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Summary

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 re-examines 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.

©2021 Malcolm Gladwell (P)2021 Malcolm Gladwell

Critic reviews

The Bomber Mafia is a parable written for the age of technological disruption.” (The Times, London) 

"Gladwell is a wonderful storyteller. When he is introducing characters and showing them in conflict, The Bomber Mafia is gripping. I enjoyed this short book thoroughly, and would have been happy if it had been twice as long." (The New York Times)

“An innovative audio book with music, sound effects and archival clips. Gladwell’s easy conversational style works well, and his admiration for the Bomber Mafia shines through.” (The Washington Post)

What listeners say about The Bomber Mafia

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Oh dear!

Oh dear - I don’t think I can listen any more. While the subject seems interesting there is endless superfluous din in the back/foreground. A plane is mentioned so we hear a plane (thanks for that- I don’t feel in the least bit patronised!).
Please don’t treat readers to any more than the narration - we can fill-in the rest ourselves!

8 people found this helpful

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Not the usual standard...

I've got almost all of Malcolm's other audiobooks. He has a great and compelling style of delivery that can make anything seems interesting. However, this one is a stretch too far. Yes, it's vaguely entertaining but it's not really particularly surprising, dramatic, or interesting enough to hold a whole book. I can boil it down to "One set of airmen wanted to bomb carefully, one set indiscriminately. Bombing carefully didn't work because the tech wasn't good enough. Went back to bombing indiscriminately"

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Good, but not my cup of tea

I generally like Gladwell, but this book is somewhat different from those that I read before. Excellently narrated, good story, but I just find it as interesting as his other work. I don't agree with conclusions either, but that's my own opinion.

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Already heard on Revisionist History

Disappointing to have already heard a lot of this story on Malcolm’s Revisionist History podcast

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Great audible presentation

Felt a little disappointed at first here, as the book is short and I do listen to revoluionist history podcast so was already with some of the material.
But the presentation is really next generation audible entertainment, the angles in the narrative and the story telling is brilliant.

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So, so.

I love most of Malcolm’s work. He often writes a good book followed by a mediocre book. This is the mediocre one. It was still entertaining - but more of a personal interest of his. I learned snippets from the story to reflect on.
I will still look forward to his next book.

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It’s great history - thx!

Don’t know why some reviewers are whingeing about this - it’s a beautiful piece of work by Malcolm & the team and they should be proud. My Dad was in WW2 and he would have been fascinated, just like I was.

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Insightful, thought provoking, engaging.

Malcolm Gladwell and Pushkin are redefining the audiobook as a new genre in it's own right. The Bomber Mafia is another example of carefully curated content and brilliant delivery overlaid with rich layers of music and archive footage that take the book to a whole new level.

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Brilliant

I thoroughly enjoyed The Bomber Mafia. Very immersive, engaging and fascinating. Perfect for an audiobook.

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Live action audio book

I adore Gladwell and the addition of interviews and audio really enhances this book!

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  • Dustin
  • 28-04-21

Listen to the same story on his podcast for free

I've purchased and read every book Malcolm Gladwell has ever released. I'd probably rate all of them five stars.

This is basically a version of one of his Revisionist History podcast stories. I felt like I was just listening to the podcast. Yes there was more information in the book but not enough to justify purchasing the book. Listen to the podcast. It's free and damn near the same exact thing.

106 people found this helpful

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  • Knutsson
  • 30-04-21

Not Gladwell’s finest.

Just wished a pilot could have edited where the author stated the bombers NEEDED a very strong tail wind to get off the runway. However a strong head wind would be helpful.
Are there other mistakes or misunderstandings?
Still a huge fan of Gladwell’s work, just not this on so much.

23 people found this helpful

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  • Charlie
  • 27-04-21

Great story & love the format

The storytelling is great - typical Gladwell in that sense. If you like his other stuff, I'm sure you'll like this too. But, what really stands out is the audio presentation. Interviews from other people, music, and effects are mixed in appropriately - it's not distracting. These touches add to the story and provide subtle changes of pace that make the overall experience better. Not to oversell it - it has some notes of a good podcast, but it's well applied here. I actually listened to parts of this on a stereo system - that was overkill, but the fact that such an idea popped into my head might highlight how the sound on this work really ups the engagement.

20 people found this helpful

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  • Amy
  • 29-04-21

Excellent research, laid on a little thick

This book sounds like what I imagine a career military officer with advanced degrees in history and international relations sounds like if they tried to write about social psychology. It's a well-researched book which is worth reading; but he tends to beat a dead horse with a bit more drama than I feel is needed. Gladwell does an excellent job researching the key members of the bomber mafia, or those involved in bomber warfare. I've read dozens of books on these people and still learned something new.

This book also is presented more as an radio show from the 40's as opposed to an audiobook. Gladwell provides many sound effects, occasionally music, and on some level even interacts with the audience. It is impressive in that it really doesn't detract from the presentation. He primarily focuses his writing on the juxtaposition of two members of the USAAF, Generals Hansell and LeMay. These two have competing ideas on how to win the war with air power, as well as vastly different personalities. Gladwell examines these men, what drove them, and the implications of their actions from a moral viewpoint. It is fascinating, and if you've never discussed these topics before, this is a good introduction.

The only critique is that in the moral examination, I feel Gladwell "lays it on a little thick" (quoting from the book) in his comparison of Hansell to Jesus. There are also other minor exaggerations or hyperboles Gladwell uses to make points which are stretches of the truth and are not really necessary to add the drama he's trying to add.

Overall I do recommend the book, but understand it is more of a moral study as opposed to history or book on strategy. Given that the author is a social psychologist, that is appropriate.

11 people found this helpful

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  • Baboo TH
  • 07-05-21

This is a podcast and not a book

Interesting but would have been better if it was a book without all the special effects

9 people found this helpful

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  • RONALD
  • 06-06-21

Cry me a river

Research “The raping of Nanking”

Then get back to me with your Japanese sympathy, anti-American propaganda.

Lemay was a war hero that saved millions of infantrymen by ending the war!

3 people found this helpful

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  • John R. Burleson
  • 03-05-21

Audiobook first!

This audiobook is truly unique. He started with an audiobook and then created a regular book. Because he reads his own work and it was created to be read aloud, it flows extremely well.

I really love the story, and I love his interpretation of a non-fiction series of events that isn’t talked about much. I enjoy his other works, but this is a nice departure and a great story to listen to. I burned through it in a couple days!

3 people found this helpful

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  • John Shumate
  • 29-04-21

Magnificent. As always.

Malcolm’s ability to put his finger exactly on the pulse of an issue, while tickling the noggin as he tells the story is truly fabulous.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Tclements
  • 02-06-21

Great topic poor execution

I love the topic but was disappointed in the story. A few items were just wrong and made me question other items in the story. One that stood out was the claim that the B-29s needed a tailwind to takeoff heavy. In fact airplanes need headwinds to takeoff in a shorter distance. I really wanted to love it and maybe that caused my disappointment.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Todd
  • 03-06-21

Skip the mood music

The book was okay, not to the level of most of his other books, the mood music ruined it for me.

1 person found this helpful