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

Malcolm Gladwell. Little, Brown, $27 (256p) ISBN 978-0-316-29661-8
Gladwell (Talking to Strangers) delivers a ruminative, anecdotal account of what led up to the deadliest air raid of WWII: the firebombing of Tokyo by U.S. forces in March 1945. Expanding on a recent multiepisode arc of his Revisionist History podcast, Gladwell begins with the development in the 1920s of the Norden bombsight, which gave pilots the ability to aim at specific targets, rather than drop their bombs indiscriminately. A group of young U.S. Army Air Corps pilots including Haywood Hansell enthusiastically endorsed the bombsight and other new aviation technologies and their potential for reducing casualties. Hansell eventually took charge of U.S. bomber units in England during WWII, and used “precision bombing” techniques to target German factories and supply lines. But when he arrived on the Mariana Islands to command the U.S. air attack on Japan in 1944, bad weather and the jet stream near Tokyo made precision bombing impossible. After refusing to launch a full-scale napalm attack, Hansell was replaced by Gen. Curtis LeMay, who directed the raid on Tokyo that killed an estimated 100,000 people. Gladwell provides plenty of colorful details and poses intriguing questions about the morality of warfare, but this history feels more tossed off than fully fledged. Still, Gladwell’s fans will savor the insights into “how technology slips away from its intended path.” (Apr.)
Reviewed on : 03/05/2021
Release date: 04/27/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 320 pages - 978-0-316-30985-1
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