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

Malcolm Gladwell is the author of five New York Times bestsellers: The Tipping PointBlinkOutliersWhat the Dog Saw, and David and Goliath. He is the host of the podcast Revisionist History and is a staff writer at The New Yorker. He was named one of the 100 most influential people by Time magazine and one of the Foreign Policy's Top Global Thinkers. Previously, he was a reporter with the Washington Post, where he covered business and science, and then served as the newspaper's New York City bureau chief. He graduated from the University of Toronto, Trinity College, with a degree in history. Gladwell was born in England and grew up in rural Ontario. He lives in New York.

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