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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

    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.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Nate

    Got an advance copy of Bomber Mafia through a Goodreads giveaway. Thank you, Goodreads! I'll be thinking about this book for a while. It was a very different type of Malcolm Gladwell book, yet it is perfectly Gladwellian. I didn't realize that he had approached this topic in his Revisionist History podcast, since I don't listen to a lot of them, but as I was reading, I kept thinking that I felt like I was reading a podcast. In typical Gladwell fashion, he packs an amazingly rich story into a remar Got an advance copy of Bomber Mafia through a Goodreads giveaway. Thank you, Goodreads! I'll be thinking about this book for a while. It was a very different type of Malcolm Gladwell book, yet it is perfectly Gladwellian. I didn't realize that he had approached this topic in his Revisionist History podcast, since I don't listen to a lot of them, but as I was reading, I kept thinking that I felt like I was reading a podcast. In typical Gladwell fashion, he packs an amazingly rich story into a remarkably few pages, looking at something we think we know or take for granted from a completely new angle. And throughout, it felt like he was calling on themes from his other books. Bill Gates in Tipping Point. There's a bit of David & Goliath. There's a bit of Markopolous' morality from Talking To Strangers. And for good measure, there's a little Dr. Strangelove and Catch-22 thrown in, as well. The Bomber Mafia is the story of many things. It's a story of hubris. It's a story of unintended consequences. It's the story if innovation. And, at its heart it's a morality tale. Gladwell asks, through a cast of people with very different outlooks on the world, what is the best way to wage a war? He sets the stage by exploring the idealism of Gen. Hansell against the pragmatism of Gen. Lemay. As The Bomber Mafia was coming to a close, I was surprised at how my own opinions had changed over the course of the 200 pages. I guess that's the mark of a great storyteller. Gladwell leads you through a complicated chapter at the nexus of warfare, technological change and a changing world and lets you explore what you think you knew from a completely new viewpoint. Fantastic book. And now I'll be subscribing to Revisionist History as a result.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Wallace

    I listened to the audiobook. It was an excellent use of the medium with interview audio clips and sound effects. Not the authors most compelling work, but very good compared to most military history books I’ve read. It’s extremely quick to listen to and therefore very much worth your time.

  4. 5 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.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Steven Z.

    For the last few years, the historiography of allied bombing during World War II has undergone much greater scrutiny. The death and destruction of civilians and their property has been labeled as unethical and immoral as cities such as Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo and of course German bombing of allied cities experienced a level of violence that was unprecedented when compared to the pre-World War II era. The role of technology in the process cannot be downplayed without which the carnage of war woul For the last few years, the historiography of allied bombing during World War II has undergone much greater scrutiny. The death and destruction of civilians and their property has been labeled as unethical and immoral as cities such as Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo and of course German bombing of allied cities experienced a level of violence that was unprecedented when compared to the pre-World War II era. The role of technology in the process cannot be downplayed without which the carnage of war would not have reached the levels it did. Malcom Gladwell, the spirited writer for The New Yorker normally explores the realm of social psychology, but in his latest work, THE BOMBER MAFIA: A DREAM, A TEMPTATION, AND THE LONGEST NIGHT OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR he turns his focus on to a group known as the “Bomber Mafia” that argued for a new type of bombing during wartime. The group was made up of generals who went against the standard view of warfare put forth by the U.S. Army and Navy and broke away from the ideology of the Army Air Corps and set up the Army Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell Field in Montgomery, Alabama. Gladwell’s focus is on four generals particularly the much maligned Air Force General Curtis LeMay who led and designed American air power that culminated in the firebombing destruction of German and Japanese cities. Gladwell creates the juxtaposition of Air Force General Haywood Hansell who tried to win the war in the Pacific Theater through precision bombing of Japan. According to Gladwell this strategy was unsuccessful and gave way to LeMay’s approach whose goal was to win the war against Japan as soon as possible by saturating Tokyo with napalm bombs which would result in the death of over 100,000 people in just a few hours and went on to firebomb other Japanese cities killing thousands of civilians that held no strategic value. Gladwell concludes that LeMay’s approach followed by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war and set the United States and Japan on the road to peace and prosperity much quicker than had Washington pursued a more conventional approach to warfare into 1946 that would have killed millions of Japanese civilians and who knows how many American soldiers. Gladwell’s work can be considered anti-revisionist or the new revisionism as without mentioning the likes of Gar Alperovitz’s ATOMIC DIPLOMACY, he purports that the United States pursued their strategy to end the war quickly and was not sending a message that would spark the Cold War. Gladwell’s fascination with “bombing” during World War II stems from his childhood in London where his father recounted the horrors brought on by the German Luftwaffe over the English capitol and other cities. As Gladwell mines his topic, he includes portraits of the most important characters involved. Men like General Haywood Hansell; General Lauris Norstad who fired Hansell; General Curtis Le May; General Ira Eaker, the head of the 8th Air Force bombers stationed in England; Frederick Lindemann, a friend of Churchill who helped alter the British Prime Minister’s view of strategic bombing; RAF Marshall Arthur Harris, who doggedly opposed the new American approach to bombing; Louis Fieser, a Harvard chemistry professor, who is credited with developing a Dupont chemical along with E.B. Hershberg and created an incendiary gel known as napalm; and perhaps the most important person in the process, Carl L. Norden, the inventor of the “bombsight” that allowed true precision bombing are all explored among a number of others. Gladwell is correct when he argues that the firing of Hansell in Guam on January 6, 1945 set the United States on a strategic road that still reverberates today. Gladwell states his goal in writing the book was to present what led up to the firing of Hansell, what changes were made, and how the shift in US strategy had implications for the war itself and the future conduct of warfare. For Gladwell, “THE BOMBER MAFIA is a case study in how dreams go awry.” A strategy designed to save lives during wartime in the end did not result in the goals set out by this group of Air Force Generals. Instead, a Dutch genius and his home made computer who developed the 55 pound bombsight; a “band of brothers” in Alabama; a British psychopath; and pyromaniacal chemists in basement labs at Harvard were responsible for the creation of a weapon that still affects us on a daily basis. Gladwell begins by explaining how difficult it is to successfully hit a target on the ground from thousands of feet in the air. The key to solving this conundrum was the work of Carl Norden who began working on his bombsight in the 1920s. After its development it would take six months to be trained on the Norden bombsight and if it were a success these powerful men thought we would no longer need to leave young men dead on the battlefield or lay waste to entire cities. War would be made “precise and quick and almost bloodless. Almost.” The Bomber Mafia’s mantra was “high altitude. Daylight. Precision bombing.” These men had a radical mind set much different than the army and navy and passionately believed that they were pursuing a revolutionary goal. Gladwell explores this group with deft, but not overwhelming detail and to lighten the reader a bit he provides priceless descriptions of a number of characters. The nicknames he provides labeling Arthur Harris as “Butcher Harris,” Carl Norden as “old man dynamite,” a devoted Christian who believed he was saving lives, Haywood Hansell was called possum, and Curtis LeMay was described as “brutal” by Robert McNamara as all provide insights to the type of people that Gladwell describes. One of the major strengths of Gladwell’s narrative is how he integrates historical experts, World War II aviators, and comments by other participants providing the reader with greater insight than most into the thinking of the major characters. These characters would be successful in their mission to end the war early but by 1943 they had hit a wall as disagreements with the British, missions that failed to live up to expectations, and inter-service rivalries played a role. What is interesting is that LeMay was not part of the “Bomber Mafia” circle. He was drawn to practical challenges and doctrine left him cold. Gladwell’s digressions are entertaining but also educational as he pontificates on weather technology, cloud formations and wind over Japan, along with descriptions of certain chemicals and their strengths and weaknesses. One of those chemicals would lead to the development of napalm a discovery that probably did more to end the war than Norden’s bombsight. Napalm was chosen by LeMay as the key component in devastating Japan and ending the war quickly. Once he took over the 21st Bomber Command from Hansell in January 1945 he would soon realize the difficulties that Hansell faced and the obstacles in directing precision bombing against Japanese industrial capacity on the mainland. LeMay changed American bombing strategy by adopting a low flying approach that was the antithesis of the Bomber Mafia’s methodology. Gladwell’s chapter “It’s All Ashes” is an incisive look at how LeMay’s personality and modus operandi would lead to the events of the night of March 9, 1945. Gladwell describes LeMay as suppressing his own nerves and fears as he focuses on the mission that ultimately dropped 1,665 tons of napalm on Tokyo over a three hour period burning everything for sixteen square miles and the death of over 100,000 people. LeMay’s planes would continue to wreak havoc, death, and devastation on 67 Japanese cities killing at least 500,000 or perhaps 1,000,000 people before the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After the atomic explosions LeMay continued to bomb Japanese cities as he believed the nuclear attacks were superfluous as the hard work had already been done. One can debate the necessity for this type of devastation, but Gladwell is correct in arguing that it was so effective that it must be given credit for shortening the war. In summation it is clear Gladwell has written an informative and important new slant on World War II bombing and I agree with historian, Diana Preston’s conclusions in her April 23, 2021 review in the Washington Post, “Gladwell does however confront us with difficult questions: “Ask yourself — What would I have done?” he suggests at one point. In so doing he has produced a thought-provoking, accessible account of how people respond to difficult choices in difficult times. Albert Einstein once warned that “our technology has exceeded our humanity.” Gladwell suggests that, given their concern not to cross a moral line, the Bomber Mafia would have approved of modern technical innovations like the B-2 stealth bomber, capable of precision strikes on military targets while minimizing civilian casualties. Yet ingenuity and conscience always sit uneasily in warfare, and Einstein’s warning should not be forgotten.” But in the end Gladwell is correct as high altitude precision bombing soon replaced firebombing – “Curtis LeMay won the battle. Haywood Hansell won the war.”

  6. 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!).

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    Meh. This should have been a podcast episode, or a *short* New Yorker story. Gladwell blows it up into a short book by adding a little filler material, and a lot of excess verbosity. It is a good story, even if it is only very shallowly told, I guess without much research. We never learn anything about the Norden bombsight, for example, despite its centrality to the story. The Wikipedia article goes into far more detail. Gladwell has a thesis, but the story doesn't support it. Oddly, he doesn't Meh. This should have been a podcast episode, or a *short* New Yorker story. Gladwell blows it up into a short book by adding a little filler material, and a lot of excess verbosity. It is a good story, even if it is only very shallowly told, I guess without much research. We never learn anything about the Norden bombsight, for example, despite its centrality to the story. The Wikipedia article goes into far more detail. Gladwell has a thesis, but the story doesn't support it. Oddly, he doesn't even seem to try to support it. He just states the thesis repeatedly. I like when historians try to find meaning in their history, even if it is debatable. But in this case, I don't know what to think, Gladwell's approach is so bizarre. > In America, at the Air Corps Tactical School, the Bomber Mafia dreamed of a world where bombs were used with dazzling precision. Lindemann went out of his way to promote the opposite approach—and the only explanation Snow could come up with is personal. Lindemann was just a sadist. He found it satisfying to reduce the cities of the enemy to rubble: “About him there hung a kind of atmosphere of indefinable malaise. You felt that he didn’t understand his own life well, and he wasn’t very good at coping with the major things. He was venomous; he was harsh-tongued; he had a malicious, sadistic sense of humor, but nevertheless you felt somehow he was lost.” > The most important fact about Carl Norden, the godfather of precision bombing, is not that he was a brilliant engineer or a hopeless eccentric. It’s that he was a devoted Christian. As historian Stephen McFarland puts it, You might wonder, if he thought he was being in service to humanity, why he would develop sights to help people drop bombs. And the reason was because he was a true believer that by making bombing accuracy better, he could save lives. > So LeMay said, Let’s try it. Let’s fly in straight. A seven-minute-long, straight and steady approach. And if that sounded suicidal—which it did to all his pilots—he added, I’m going to be the first to try it. In a 1942 bombing run over Saint-Nazaire, France, LeMay led the way. He took no evasive action. And what happened? His group put twice as many bombs on the target as any group had before. And they didn’t lose a single bomber. > In his memoir, Hitler’s minister of armaments and war production, Albert Speer, provides a detailed account of the Schweinfurt missions and what he calls “the enemy’s error.” He notes: “The attacks on the ball-bearing industry ceased abruptly. Thus, the Allies threw away success when it was already in their hands. Had they continued the attacks…with the same energy, we would quickly have been at our last gasp." > The first step was building the B-29 Superfortress, the greatest bomber ever built, with an effective range of more than three thousand miles. The next step was capturing a string of three tiny islands in the middle of the western Pacific: Saipan, Tinian, and Guam. They were the Mariana Islands, controlled by the Japanese. The Marianas were 1,500 miles across the water from Tokyo > Over the course of the war, how many American planes do you think crashed while trying to navigate over the Hump? Seven hundred. The flying route was called “the aluminum trail” because of all the debris scattered over the mountains. > The only way they could get gasoline to Chengdu was by flying the Hump. Sometimes, if they had a headwind, it took twelve gallons of a B-29’s gasoline to bring one gallon over the Hump. > Hottel first tried British thermite bombs, which were favored by the RAF commander Arthur Harris in his night raids on Germany. They compared those results with those of Hershberg and Fieser’s napalm, packed inside bombs that went by the name M69. > At one point, in late December, the second in command of the entire Army Air Forces, Lauris Norstad, gave Hansell a direct order: launch a napalm attack on the Japanese city of Nagoya as soon as possible. It was, in Norstad’s words, “an urgent requirement for planning purposes.” Hansell did a trial run and burned down a paltry three acres of the city. Then he grimaced, shrugged, delayed, promising to do something bigger at some point, maybe, when his other work was finished. > Then Norstad turned to Hansell, completely out of the blue, and said: You’re out. Curtis LeMay’s taking over. > Jet stream plus heavy cloud cover means low. Low means night. And the decision to switch to night raids means you can’t do precision bombing anymore > One of LeMay’s pilots once said that when he confessed his fears to LeMay, LeMay replied: “Ralph, you’re probably going to get killed, so it’s best to accept it. You’ll get along much better.” > After the firebombing of Tokyo in March of 1945, Curtis LeMay and the Twenty-First Bomber Command ran over the rest of Japan like wild animals. Osaka. Kure. Kobe. Nishinomiya. LeMay burned down 68.9 percent of Okayama, 85 percent of Tokushima, 99 percent of Toyama—sixty-seven Japanese cities in all over the course of half a year. In the chaos of war, it is impossible to say how many Japanese were killed—maybe half a million. Maybe a million. On August 6, the Enola Gay, a specially outfitted B-29, flew from the Marianas to Hiroshima and dropped the world’s first atomic bomb. Yet LeMay kept going. > LeMay’s firebombing campaign unfolded with none of that deliberation. There was no formal plan behind his summer rampage, no precise direction from his own superiors. To the extent that the war planners back in Washington conceived of a firebombing campaign, they thought of hitting six Japanese cities, not sixty-seven. By July, LeMay was bombing minor Japanese cities that had no strategically important industry at all—just people, living in tinderboxes > this Japanese historian believed: no firebombs and no atomic bombs, and the Japanese don’t surrender. And 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. > The Bomber Mafia: Harold George (above left), Donald Wilson (above right), Ira Eaker, and others were convinced that precision bombing, aimed at crucial choke points of the enemy’s supply chain, could win wars entirely from the air.

  8. 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.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Blair

    The Bomber Mafia, as the subtitle explains, is truly a book about “A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War”. It’s also a book about two competing versions of the world – one where technology has the potential to make the world a better place, and the other where the problems of the world sometimes cannot wait for technology to be perfected, and where the practical overrides the theoretical. Third, the book is about a subject that is rarely ever broached by either the The Bomber Mafia, as the subtitle explains, is truly a book about “A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War”. It’s also a book about two competing versions of the world – one where technology has the potential to make the world a better place, and the other where the problems of the world sometimes cannot wait for technology to be perfected, and where the practical overrides the theoretical. Third, the book is about a subject that is rarely ever broached by either the Allied Nations or Japanese – the bombing of Tokyo and 66 other Japanese cities at the close of World War II, where the vast majority were civilians. March 9, 1945 was one of the “Longest nights” and saddest moments of that War. Malcolm Gladwell demonstrates again with The Bomber Mafia, his incredible storytelling abilities. He carefully selects the ingredients that contribute to the setup, conflict and resolution of a great story. The Bomber Mafia takes place at a “changeover moment” in history and the choice of two optional protagonists could have resulted in a very different ending for the world. That’s because the event happened at a pivotal moment in history and the value systems and nature of the two protagonists were the opposite of each another. General Haywood Hansell was more of “thinker” and convert of the idea that precision bombing could lead to a more humane and less bloody war. In contrast, his replacement, General Curtis LeMay, was more of a “doer” and found that when the available technology could not help him, he resorted to brute force to achieve his aims. In the end this strategy worked because his brutal approach helped force Japan to surrender quickly, change direction, and rebuild with America’s help, into the powerhouse it is today. The vindication of this strategy happened in 1964, when the Japanese Government award Curtis LeMay the highest award their country could give to a foreigner – the First-Class Order of Merit of the Grand Cordon of the Rising Sun in appreciation for his rebuilding of the Japanese Air Force. It was also because the Japanese recognized they would not have surrendered without his “Improvised destruction”. It’s strange how things worked out. Gladwell’s experience as a writer seems to only grow with time as he knows how to lead the reader. A good example of this he stops the storytelling in Chapter 7 to take us on a detour of the development of Napalm, because it was important to the story and didn’t seem to fit elsewhere. So, he interrupts the flow of the book, stitched this bit of history into his tale and carries on. This demonstrates complete confidence that his readers would follow where he wanted them to go. I also like some of Gladwell ideas about mankind and its beliefs. Human beings are able to dream of noble causes and remain resolute to them, despite the odds. This is really the basis of The Bomber Mafia and its key representative Haywood Hansen. On the other there are practical people like the British and General Curtis LeMay who will do “Deals with the Devil” for expediency – including concluding a war quickly. We are complicated beings and are able to dream up and follow causes much bigger than ourselves. Yet at the same time we can be very brutal - especially to other human beings. Finally, I like Gladwell’s closing statement. “Curtis LeMay won the battle. Haywood Hansen won the war”. At the end of the book, both were heroes to me. This was a different type of book for Malcolm Gladwell, but in my opinion, The Bomber Mafia is definitely worth a read!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Cgallozzi

    Listened via Audible.com Very interesting take on aspects of WW II history - and the development of the 'Strategic Bomber' Doctrine - early in WW II - which (paraphrased) states that Air Power "will always get through" - and could destroy the enemy's war making capability with an economical loss of life. The 1920's had Billy Mitchell attempting to demonstrate the efficacy of Air Power - and a Curtis LeMay demonstration in the 1930's - but the U.S. Army Air Corps was the junior member of the U.S. A Listened via Audible.com Very interesting take on aspects of WW II history - and the development of the 'Strategic Bomber' Doctrine - early in WW II - which (paraphrased) states that Air Power "will always get through" - and could destroy the enemy's war making capability with an economical loss of life. The 1920's had Billy Mitchell attempting to demonstrate the efficacy of Air Power - and a Curtis LeMay demonstration in the 1930's - but the U.S. Army Air Corps was the junior member of the U.S. Armed Forces and was 'looking to prove itself'. The Bomber Mafia had advocates of Strategic Bombing to eliminate the enemy's war making capabilities - remained unproved after the Schweinfurt Raid - where the U.S. sustained heavy (25%) losses while only reducing the Ball Bearing output by a small percentage for a small period of time. LeMay's model was very pragmatic - he wasn't a 'big thinker' - he worked 'inside the lines' - and improved the practice and delivery of bombs on the targets - developed and improving a feedback loop (statistical section) - rating the effectiveness of the bomb damage. LeMay also developed a 'box formation' to both improve bombing accuracy and to give bombers a better chance to defend themselves. Same model in the Pacific. Lots of time and discussion about the development of Napalm and the firebombing of Tokyo in early 1945. LeMay thought the dropping of the Atom Bomb unnecessary (?) Very listenable - Malcolm Gladwell's breezy tone contrasts with the seriousness of the subject. I'm sure the charges of revisionist history are already printed about this book. I think the book has a serious viewpoint - what caused the Japanese to surrender is a complex question with many factors involved - the addition of the impact of Fire Bombing, difficulties in feeding the Japanese population (threat of mass starvation), the strategic perspective that Japan had lost the war - and if she held out - she would be invaded by both the Russians and the Americans simultaneously and then defeated and and then 'carved up' )as were Germany and Korea) - are to be included in the partial list of factors used in the decision making by the Japanese to 'end the war'. This was developed as an audio book initially - with the inclusion of the audio of interviews with several of the participants - I recognize this as a very interesting use of the 'new' technology. I don't agree with all of Gladwell's ideas/claims - however this book should be read and considered with reference to how one develops a Tactical Doctrine for the use of a new technology (the Heavy Bomber) - how both this new technology and this new tactical doctrine proves themselves; and what happens when the initial applications of the Tactical Doctrine are not considered a success. Worthy of a read and consideration - should be of interest to both world war II history fans - as well as students of how technology develops and distributes into the larger society. Carl Gallozzi [email protected]

  11. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    Date reviewed/posted: April 10, 2021 Publication date: April 27, 2021 When life for the entire galaxy and planet has turned on its end, you are continuing to #maskup and #lockdown to be in #COVID19 #socialisolation as the #thirdwave ( #fourthwave #fifthwave?) is upon us, superspeed readers like me can read 300+ pages/hour, so yes, I have read the book … and many more today. I requested and received a temporary digital Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley, the publisher and the author in Date reviewed/posted: April 10, 2021 Publication date: April 27, 2021 When life for the entire galaxy and planet has turned on its end, you are continuing to #maskup and #lockdown to be in #COVID19 #socialisolation as the #thirdwave ( #fourthwave #fifthwave?) is upon us, superspeed readers like me can read 300+ pages/hour, so yes, I have read the book … and many more today. I requested and received a temporary digital Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley, the publisher and the author in exchange for an honest review. From the publisher, as I do not repeat the contents or story of books in reviews, I let them do it as they do it better than I do 😸. The internationally bestselling author returns with an exploration of one of the grandest obsessions of the twentieth century 'The Bomber Mafia is a case study of how dreams go awry. When some shiny new idea drops from the heavens, it does not land softly in our laps. It lands hard, on the ground, and shatters.' In the 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? What if we could make the brutal clashes between armies on the ground a thing of the past? This book tells the story of what happened when that dream was put to the test. The Bomber Mafia follows the stories of a reclusive Dutch genius and his homemade computer, Winston Churchill's forbidding best friend, a team of pyromaniacal chemists at Harvard, a brilliant pilot who sang vaudeville tunes to his crew, and the bomber commander, Curtis Emerson LeMay, who would order the bloodiest attack of the Second World War. In this tale of innovation and obsession, Gladwell asks: what happens when technology and best intentions collide in the heat of war? And what is the price of progress? Okay, once again I am reviewing a book that people will ask for left, right and centre that I did not like...at all. Maybe it is because I find war to be both evil and stupid...I can see his point but it will pain me to recommend this to people asking "about the new Malcolm Gladwell". As a librarian, if I do not learn something new or get engaged in the characters, I make a decision: I did not truly read/finish the book (I skimmed through it) as there are too many good ones out there to read and review. That also applies to just being a lover of books --- if it isn't interesting, on to the next one! We all have the right to like different books, right?? (And descriptions I did not have to edit with Grammarly!)

  12. 4 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 5 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.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Caffers

    Really enjoyable audio narrated by the author. Gladwell has a soothing voice that's easy to listen to. I liked that he included sound effects and music and used different narrators for some of the historical figures. I'm not usually a fan of history stuff, but I found this a really interesting and entertaining listen. While I felt like there could have been more MEAT to the storytelling, regarding the actual subject of the book, I actually liked learning about some of the things that were not di Really enjoyable audio narrated by the author. Gladwell has a soothing voice that's easy to listen to. I liked that he included sound effects and music and used different narrators for some of the historical figures. I'm not usually a fan of history stuff, but I found this a really interesting and entertaining listen. While I felt like there could have been more MEAT to the storytelling, regarding the actual subject of the book, I actually liked learning about some of the things that were not directly about the theme. Such as Daniel Wegner's theory about transactive memory. I also got a kick out of the humorous bits pertaining to eccentric but brilliant Frederick Lindemann. I smiled about he and Einstein being friends and the bit regarding the proof. I re-listened to some of those parts. And hearing some of the quirky things regarding his good friend, Winston Churchill, made me want to look to see if there might be a book on him I'd enjoy. I did not know, for instance, that Churchill spent today's equivalent of $60,000 a year on alcohol! So, this was quite a nice listen. Time well spent. Quotes I made note of: Re Lindemann: He was a vegetarian and ate the same three things at every meal. "He enjoyed none of the sensual pleasures. He was the most cranky of all vegetarians. He wasn't only a vegetarian but he would only eat very minute fractions of what you might regard as a vegetarian diet. He lived mainly on Port Salut cheese, the whites of eggs --the yolks being apparently too animal-- olive oil and rice." The reader who told this story was most enjoyable. Re Wegner: "Psychologist Daniel Wegner has this beautiful concept called transactive memory which is the observation that we don't just store information in our mind, or in specific places. We store memories and understanding in the minds of the people we love. You don't need to remember your child's emotional relationship to her teacher because you know your wife will; you don't have to remember how to work the remote, because you know your daughter will. That's transactive memory. Little bits of ourselves reside in other people's minds. Regner has this heartbreaking riff about what one member of a couple will often say when their partner dies--that some part of them died along with them. That, Regner says, is literally true. When your partner dies, everything that you have stored in your partner's brain is gone."

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mark Blount

    There’s irony in Gladwell several times pointing out the difficulty of changing ones deep-felt beliefs in the face of overwhelming evidence that runs contrary to your beliefs. That’s because it was my own previous belief that Gladwell was only capable of outstanding work, and this “book” is doubtless flawed. It starts with noticing that the audio version is less than 5 hours long (and yet still full priced). And so I found it annoying just how much of that abbreviated audio uses space-filling mu There’s irony in Gladwell several times pointing out the difficulty of changing ones deep-felt beliefs in the face of overwhelming evidence that runs contrary to your beliefs. That’s because it was my own previous belief that Gladwell was only capable of outstanding work, and this “book” is doubtless flawed. It starts with noticing that the audio version is less than 5 hours long (and yet still full priced). And so I found it annoying just how much of that abbreviated audio uses space-filling music to start and end sections. It also began to feel like a cheap trick when that music turned ominous whenever Lemay was the topic. Gladwell does present both sides of opinion regarding Lemay, but the music definitely implies he’s the evil villain and it seems like a stunt to keep the listeners interest. In Chapter 6 he states three separate times the heavy bombers had to have strong tailwinds to take off from Tinian. Even a student pilot could tell you that’s exactly the opposite of what’s required. I’m ok with Gladwell not knowing that, but I’m not ok with Gladwells deep-pocketed editing resources not catching that gross error. Which unfortunately leads to questioning the accuracy of the rest of the book. The cadet chapel thing is silly. USAFAs chapel was built a half century after West Point and Annapolis. Of course it’s more modern. Redeeming qualities of the book, however, do exist. This is compelling material no matter the author. I already knew most of these stories but revelled nonetheless in a re-telling. And the old audio clips of some of the various subjects are fantastic. It’s a novel storytelling device and it works. I also found it extremely important that Gladwell did circle back and address what has become of precision bombing in the modern era. He does just that in the conclusion in a satisfactory way. In the end, I can also admit to finding it cool that Gladwell even took interest in this topic. WW2 has long been a favorite subject of mine and I’m glad we have that shared interest and perhaps even more importantly that Gladwell is delivering it to his huge group of followers. Hopefully many will be inspired to read further, as a mountain of fantastic non-fiction awaits.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Allen Stebbins

    In the 1930s a group of Army Officers (there was no Air Force in those days) less that a decade & a half from the horrific number of deaths in what was then called the Great War, came up with a plan to win a war without all those deaths. The idea was to destroy key economic points in a nation thus forcing it to sue for peace. They would do this with high altitude precision bombing. They tried it against Germany, for example going after the German ball barring industry. It proved a failure. With In the 1930s a group of Army Officers (there was no Air Force in those days) less that a decade & a half from the horrific number of deaths in what was then called the Great War, came up with a plan to win a war without all those deaths. The idea was to destroy key economic points in a nation thus forcing it to sue for peace. They would do this with high altitude precision bombing. They tried it against Germany, for example going after the German ball barring industry. It proved a failure. With the capture of the Mariana Islands the new American bomber, the B29, could reach Japan. They again tried high altitude precision bombing but the conditions in Japan, & the technology of the day, made it far less likely it would succeed, & it did not. How now to end the war? There really were only two realistic ways. One was a ground invasion. The planning for that was done. Military planners estimated there would be at least a million U.S. casualties. The other way was from the air. Precision bombing did not work, so the decision was made to break the will of the Japanese people. The new method was nighttime fire bombing. The results on the civilian population was devastating. Far, far more Japanese citizens died in firestorms created out of Japanese cities then in the atomic bombing. As is generally true once the first moral line is crossed each successive line is easier to step over. So Truman was presented with two choices by the military. One, invade in face a million plus American casualties. The other was drop the two most devastating weapons ever invented to make Japan realize that they could not win the war. That, of course, is what Truman did. Personally I don’t see how Truman could have said to the parents of service members who died in the invasion “I’m sorry your son died in the invasion. We had a weapon that if used could have saved his life by causing Japan to surrender but we didn’t use it out of consideration for the Japanese people.” To me the concept of a “moral war” is an oxymoron. As I wrote once you cross that first line each successive line becomes easier to step over. The first line is the decision to go to war. After that a brutal logic takes over

  18. 4 out of 5

    PETER MICHAEL

    Both my parents were involved with RAF Bomber Command in WW2. My father being aircrew and my mother in RAF Intelligence, therefore the background story of the Bomber Mafia really intrigued me. The book was totally absorbing and brought many new facts to light. The Bomber Mafia were a small group of US airmen who believed that precision bombing from high altitude was the optimum way to win a war. To this aim, a highly advanced bombsight was designed and developed by an eccentric inventor called No Both my parents were involved with RAF Bomber Command in WW2. My father being aircrew and my mother in RAF Intelligence, therefore the background story of the Bomber Mafia really intrigued me. The book was totally absorbing and brought many new facts to light. The Bomber Mafia were a small group of US airmen who believed that precision bombing from high altitude was the optimum way to win a war. To this aim, a highly advanced bombsight was designed and developed by an eccentric inventor called Norden. Its purpose was to factor in many bombing-related algorithms including wind speed, height, the velocity of the aircraft, air pressure, the spin of the earth, etc. However, in practice, it failed due to unexpected meteorological conditions, targets obscured by smoke, and the very cold temperature in the bomb aimer's position. The USAAF ignored the well-proven advice of the RAF in the European campaign and refused to bomb Germany at night. Consequently, the early US daylight precision bombing raids were an unmitigated disaster, with many losses of aircrews The British doctrine being to area-bomb cities after dark, minimising aircraft losses, even though a high percentage of bombs missed their targets., Curtis LeMay, a brilliant, yet ruthless, American bombing commander is discussed, and almost hero-worshipped in the book. It is intriguing that the author states that he believes the British leader of Bomber Command (Arthur Harris) was a psychopath because he concentrated on destroying German cities and lowering the population's morale. Yet he considered LeMay a hero, even though he fervently believed in napalming dozens of Japanese cities, killing many thousands of innocent civilians. I really like the author's style of writing and his obvious passion for the subject. The personal stories and anecdotes of the main characters brought the story to life. I really want to give this book full marks, but the author's dismissive remarks on the top leadership of the RAF Bomber Command, at such a difficult time in the war, makes it impossible. The book lacks a balanced view of the bombing campaign in Europe. That said, it was an absorbing read!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Eric Lee

    If Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book about cardboard boxes, I would buy it. He could write about paint drying and make it interesting. I think every non-fiction author wants to grow up to be Malcolm Gladwell. This is a man who is a master storyteller — and his latest book is no exception. The Bomber Mafia of the title was a group of men serving in what eventually became the United States Air Force. Following on the First World War, which saw the first use of heavier-than-air craft, the first dogfigh If Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book about cardboard boxes, I would buy it. He could write about paint drying and make it interesting. I think every non-fiction author wants to grow up to be Malcolm Gladwell. This is a man who is a master storyteller — and his latest book is no exception. The Bomber Mafia of the title was a group of men serving in what eventually became the United States Air Force. Following on the First World War, which saw the first use of heavier-than-air craft, the first dogfights, the first aerial bombardment of cities, they had a dream. Their dream was that using new technology like the Norden bombsight, bombs could be dropped precisely where needed. There would be no need to kill civilians, armies would not need to clash on the battlefield, and wars would be waged quickly and cleanly with minimal loss of life. Of course it was an absurd idea, but it was tested in practice by the Americans during their air wars in Europe against Nazi Germany and in the Pacific against Imperial Japan. They discovered that their vision was an illusion. It didn’t work. Eventually, the most outspoken of the Bomber Mafia crowd, Haywood Hansell, found himself without a job. His replacement, commanding a fleet of B-29 bombers that could reach Japan, was General Curtis LeMay. LeMay decided to deploy a new technology, napalm, which did the opposite of what the visionaries had in mind. Instead of precision attacks on Japanese war industries — which proved to be nearly impossible — LeMay took advantage of the fact that Japanese civilians lived in densely packed neighbourhoods in houses made of wood. He launched raids that were specifically designed to create firestorms in those cities, causing incredible levels of devastation — and the loss of many thousands of lives. From LeMay’s point of view, the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the icing on the cake: the war had been won, he believed, by his bombers setting Japanese cities, including Tokyo, ablaze. An incredible story, told brilliantly – highly recommended.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Tony Harper

    The Bomber Mafia, Malcolm Gladwell’s new audiobook, is the story of a very specific part of World War II: the use of strategic bombing as a way to win the war in Europe and, later, the Pacific. It is the story of the invention of precision bombing theory, decades ahead of its time, and its failure in World War II. It is the story of the invention of napalm, and how General Curtis LeMay used this new technology to shorten the war in the Pacific. More than anything, though, it is an exploration of The Bomber Mafia, Malcolm Gladwell’s new audiobook, is the story of a very specific part of World War II: the use of strategic bombing as a way to win the war in Europe and, later, the Pacific. It is the story of the invention of precision bombing theory, decades ahead of its time, and its failure in World War II. It is the story of the invention of napalm, and how General Curtis LeMay used this new technology to shorten the war in the Pacific. More than anything, though, it is an exploration of morality in war: whether it is better to hasten the end of a war at the cost of a lot of lives in the short run, or to avoid casualties at the cost of prolonging the war. Gladwell comes down on the former either side of the argument for the most part, especially with this striking quote: “Curtis LeMay’s approach brought everyone, Americans and Japanese, back to peace and prosperity as quickly as possible.” Gladwell makes it clear that LeMay probably went too far, burning down 66 Japanese cities in the process. (In a subsequent interview, he described LeMay as being "off his rocker" by the end of the war.) It’s equally made clear that this approach is no longer in use, as precision weapons have evolved to the point that they can be used against individual targets and now rule the day in American military practice. Gladwell is a master storyteller, and the team at Pushkin (his podcasting and audiobook company) have masterfully produced this book. Every person who Gladwell interviews plays back with their own voice, and archival audio is used where possible As a result we hear General LeMay’s own account of events in the Pacific, we hear Ronald Reagan narrating WWII newsreels, and we hear General David Goldfein (who at the time of the recording was Chief of Staff of the Air Force) talk about the evolution of precision technology. The book is immersive and impressive, and I hope represents the future of nonfiction audio presentation. I strongly recommend this book to any fans of military history or history podcasts. I also recommend Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast, from which this book grew (parts of the fifth season were incorporated into this book).

  21. 5 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.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Nicolas

    A decent book for what it is. It is a collection of interesting stories and anecdotes, and could have benefited from a clearer and stronger thesis and direction. The analysis is weak. The main point the author seems to be attempting to get across is that the bomber mafia was prescient in its advocacy of precision bombing. However, this felt like a small portion of what should have been a longer book; it’s not until the conclusion that the author jumps forward to the 21st century to very briefly d A decent book for what it is. It is a collection of interesting stories and anecdotes, and could have benefited from a clearer and stronger thesis and direction. The analysis is weak. The main point the author seems to be attempting to get across is that the bomber mafia was prescient in its advocacy of precision bombing. However, this felt like a small portion of what should have been a longer book; it’s not until the conclusion that the author jumps forward to the 21st century to very briefly describe the advancements that have been made in precision bombing. There were also some factual errors that I noted along the way, which made me skeptical of the accuracy of other facts and claims put forth. For instance: President Truman, who had taken office after Roosevelt died, in the spring of 1945, was advised by a panel of military and scientific experts, weighing the decision well in advance. Truman lost sleep over the decision. He wandered the White House. Truman was not at the White House in the weeks leading up to and when he made his decision to use the bomb; he was in Potsdam. In David McCullough’s Truman he states: “In the years to come Truman often said that having made his decision about the bomb, he went to bed and slept soundly.” That’s not to say he did not grasp how “terrible” the bomb was, the gravity of its use, and the destruction it could inflict, insisting its use on purely military targets. But, as Truman is also quoted as saying: The final decision of where and when to use the atomic bomb was up to me. let there be no mistake about it. I regarded the bomb as a military weapon and never had any doubt that it should be used. For someone with little knowledge of the use of airpower in the European and Pacific theatres, this book is a fine place to begin. Torn between a two or three star rating.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Cory

    I have to admit, this is the first Malcolm Gladwell book that I've "read." I've been a devout follower of his podcast, Revisionist History, since very early on, but I have not yet experienced his beloved writings such as Outliers, Talking to Strangers, etc. That is going to have to change because I love everything this man touches it seems. The Bomber Mafia got its start as a several episode arc in the latest season of Revisionist History and you could tell it was a real passion project for Malc I have to admit, this is the first Malcolm Gladwell book that I've "read." I've been a devout follower of his podcast, Revisionist History, since very early on, but I have not yet experienced his beloved writings such as Outliers, Talking to Strangers, etc. That is going to have to change because I love everything this man touches it seems. The Bomber Mafia got its start as a several episode arc in the latest season of Revisionist History and you could tell it was a real passion project for Malcolm. That was confirmed when he later announced the continuation of that story in this book, and I knew we were in for a treat. Gladwell uses rich source material such as archival footage, witness testimony, and input from the Air Force Chiefs of Staff to tell the story of Haywood Hansell and Curtis LeMay, their difference in tactics and morality, and the horrors of war. I feel it appropriate here to discuss the format of the book. As a devout Revisionist History listener, I chose to get Pushkin's audiobook version of this work due to the podcasty nature of the book itself. That was definitely the right call. One of the main reasons I stay away from audiobooks is that I often find them read quite boringly and statically. The difference here is Pushkin's production: this is almost like a 5 1/2 hour episode of the podcast. From the engaging score to hearing the voices of Hansell, LeMay, and others involved, this audiobook is the most dynamic and entertaining that I've experienced. This was an engaging, informative, and thought-provoking extension to a stellar four episode podcast arc on air superiority, collateral damage, military ethics, and life in a nuclear world. While I don't agree with every decision made here (the Jesus:Hansell parallels, etc.), this was a great book and I hope I get to experience Gladwell's other print works soon.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Leftbanker

    Malcolm Gladwell Must Be Stopped! To begin with, I don’t buy the idea of “Bomber Mafia” as the term “mafia” had yet to enter into the common vernacular of American English really until The Godfather. The leaders of the Air Corps Tactical School were labeled “the Bomber Mafia” Gladwell gives this without any references. I’ve read dozens of histories of WWII and I’ve never heard this mentioned, not once. I’m calling bullshit. If I’m wrong, someone please inform me. For the love of Mohamed, Jesus, and Malcolm Gladwell Must Be Stopped! To begin with, I don’t buy the idea of “Bomber Mafia” as the term “mafia” had yet to enter into the common vernacular of American English really until The Godfather. The leaders of the Air Corps Tactical School were labeled “the Bomber Mafia” Gladwell gives this without any references. I’ve read dozens of histories of WWII and I’ve never heard this mentioned, not once. I’m calling bullshit. If I’m wrong, someone please inform me. 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. 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.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Himanshu

    WW2 history is not a genre MG is known for so I would give him a pat on back for coming out of his comfort zone and putting in a story. The book is not just a WW2 story but also a dialogue on the moral issues behind war. Questions like - Is it ethical to wage a brutal war if finishes the war in shorter duration ? How ethical it is to have selective attacks on military installations only , sparing civilian population ? How does this answer change when you know that civilians are actively engaged WW2 history is not a genre MG is known for so I would give him a pat on back for coming out of his comfort zone and putting in a story. The book is not just a WW2 story but also a dialogue on the moral issues behind war. Questions like - Is it ethical to wage a brutal war if finishes the war in shorter duration ? How ethical it is to have selective attacks on military installations only , sparing civilian population ? How does this answer change when you know that civilians are actively engaged in war efforts ? How can one lose in short run, get lost in the sands of time only to be redeemed much later when his philosophy is adopted ? Such thought provoking questions engulf the story being told in this book. So with such interesting premise and moral dimension , one may ask why less stars. Well, for a start MG does digress in a number of places with unrelated stories which don't help the narration. On its own these stories, could be interesting vignettes of WW2 but in this pie they stand out as undercooked slices. The book was starting off on some aspects like a professional rivalry between two officers which would have made it more personal and close to human emotions but that angle is not explored. Well to be fair, probably that angle never existed so can't blame MG for not writing something which never happened. One interesting fact I came to know that Hiroshima/Nagasaki were not the only brutal assault on the Land of the rising sun. Operation Meetinghouse though never discussed in such detail was equally brutal and carried out in a much more casual way with not too much deliberations in senior Govt circles. This really shook me. Also coming after Unbroken this book had a tough precedence to beat as far as WW stories are concerned but it does an ok job. Can be read as a quick one.

  26. 5 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

  27. 5 out of 5

    Chad Schultz

    I enjoy Malcolm Gladwell's books, and his podcast. So when he announced a new book for sale, I thought it would be a good way to support a favorite author. This book is unusual in a few ways: for one, it's an audiobook first, and a print book second. The book was made kind of how a podcast would be, in the sense that there were snippets of audio interviews thrown in here and there. It was definitely designed to be an audio-first experience. Also, although it is available on Audible, I purchased I enjoy Malcolm Gladwell's books, and his podcast. So when he announced a new book for sale, I thought it would be a good way to support a favorite author. This book is unusual in a few ways: for one, it's an audiobook first, and a print book second. The book was made kind of how a podcast would be, in the sense that there were snippets of audio interviews thrown in here and there. It was definitely designed to be an audio-first experience. Also, although it is available on Audible, I purchased it through bombermafia.com. This resulted in a link being texted to me which I opened in a podcatcher, and then I listened to the audio as if it were a podcast feed. I'm guessing this is an attempt to avoid Audible's monopoly, as well as their taking a piece of the action. I'm curious to know if that works out well. I can see the advantages, but there are plenty of disadvantages as well; it's less convenient and misses out on the benefits of the Audible ecosystem, such as people stumbling across it when looking at other books. Ok, what about the book itself? It's an interesting bit of history, going into bombing warfare and World War II. It was definitely highly educational, and was actually interesting. However, to my mind it doesn't hold a candle to Gladwell's other books. Possibly because this is a history book, and isn't about how people think. I'm also unclear on why the group in question was called "the bomber mafia" - I think it just was meant to reflect that they were a close knit group. If you enjoy Malcolm Gladwell's books, or if you enjoy history, add this to the list.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ed Bernard

    There just isn’t anything that Malcolm Gladwell can’t make interesting, and this “book” about the early pioneers of the US Air Force is already a great story. I put “book” in quotation marks, because Gladwell has a podcast about history and this feels closer to that than a simple audiobook — he has interviews, sound effects, and other tricks throughout, which I thought neither added nor detracted … Gladwell’s writing style is already rather cinematic, and he narrates the book himself, so it didn There just isn’t anything that Malcolm Gladwell can’t make interesting, and this “book” about the early pioneers of the US Air Force is already a great story. I put “book” in quotation marks, because Gladwell has a podcast about history and this feels closer to that than a simple audiobook — he has interviews, sound effects, and other tricks throughout, which I thought neither added nor detracted … Gladwell’s writing style is already rather cinematic, and he narrates the book himself, so it didn’t need any extra techniques, but they’re fine. He manages to create some humanity for the nutty general Curtis Lemay, widely seen as a warmongering yahoo — which he was, but Gladwell gets to the logical underpinning for Lemay’s viciousness, though it’s not totally convincing. Along the way, he reveals fascinating characters, like the guy who created the Norton bomb sight (which was supposed to change the war, and kinda didn’t). He also balances the narrative of Nazi cruelty by revealing the viciousness of Britain’s carpet bombing of German cities at a time when the American air force (not yet a separate branch but still part of the army) felt a more tactical, precision approach would be more effective — which he mostly ties to a single sociopathic general. It’s all great context for someone like me, who already knows the nitty-gritty of the saga, but much less about the individuals involved. I thought it was a real treat to listen to — Gladwell is a brilliant narrator (let’s face it, he’s a brilliant everything) and just kind of tells you a grand story for as many hours as it takes to complete his narrative. Just a terrific audiobook from a great author and thinker. Grade: A

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mac

    There’s much to be learned from The Bomber Mafia, for instance: (1) As the book flap says, “Most military thinkers in the years leading up to World War II saw the airplane as an afterthought.” Back then, wars were meant to be fought by armies face-to-face on the ground. (2) As WWII progressed, two opposing schools of thought about aerial bombing competed—precision bombing personified by General Haywood Hansell versus the scorched earth approach personified by General Curtis LeMay. Gladwell, in p There’s much to be learned from The Bomber Mafia, for instance: (1) As the book flap says, “Most military thinkers in the years leading up to World War II saw the airplane as an afterthought.” Back then, wars were meant to be fought by armies face-to-face on the ground. (2) As WWII progressed, two opposing schools of thought about aerial bombing competed—precision bombing personified by General Haywood Hansell versus the scorched earth approach personified by General Curtis LeMay. Gladwell, in personifying the bombing strategies, focuses on morality, one general moral and one immoral. (3) A combination of firebombing Japan and atomic bombs was needed to cause a Japanese surrender; two atomic bombs alone would not have achieved submission. So The Bomber Mafia is an informative, educational book; however, there is also something disconcerting here. Gladwell, sometimes using thin support, tends to elevate his ideas to grand truths as if drums are beating and trumpets blaring. He wants you to know each thesis, his interpretations, and the events he describes are all important and historically significant. As I read The Bomber Mafia, I kept wondering whether the book's issues were in reality not so clear cut. Of course, historians search for clarity in past complexities, but perhaps Gladwell could be less personally definitive, less grand in his pronouncements, and more neutral as an observer. That might make for a less dramatic reading of history, but perhaps it might be a more accurate reading.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Boni

    I forgot how much I like Galdwell’s books, largely because I find him to be a great storyteller! And though this tome was not Gladwellian anecdote-filled, the history of war and military and moral conflicts was so interesting that I couldn’t put it down. Visiting Normandy with buddies obsessed with WWII, Vietnam with a returning vet in our party, and Japan’s reinvigorated Hiroshima has helped add color to other war books that I’ve enjoyed, and I crave these untold stories behind wars that often I forgot how much I like Galdwell’s books, largely because I find him to be a great storyteller! And though this tome was not Gladwellian anecdote-filled, the history of war and military and moral conflicts was so interesting that I couldn’t put it down. Visiting Normandy with buddies obsessed with WWII, Vietnam with a returning vet in our party, and Japan’s reinvigorated Hiroshima has helped add color to other war books that I’ve enjoyed, and I crave these untold stories behind wars that often bring out the humanity rather than just the chessboard tactics. But actual war is really quite foreign to me, though I do work for the US Defense Department exposed to all sorts of Army Officers, with an agency that led the development of the atomic bomb. So Galdwell’s dive into the back stories and personalities of greensuiters’ contrasting souls helps add insight to their heartrending (or brutal) decisions. My only beef would be that Gladwell could have added more back stories, perhaps with more of the players in the story... like Hiroshima and their tiny, tiny, memorial at Ground Zero)... or the story of Vietnam’s carpet bombing strategy and impacts. I did love the anecdote regarding Lemay and the Japanese reunion in the 60’s... added some humanity to the brutal concept of war. So this book was far too short... more like a podcast that it originally was, I guess. Unfortunately, I’m not a podcaster type... more a goodreads type... please 400 more pages Malcolm! :o]

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