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A History of Bombing Paperback – May 1, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Describing genocide as part of the "master story" of Western civilizations, Swedish author and political activist Lindqvist (The Skull Measurer's Mistake) argues that before the development of powered flight, bombs delivered from the air were regarded as an efficient way to kill large groups of people at a safe distance. What the bombs and rockets have from the beginning been intended to do, he continues, is slaughter "others" and "outsiders"--"peoples of color" who will not submit to imperialism, or who are just somehow in the way. Lindqvist offers here a work whose format is more striking than its contents. The book, translated by Berkeley Scandinavian studies professor Linda Haverty Rugg, is composed of excerpts and vignettes, drawn from remarkably diverse sources on aerial bombardment, and numbered 1 to 399, proceeding chronologically from the A.D. 762 to 1999, but mostly concerning the 20th century. (Number 155 begins, "During the 1920s, novels about the future often dealt with a time of barbarism.") Most intriguingly, according to Lindqvist, the widespread use of aerial bombardment by Western states against each other in the two world wars was an anomaly made possible not by dehumanizing, but by "dewesternizing" the targets. The end of the Cold War stripped away the mask; Kosovo was only the first stage of an aerial reign of terror. Lindqvist's case, too simplistic and too overstated to be convincing, is nevertheless powerful. His juxtaposition of fact-based history with passages taken from survivalist fiction, racist fantasies like The Turner Diaries and dystopian future-war predictions demonstrates the extent to which aerial bombing is regarded as an ultimate weapon for destroying the opposition. Anyone who thought twice about what happened in the Gulf War or Kosovo will find this intentionally fragmentary analysis compelling; others will be less sympathetic.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


A profound litany of what might someday be considered among the most counterproductive military actions ever taken. -- The Nation

An original work, written with a moral passion that is uncommon. -- Sunday Times [London]

Continuously interesting, often fascinating. -- Financial Times

Extraordinary and beautifully written. -- San Francisco Chronicle

Impassioned, wide-ranging. -- The Times [London]

Lindqvist plots a clear path towards the ever more horrendous holocausts that lie ahead. It is gripping stuff. -- New Statesman

Profoundly disquieting, but that obviously is Lindqvist's ultimate purpose. -- Associated Press

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 220 pages
  • Publisher: New Press, The (May 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565848160
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565848160
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #915,491 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By mason inman on October 2, 2001
Format: Hardcover
A History of Bombing by Sven Lindqvist
This book explores the history of bombing with a focus on those who were bombed, and the attitudes of those who did the bombing. It is not a technical history, but rather a moral history, along the lines of Jonathan Glover's book Humanity, although their emphases and styles are very different.
He draws from many sources to put together a view which is very unique, combining military history, literary history, and political history (especially of European colonies) with analyses of the development of international law regulating warfare and of politicians and officer's views of war. He also adds in autobiographical elements of his fear of attacks as a child during WWII. He follows the development of technologies of bombing, and the techniques of bombing that came along with them (localized to strategic to area bombing, with nuclear bombing of civilians being the culmination of this). He looks at many futuristic novels to see what people's attitudes were toward war and the massive annilhilation possible through bombing, and finds much racism, and also many predicitions of how destructive bombing would become. He looks at many military theoreticians and shapers of international law, both before and since the advent of planes and bombing, to see what has formed our views of what is acceptable in warfare, and how these laws have been bent and broken.
One of Lindqvist's main points is the element of racism in bombing, and how bombing was initially acceptable only when conducted against those who were not civlized, or less than human. Europeans became used to the idea of bombing in the colonies, and this paved the way for the massive bombing which first took place in "civilized lands" in WWII.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By L. Rugg on October 29, 2007
Format: Paperback
As the translator of the book, I probably don't count as an unbiased reviewer. But I learned a great deal in reading and translating it, and I think it is quite ingenious and also devastating. An important book. I wanted to say that the book's English title is considerably more sedate and formal than the Swedish title. Readers like the ones expecting a traditional military history might have been misled by the publisher's decision to omit the Swedish title: "Bang! You're Dead! The Century of Bombing" in favor of a more graspable "The History of Bombing." You may judge for yourself the impact of the original title versus the changed one.
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14 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Mattias Borjesson on March 13, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Lindqvists work a history of bombing is a major achivment of the human mind. The greatest about Lindqvists books is his use of such an wide perspective and view on history from so many different perspectives. Many regular historians are so caught up in their own subject and narrow perspective, that they don't see beyond the narrow limits of the traditional role of the academic historian. Lindqvist use fiction littature to give us a view of how ideas of extermination and mass destruction was widley spread and a part of the basis of western thought in the period 1850-1950. This is a powerfull insight, becuse many of us today deny this and say it was just a minority who shared those beliefs, when in fact it was the opposite, the majority accepted those ideas only a tiny minority spoke out against them. By using fiction littature Lindqvist shows that the ideas of genocide was not anti-western, it was an integrated part in the western civilization. With his different perspective and use of fiction, it is always refrhing to read his books. In a history of bombing you follow the terrible history of bombing from its beginnings in colonial warfare, by those who set out to civilize inferior peoples. But in Europe it was still taboo to use the same methodes of warfare against civilized europeans. But then those ideas who came from the subjection of non european peoples around the world, arrived to Europe. In the ultimate nightmare of modern warfare, in the second world war, bombing of civilians became a legitimate form of warfare. Hitlers new empire was ruled on the basis of a colonial empire, racial imperialism. Germany would use eastern Euroe as a vast colonial empire, were racially inferior people would work for the new masters.
Hitler was crushed in with him the idea of racial imperialism.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By John Mitchell on August 15, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a book I read a long time ago and it stuck with me afterwards - it's got an unusual nonlinear structure (the short segments are arranged roughly chronologically, but you read them non-sequentially as the author mixes history, personal anecdote, etc). This structure could be seen as a gimmick, but I felt it worked well to create a work whose whole felt greater than the sum of its parts. Other reviewers have faulted the book as a "History of Bombing" - but the intention was not to write a history as such. As a rumination on the human predilection for war, past, present, and (sadly) future it's a worthwhile journey.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Allan Lindh on February 7, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a great book, but very hard to take. I found could only be swallowed in small doses. But I promise you, no matter how much you think you know about the military history of the 20th century, you will be faced with a lot of new, and very disturbing material. Probably should be required reading in the US and UK.

As one reviewer pointed out, it is a bit like bull fighting from behind the barricades, but that really only applies to the first couple years of WWII. Admittedly Churchill was faced with an almost hopeless situation in 1939-41, and probably gets a pass on his decisions in that window, but that is a very small portion of the material covered in this book.

Those interested in the question of how Britain and Germany initiated bombing of one another's cities, should read RV Jones great book The Wizard War: British Scientific Intelligence, 1939-1945 (titled The Most Secret War in UK), which gives a somewhat different take on how that decision took place. In his telling Hitler made a terrible mistake in shifting from tactical bombing of British airfields, which was taking a serious toll on the RAF, to bombing London and other cities. If he had kept pounding the fighter bases, he might have won the Battle of Britain.
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