The Bomber Mafia is an innovative audio book with music, sound effects and archival clips as well as a paperback. Gladwell’s easy conversational style works well in both formats, and his admiration for the Bomber Mafia shines through. His portraits of individuals are compelling ... Sometimes, however, his descriptions lack nuance ... Gladwell does not explore how racial attitudes influenced the bombing of Japan ... Gladwell does however confront us with difficult questions ... In so doing he has produced a thought-provoking, accessible account of how people respond to difficult choices in difficult times.
A kind of love song to the United States Air Force, which is surprising, because it is the least romantic of our armed services, with leaders who focus on technology, not tradition ... One of Gladwell’s skills is enabling us to see the world through the eyes of his subjects. To most people, a city park is a grace note, a green space that makes urban life more livable ... A novelty of this book is that Gladwell says it began as an audiobook and then became a written one, reversing the usual process ... Gladwell is a wonderful storyteller.
... there are books whose fusion of factual inaccuracy and moral sophistry is so total that they can only be written by Malcolm Gladwell ... sly maliciousness and explosive vacuity: the two primary qualities of Gladwell’s oeuvre ... by taking up military history, Gladwell’s half-witted didacticism threatens to convince millions of people that the only solution to American butchery is to continue shelling out for sharper and larger knives ... The stakes of The Bomber Mafia are no less than World War II and life or death, and yet Gladwell’s narrative is transmitted as seamlessly as the Wall Street or Silicon Valley koans that appear atop LinkedIn profiles, Clubhouse accounts, and Substack missives. Even his statements of objective fact are written to look like something an HSBC junior analyst might tell himself after a bad quarterly review ... interrogation of the actual historical record and the genuine moral dilemmas it poses—not the low-stakes bait that he trots out as an MBA case study in War—is subordinated to fluffy bullshit and biographical color ... omission is par for the course in The Bomber Mafia. While Gladwell constantly reminds the reader that the air force leadership was trying to wage more effective wars so as to end all wars, he cannot help but shove under the rug that which is inconvenient.
... [an] intriguing but insubstantial little book ... The Bomber Mafia reminds me of a really good podcast—a fascinating story is appealingly delivered ... While I admire brevity, the subject demands more depth than this volume provides. Gladwell simplifies the evolution of bombing strategy into a clash of personalities ... Personalities were indeed important (they always are) but this approach does not give sufficient attention to the larger forces at work, in particular how morality adapted to ever more destructive technology ... Readers new to this subject will find The Bomber Mafia engaging but those who’ve read a book or two about the air campaign will find it naive and shallow.
The Bomber Mafia is a remarkable audiobook, and a work of art. Mr. Gladwell has a mesmerizing voice and has assembled his various materials with rare skill: Technical explanations, introductions of the main characters (including Norden, Hansell and LeMay), quotes from the airmen, and interviews with later historians all flow together naturally ... Reading The Bomber Mafia as a plain old history book, it has to be said, takes away a bit of this magic. The professional historian slows down to check Mr. Gladwell’s limited notes, and some of the atmosphere of the spoken word is lost. There are also gaps in his account (for instance, the RAF Bomber Command he is so quick to dismiss actually did attempt careful bombing, until clouds and the Luftwaffe forced it also to alter its tactics). Then there is the so, so brief mention of the atomic bomb in this book ... The ironies in this wonderful book continue to the bitter end.
It’s indeed hard to imagine a more conventional account of the air war against Japan. In the questions it asks, the sources it uses, and the voices it amplifies, The Bomber Mafia offers an account virtually indistinguishable from the consensus position on the firebombings of urban Japan. It takes some of the most oft-repeated fallacies about the shift to area bombing and wraps them in a shiny new package ... The only issue is that Gladwell’s account doesn’t withstand serious scrutiny. As a piece of writing, The Bomber Mafia is engaging. As a work of history, it borders on reckless. Setting aside the numerous errors of fact and interpretation, Gladwell consistently cherry-picks from the historical record. Wittingly or not, he omits or downplays evidence that undermines the very premise of the book ... Gladwell mistakes practicality for dogma, projecting onto his subjects a high-minded morality that was not really there. The result is an account that fundamentally misrepresents the process through which the Army Air Forces (AAF) and the United States government rationalized the destruction of entire cities and their civilian inhabitants ... With its 'great man' framing, exclusion of Japanese perspectives, and counterfactual justifications, it tells a story seemingly designed to soothe the American conscience ... Of the many gaps in Gladwell’s coverage, none is more glaring than his silence on the Committee of Operations Analysts (COA) ... What does he describe upon setting foot in this solemn space, a site dedicated to the very subject of his book? Himself. His expectations, his impressions, his feelings.
Gladwell sincerely seems to believe his ending happened. That is, he believes the slaughter by US bombers of hundreds of thousands of Japanese people forced Tokyo to surrender by breaking their will to fight. In his mind, the saturation bombing of the Japanese was not only justifiable, it was also commendable ... This conclusion is not merely wrong: it is a complete misreading of history—Japanese history. Gladwell cites not one Japanese war-time source, leaving the reader to assume that Tokyo begged to surrender in the face of LeMay’s hurricane of fire. They didn’t ... Gladwell is not being callous. He truly believes this. His error stems from his anti-historical method ... He seizes on facts that support his idea and rejects those that don’t. He peppers this recipe with a few buccaneering characters, dressed in a limpid prose that is cheerfully, perennially, sunny side up ... Gladwell presents a false dichotomy between Hansell’s precision strikes and LeMay’s civilian massacres. He never considers other factors. But the truth is an unwelcome intruder at Gladwell’s banquet, where 'our man won!' is the toast of the night.
There’s a scene in the 2011 film Moneyball where Brad Pitt’s Billy Beane is mentoring young Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) on how to cut a professional baseball player from the roster: bluntly, without euphemism. 'Would you rather,' he asks, 'get one shot in the head or five in the chest and bleed to death?' Imagine, if you will, that this was not a rhetorical question or an analogy about firing someone but rather a serious, literal question. Now imagine 206 pages of this, and you have a sense of what it’s like to read Malcolm Gladwell’s new book. The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War is a nasty, brutish book—if it’s also short, it’s not nearly short enough. It is a breathless and narratively riveting story ... The Bomber Mafia is adapted from an audiobook, which means that what sounds conversational and engaging on tape can sound garrulous on the page, but it also allows Gladwell to telegraph his breathless fascination ... The mildly grating aspect of Gladwell’s style when he writes about ketchup or The Beatles here becomes an unforgivable moral lapse as he writes about the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians.
Another Gladwell everything-you-thought-you-knew-was-wrong page-turner ... Gladwell delivers a fairly flattering portrait of LeMay ... Evenhanded as usual, Gladwell does not take sides ... Excellent revisionist history.
Gladwell...delivers 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, 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.'