bombsight, caused sudden and sharp increases and decreases in the aircraft’s over-ground velocity, and altered the arc of the bombs. Efforts to bomb by radar in periods of bad visibility were equally ineffective. Strategic bombing had failed both in Europe and the Pacific. A new approach was needed, and that new approach was the oldest of all—area bombing. In January of 1945 Hansell—a strong devotee of strategic bombing—was replaced by the pugnacious General Curtis Lemay, his former Eighth Air Force boss and a strong supporter of area bombing. Gladwell does not welcome this change: Hansell was a moral man who worried about the effect of his decisions on others—Gladwell appreciates that; LeMay was a brute who believed that shortening a war saved lives and that there is no way to soften war's effect on a population. LeMay launched his new approach with an overnight mission to Tokyo on March 9-10, 1945 using low-level (5,000-foot) nighttime incendiary bombing of Tokyo's urban center. The mission, called "Meetinghouse," used the M-36 bomb—a container packed with a brand-new product called "napalm." The result of Meetinghouse was devastating: in a night that the Japanese called "the Night of the Black Snow," sixteen square miles of Tokyo were burned out and an estimated 80,000-100,000 civilians died (more than in either Dresden or Hiroshima). The new firebombing tactic did what LeMay wanted: it brought death and terror to the Japanese population, and it destroyed many of the many small military goods-producing businesses interspersed in residential areas. That part of the military supply chain provided, inter alia, aircraft parts. From that mission point on, low-level nighttime incendiary bombing replaced high-altitude daytime attack with conventional bombs. Strategic bombing had been tried and it had failed. The thrust of the B-29 design's mission as a high-altitude precision bomber was lost—no longer would its high-altitude properties be needed. Of course, today LeMay is remembered, if at all, as the poster child for indiscriminate murder of civilians, just as Truman is remembered by those who don't care about context as a mad murderer-by-A bomb. But this "madness" would eventually bring a remarkably intransigent enemy to heel, an enemy who, by the way, had not shown any mercy to the Chinese population during its occupation of parts of that country, or to the Korean population after Japan's 1910 annexation. Conclusion Jump ahead seventy-five years to a time when high-altitude precision bombing is not only possible, but expected. The B-2 Bomber, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles can literally guide a bomb into the pickle barrel. New technology has filled the gap left empty in 1945. Gladwell's conclusion from this is: Lemay won the battle. Hansell won the war. As far as I can tell, this is sheer sophistry.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Emma Hinkle

    Fascinating book about the beginnings of precision bombing in WWII. Highly recommend listening to this book as an audio book because it has interviews with people and Gladwell himself narrating.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Kukwa

    It's a fast yet absorbing read...but what I would usually rate 4 stars is knocked down to 3 stars for its conclusion. The author claims the Bomber Mafia's religious zeal in developing precision bombing wins over Curtis LeMay's approach, thanks to the development of modern guided missiles and bombs. But he doesn't seem to realize that precision guided ordinance does NOT win wars. If that was the case, Afghanistan would have been done and dusted ages ago. Bombing isn't capable of eliminating North It's a fast yet absorbing read...but what I would usually rate 4 stars is knocked down to 3 stars for its conclusion. The author claims the Bomber Mafia's religious zeal in developing precision bombing wins over Curtis LeMay's approach, thanks to the development of modern guided missiles and bombs. But he doesn't seem to realize that precision guided ordinance does NOT win wars. If that was the case, Afghanistan would have been done and dusted ages ago. Bombing isn't capable of eliminating North Korean or Iranian nuclear technology. A conflict with China and Korea would not be won with such weapons...ground forces would be required. The story of the struggle to develop precision bombing is fascinating, but I don't believe the author has actually learned the correct lesson from the story.

  26. 4 out of 5

    David

    An interesting read, about the American air corps bomber doctrine during the second world war. The book focuses on 3 main people, Curtis Lemay & General Hansell and the inventor of the Norden bombsight Carl Norden, who enabled the "bomber mafia" to create and push forward the doctrine of precision bombing. The book takes a brief look at the efforts of bomber command in the European theatre but mainly concentrates on the Pacific and Lemay and his doctrine of area bombing like the British. It was an An interesting read, about the American air corps bomber doctrine during the second world war. The book focuses on 3 main people, Curtis Lemay & General Hansell and the inventor of the Norden bombsight Carl Norden, who enabled the "bomber mafia" to create and push forward the doctrine of precision bombing. The book takes a brief look at the efforts of bomber command in the European theatre but mainly concentrates on the Pacific and Lemay and his doctrine of area bombing like the British. It was an enjoyable book to read and is a good look at the competing factions who created American bomber doctrine asking the question, which would win a war quicker, short sharp precision attacks or mass area bombing A worthwhile read, but only briefly examines a complex and moral issue. For people who agonise over Dresden and Bomber Commands area bombing, reading this and learning about the Americans using napalm on the fire raids and the destruction wreaked on Japan, causing more devastation than Bomber Command did to Germany. The first Malcolm Gladwell book I have read and will read more. Thank you to the publishers and to Net Galley for the advanced copy to review.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Patrick

    You can find me on booktube here. I was very disappointed. When I read a Gladwell book, I expect to learn something I didn't know or at least look at a situation differently than I would normally look at it. That's not this book. I also hesitate to even call this a book, because everything that was covered could have also been done as a podcast. After reading the book, I found out that Gladwell did have a podcast on this same topic. Knowing that, I can't help but think the book was a cash grab. You can find me on booktube here. I was very disappointed. When I read a Gladwell book, I expect to learn something I didn't know or at least look at a situation differently than I would normally look at it. That's not this book. I also hesitate to even call this a book, because everything that was covered could have also been done as a podcast. After reading the book, I found out that Gladwell did have a podcast on this same topic. Knowing that, I can't help but think the book was a cash grab.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rob

    Most military thinkers in the years leading up to World War II saw the airplane as an afterthought. But a small group of idealistic strategists at Maxwell Air Field in Montgomery, Alabama, had a different view. This “Bomber Mafia,” as they were to be known, 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?” Gladwell explores the development of Carl Norden’s revolutionary bomb sig Most military thinkers in the years leading up to World War II saw the airplane as an afterthought. But a small group of idealistic strategists at Maxwell Air Field in Montgomery, Alabama, had a different view. This “Bomber Mafia,” as they were to be known, 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?” Gladwell explores the development of Carl Norden’s revolutionary bomb sight – placing a bomb in a pickle barrel from 35,000 feet – and how it changed the bombing strategy over Germany during World War II. And then came the war in the Pacific and the formidable Jet Stream, which threw high-altitude precision bombing out the window. Enter General Curtis LeMay and the development of napalm. The firebombing of Tokyo and the rest of Japan was the brainchild of General LeMay, whose brutal pragmatism and scorched-earth tactics cost tens of thousands of civilian lives, but may have spared more by averting a planned US invasion. The firebombing and the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan created a moral dilemma that we’ve been debating for years. The “Bomber Mafia” does a good job helping to explain the rationale for those actions. It's an interesting read, a great history lesson examining the incalculable wages of war.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sarmat Chowdhury

    A surprise release from Gladwell, the book was released first as an audiobook because it played on his podcast “Revisionist History” and later on was published for release, and from the shortness of the book, along with the content shift from Gladwell normally writes about, “The Bomber Mafia” is a historical look at a a more obscure portion of air warfare history, and the divide between making war efficient and preventing civilian casualties, vs the need to win at any cost. While I did find the A surprise release from Gladwell, the book was released first as an audiobook because it played on his podcast “Revisionist History” and later on was published for release, and from the shortness of the book, along with the content shift from Gladwell normally writes about, “The Bomber Mafia” is a historical look at a a more obscure portion of air warfare history, and the divide between making war efficient and preventing civilian casualties, vs the need to win at any cost. While I did find the division of chapters to be slightly erratic in what they discussed outside of a chronological timeline, I also didn’t see the merit in grouping these individuals together because towards the part II in the book they don’t even become relevant to that story. It’s an interesting look at again, niche history. The story of how those in the cabal attempted to push for precision bombing to minimize the death of civilians, and how those already in the military and tasked with winning didn’t acknowledge their research - even though, their work has influenced how these missions are conducted.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ivan

    Love the concept of audio-first production (think podcast turned into a book). First half strong but it sort of petered out. Still, Gladwell is great storyteller and it’s especially worth the listen if you’re into all-things-WWII.

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