In The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War, New York Times bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell, 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. We spoke with author Malcolm Gladwell about the inspiration for The Bomber Mafia, how archival tape factored into the audiobook, and more!
“Another Gladwell everything-you-thought-you-knew-was-wrong page-turner, this one addressing a historical question that still provokes controversy.”Kirkus Reviews
Please tell us a little bit about what inspired you to write this book and how this story took shape for you.
Late in 2019, I went to Japan, and while I was there I happened to visit this tiny, nondescript museum on a side street in East Tokyo. It is the only memorial dedicated to the fire-bombing of Tokyo by the US Air Force in the spring of 1945. It was so unexpectedly moving that I decided it was worth investigating as a topic for my podcast Revisionist History. I ended up doing three episodes on the origins and consequences of that attack. But when I was finished I realized that I had only scratched the surface. I had told the end of the story. But not the beginning.
In two sentences or less, what’s something that might surprise Libro.fm listeners about your audiobook?
The tape! On almost every occasion where a character in the story makes an appearance, we have actual audiotape of that person’s voice—in conversation, in the field, in action. Do you know how unusual that is, for a book about something that happened nearly a century ago? It turns out that the American military has the best archivists in the world. And are willing to open up their vaults to random journalists.
Have you listened to your own audiobook? What struck you about the narration?
I have. On a number of occasions, while we were taping, my producers would have to remind me that this was not my podcast. There, my tone is playful and whimsical. But narrating this story required much more seriousness of tone.
What have independent bookstores and/or booksellers meant to you personally and professionally?
Whenever I am in a strange city, and feeling lonely, I head for the nearest independent bookstore. And I instantly feel at home.
Anything else to share with us?
At Pushkin, we want to do many more of these kinds of “enhanced” audiobooks. So keep your ears open!