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

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

This small book is big in scope - presenting yet another facet of WWII that is new to me.  And who can make a complex topic understandable and fascinating better than Malcolm Gladwell?!  This was a one-sitting read which is completely rare for me and nonfiction.  Here’s the gist: in the 1920s a small group of Army Airmen, the eponymous Bomber Mafia, start to imagine the possibilities of war waged entirely from the air - conceivably limiting casualties with precision bombing.  At the same time, eccentric Dutch inventor and American immigrant, Carl Norden creates the bombsight - a gadget that could “drop a bomb into a pickle barrel at thirty thousand feet.” And then WWII erupts and theory and innovation have a test site.  Gladwell presents two Army Air Corps generals, Haywood Hansell and Curtis LeMay with differing approaches at a key turning point in history - the Pacific Theater in the Spring of 1945. Because it’s Gladwell, there are a couple relevant, chatty digressions and a pinch of psychology which elevate the book from textbook history to lived narrative. I couldn’t put it down! - Carrie

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

In The Bomber Mafia, Malcolm Gladwell weaves together the stories of a Dutch genius and his homemade computer, a band of brothers in central Alabama, a British psychopath, and pyromaniacal chemists at Harvard to examine one of the greatest moral challenges in modern American history.

Most military thinkers in the years leading up to World War II saw the airplane as an afterthought. But a small band of idealistic strategists, the "Bomber Mafia," asked: What if precision bombing could cripple the enemy and make war far less lethal?

In contrast, the bombing of Tokyo on the deadliest night of the war was the brainchild of General Curtis LeMay, whose brutal pragmatism and scorched-earth tactics in Japan cost thousands of civilian lives, but may have spared even more by averting a planned US invasion. In The Bomber Mafia, Gladwell asks, "Was it worth it?"

Things might have gone differently had LeMay's predecessor, General Haywood Hansell, remained in charge. Hansell believed in precision bombing, but when he and Curtis LeMay squared off for a leadership handover in the jungles of Guam, LeMay emerged victorious, leading to the darkest night of World War II. The Bomber Mafia is a riveting tale of persistence, innovation, and the incalculable wages of war.

Publication Date: 
April 27, 2021