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

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The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War By Malcolm Gladwell Cover Image
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Staff Reviews

This is Gladwell's first foray into straight historical expose, yet his trademark incisive revelation of unexpected truths is on full display. I was mortified, actually, physically revolted by the truths revealed here. Gladwell's editorial self-control is commendable- his thematic elements regarding the beginnings of the Air Force in the years immediately before and then during WWII draw the reader into these “founding aviators” abiding goal to use aerial combat as a significant force towards the benefit of all, including combatants; ie. to shorten wars and lessen overall casualties through the use of targeted aerial assault. What actually happened, in spite of these goals, will stay with me forever, Hirosihma and Nagasaki perhaps not being the worst violence ever inflicted on an enemy by the U.S. Military. — Jon Fine

How much of an individual's conception of what comprises moral behavior must be sacrificed during the human cataclysm of war? Gladwell approaches this difficult question by contrasting two very different schools of thought pertaining to the air bombings over Germany and Japan during the Second World War. So-called precision bombing, sporadically aided by the newly developed Norden bombsight, helped to minimize civilian casualties. The carpet bombing that indiscriminately destroyed large swaths of enemy territory also took a terrible toll on the populace but, it was argued, would shorten the war. By turns, fascinating, vastly informative, and horrifying. The author is neither preaching nor accusing, largely leaving it up to the reader to decide if notions of good and bad can even be applied in wartime. — Alden Graves


Dive into this “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.

About the Author

Malcom Gladwell is the author of seven New York Times bestsellers: The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, What the Dog Saw, David and Goliath, Talking to Strangers, and The Bomber Mafia. He is also the cofounder of Pushkin Industries, an audiobook and podcast production company. He was born in England, grew up in rural Ontario, and now lives in New York.

Praise For…

“Gripping… Gladwell is a wonderful storyteller… in [his] deft hands, the Air Force generals of World War II come back to life… I enjoyed this short book thoroughly, and would have been happy if it had been twice as long.”—Thomas E. Ricks, New York Times Book Review

“A thought-provoking, accessible account of how people respond to difficult choices in difficult times... Gladwell’s easy conversational style works well… and his admiration for the Bomber Mafia shines through. His portraits of individuals are compelling."—Diana Preston, Washington Post

“Truly compelling… written in New York Times bestseller Malcolm Gladwell's characteristic approachable, story-telling style.”—Zibby Owens, Good Morning America

"A riveting tale of persistence, obsession, innovation, and the incalculable wages of war... The Bomber Mafia looks at one of the greatest moral challenges of the Second World War."—Michael Lewis, Against the Rules

“Malcolm Gladwell is a one-in-a-generation kind of writer… He has an uncanny way of finding the story within the story and pointing out the important lessons often hiding in plain sight.”—Bryan Elliott,

“Excellent revisionist history… another Gladwell everything-you-thought-you-knew-was-wrong page-turner.”—Kirkus (starred review)

“[A] brilliantly told parable… As ever with Gladwell… the story boils down to people at moments of crisis… books and parables alike rely on their narrative as much as their message. And for a book that is not a war story, this one is brilliantly, brilliantly told.”—James McConnachie, Sunday Times (UK)

“A ruminative, anecdotal account of what led up to the deadliest air raid of WWII… Gladwell provides plenty of colorful details and poses intriguing questions about the morality of warfare… fans will savor the insights into ‘how technology slips away from its intended path.’”—Publishers Weekly

Product Details
ISBN: 9780316296816
ISBN-10: 0316296813
Publisher: Back Bay Books
Publication Date: June 7th, 2022
Pages: 256
Language: English