The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War
In The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War, Malcolm Gladwell, author of New York Times bestsellers including Talking to Strangers and host of the podcast Revisionist History, uses original interviews, archival footage and his trademark insight to weave together the stories of a Dutch genius and his homemade computer, a band of brothers in central Alabama, a British psychopath, and pyromaniacal chemists at Harvard. As listeners hear these stories unfurl, Gladwell examines one of the greatest moral challenges in modern American history.
Most military thinkers in the years leading up to World War II saw the airplane as an afterthought. But a small band of idealistic strategists had a different view. This “Bomber Mafia” asked: What if precision bombing could, just by taking out critical choke points — industrial or transportation hubs – cripple the enemy and make war far less lethal?
In Revisionist History, Gladwell re-examines moments from the past and asks whether we got it right the first time. In The Bomber Mafia, he employs all the production techniques that make Revisionist History so engaging, stepping back from the bombing of Tokyo, the deadliest night of the war, and asking, “Was it worth it?” The attack was the brainchild of General Curtis LeMay, whose brutal pragmatism and scorched-earth tactics in Japan cost thousands of civilian lives but may have spared more by averting a planned US invasion.
Things might have gone differently had LeMay’s predecessor, General Haywood Hansell, remained in charge. As a key member of the Bomber Mafia, Haywood’s theories of precision bombing had been foiled by bad weather, enemy jet fighters, and human error. When he and Curtis LeMay squared off for a leadership handover in the jungles of Guam, LeMay emerged victorious, leading to the darkest night of World War II.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
There were so many outstanding technological achievements in the 20th century. Computers! Space travel! Aerial bombing? With the same mix of precise diction and boyish enthusiasm he brings to his podcast Revisionist History, Malcolm Gladwell asks us to reconsider everything we know about the air campaigns of World War II. The young, cool military leaders who created the Air Force saw a future in strategically hitting targets from above. In contrast, the older generation argued for leveling much of Germany and Japan. While the establishment may have won that particular argument, the younger flyers’ thinking has ultimately shaped the modern military. (Unmanned drone strikes are basically the logical outcome.) Gladwell presents fascinating research into history and technology, letting the facts speak for themselves. In some cases literally: This immersive audiobook includes clips from interviews with present-day experts and segments of historical news reports and training films. (Listeners also get access to an online guide featuring historical photos and additional commentary from Gladwell and his podcast producers.) This is the kind of “revisionism” we love—where a deeper look into the past helps us better understand the present.