Length: 256 pages
First Published: 2021
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Little, Brown and Company through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
In the years leading up to the second world war, a group of military strategists, nicknamed “The Bomber Mafia,” wondered if precision bombing of strategic targets could make war less lethal. Gladwell ponders how technology and the best intentions collide in the heat of war while examining the firebombing of Tokyo. Weaving together stories of a Dutch genius, pyromaniacal chemists, and two competing generals, Gladwell makes you consider the incalculable costs of war.
The Bomber Mafia was created as an audiobook, which was obvious when reading the e-book. The book heavily quotes outside sources, which would be much more enjoyable in an audio version. As always, Gladwell is a stunningly good writer, making you rethink everything you thought you knew and pointing out things you never even considered. My biggest complaint was that The Bomber Mafia was too short. I wanted him to go deeper into each topic and I think he could have easily doubled the length of the book without losing your interest.
Malcolm Gladwell’s exploration of how technology and best intentions collide in the heat of 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, 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 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 his podcast, Revisionist History, Gladwell re-examines moments from the past and asks whether we got it right the first time. In The Bomber Mafia, he steps back from the bombing of Tokyo, the deadliest night of the war, and asks, “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, Hansell’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.
The Bomber Mafia is a riveting tale of persistence, innovation, and the incalculable wages of war.
About Malcolm Gladwell
Malcolm Gladwell is the author of seven books – The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, The Bomber Mafia, What the Dog Saw, David and Goliath and Talking to Strangers. He is the co-founder of the audio content company Pushkin Industries which produces the podcasts Revisionist History and Broken Record. Visit the author’s website →