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

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

by Malcolm Gladwell (Author)

In The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War, Malcolm Gladwell, author of New York Times best sellers 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 reexamines 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, 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.

In "The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War," Malcolm Gladwell delves into the history of strategic bombing during World War II, shedding light on the development of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) and its controversial campaign against Nazi Germany.

Gladwell introduces the key figures involved in the USAAF's strategic bombing campaign, including General Curtis LeMay, who championed the idea of precision bombing, and General Haywood Hansell, who advocated for area bombing. He explores the debates and conflicts within the USAAF as these leaders argued about the most effective way to cripple German industry and morale.

The book also examines the technological advancements that enabled the USAAF's bombing missions, such as the Norden bombsight and the development of long-range bombers like the B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-29 Superfortress. Gladwell highlights the challenges faced by aircrews during these missions, including the intense anti-aircraft fire and the constant threat of being shot down.

Gladwell delves into the moral and ethical questions surrounding the strategic bombing campaign, particularly the devastating impact it had on civilian populations. He explores the justifications offered by military leaders and policymakers, as well as the lasting legacy of the bombings in terms of civilian casualties and the destruction of cultural heritage sites.

Through extensive research and interviews with veterans and experts, Gladwell paints a vivid picture of the strategic bombing campaign during World War II. He challenges conventional wisdom and offers a fresh perspective on the motivations, strategies, and consequences of this pivotal chapter in military history.


April 27, 2021