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LeMay: A Biography (Great Generals) Hardcover – January 9, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The general in charge of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Curtis Emerson LeMay witnessed the beginning of the age of nuclear weaponry. As commander of the Strategic Air Command during the Cold War, he saw its consequences in the escalating tension with Russia and his campaigns in North and South Korea. Tillman (author of 40 books including Warriors) calls LeMay one of "the chilliest of cold war Republicans," having made the dubious choice to become the 1968 running mate of segregationist George Wallace. Though LeMay claimed to have joined the campaign out of concern for opponent Richard Nixon's foreign policy, the move permanently damaged his reputation. "It is not recorded that anyone ever accused Curtis LeMay of charisma," observes Tillman, adding, "Perhaps no other American military leader of the 20th century was so successful without possessing a charismatic personality." That may help explain why the book includes significantly more discussion of B-29s and B-52s than it does anecdotes or direct quotes that illustrate LeMay's character or personal life. Well informed and clear, this somewhat dry account will interest air force enthusiasts, though LeMay's charmlessness is unlikely to win over many casual readers. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

This is actually the first full biography of one of the architects of cold war victory, affording perspective that the general's as-told-to autobiography, Mission with Lemay (1965), could not. Tillman emphasizes the most distinguished part of Lemay's career, his tactical innovations over Europe, his command of the B-29s against Japan, and his helming of the Strategic Air Command, 1948-57. Lemay lacked the tact and talent for interservice cooperation, and so was probably a poor choice for air force chief of staff, but he was abundantly skilled at administration and at keeping up morale--aptitudes not universally found in lead-from-the-front combat leaders. He was also politically naive, as his final public appearance as George Wallace's running mate attests, but Tillman argues persuasively that many of the anecdotes on which the demonization of Lemay was constructed were either apocrypha or outright fictions. This will be the best reference on an undeniably major American military leader for some time. Roland Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Series: Great Generals
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1St Edition edition (January 30, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1403971358
  • ISBN-13: 978-1403971357
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,013,599 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Barrett Tillman (b. 1948) was born into a NE Oregon ranching family and developed an early interest in aviation history. He learned to fly as a teenager, was first published at age 15, and graduated from the University of Oregon with a journalism degree in 1971. He has worked as a newspaper reporter, book publisher, and magazine editor, but has been self employed all but seven years since graduating from college. Though best known for his histories of US naval aviation, he also has published six novels plus short stories, and has sold a screenplay.

Tillman continues writing nonfiction books and has written more than 550 articles in the US and abroad. He frequently appears as a commentator on TV documentaries in addition to his speaking appearances. The recipient of six writing awards, he lives with his wife in Arizona.

Tillman's web site and blog are found at www.btillman.com.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Nicholas E. Sarantakes on June 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book is a quick and dirty overview of the life and career of Curtis E. LeMay. The biography is rather thin and it hits only the highlights of the general's life. All the books in this series are on the short side and serve more as brief introductions to their subjects than authoritative accounts. There is only so much Tillman can do in the space that he has available and given the constraints he faces, he does a good job. Tillman is a sympathetic biographer and does an exceptional job of explaining LeMay's involvement in the Berlin Airlift. Previous biographers have given this topic little attention. This approach, though, leads Tillman astray when he reaches LeMay's tenure as Chief-of-Staff of the USAF during the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations. Like previous LeMay biographers, Tillman is as dismissive of the national strategies and foreign policies of these administrations as was LeMay. His explanation of these different ideas and approaches is simplistic at best. He is particularly rough on Secretary of Defense Robert S. MacNamara, making the former executive at the Ford Motor Company look at various times as either an incompetent or as a black-and-white villain.

It is clear that Tillman likes his subject, and there is much to admire in Curtis E. LeMay as a professional, a leader, and as a man. Tillman, however, has a difficult time developing the general's complex personality. There was good deal more to him than his gruff exterior. Despite his "bomb `em back into the stone age" reputation, LeMay had a powerful understanding of the bleak realities of what war really was. He was fully aware he was sending off men to kill and be killed, and he was alert to the real damage that they would suffer one way or another.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Robert C. Bonds on August 8, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
General Curtis E. LeMay is undoubtedly the greatest general of the United States Air Force. LeMay was no charismatic, brash, newspaper prima donna like many of his peers during WW 2 and beyond. General LeMay is the embodiment of the American ethic; extremely hard working, driven to excellence, master of the task at hand and highly determined; yet last but not least loyal.

Barrett Tillman has done a superb job at bringing one of the lesser known generals of WW 2 and the post WW 2 era to life. When talking of great American military leaders of WW 2, LeMay's name is not one that is easily on the tip of most military history buffs tongues. Yet along with Chester Nimitz, he perhaps played one of the greatest roles in winning the war and shaping the future of American airpower. His leadership in establishing long range, daylight precision bombing during the war was key in breaking the industrial might of Nazi Germany. Through statistical analysis he was able to develop the tactics that proved the critics of daylight bombing wrong while getting the maximum performance from his aircrews and planes. When transferred to the CBI theater of operations he took a sagging B-29 program and made it successful against logistical handicaps that would have caused others to throw in the towel. As head of the B-29 command charged with bringing the Japanese to their knees, LeMay's tenacity ruled the day.

While not the first commander of the Strategic Air Command (SAC), it was General LeMay who built SAC into the greatest command within the United States Air Force. His highly analytical mind was responsible for creating a deterrient force that would eventually lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Hypersonic on February 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Barrett Tillman's LeMay is a welcome addition to military aviation literature. Rooted in extensive research, gracefully written, and cogently argued, it places LeMay in a far richer and thoughtful context than the one-dimensional cigar-chomping, firestrom-triggering, finger-on-the-nuclear-trigger caricature of post-Dr. Strangelove, post-Vietnam sensibility. Tillman ranges widely across LeMay's life, relating it to key developments in military aviation, technology, world events, national strategy, and the political and social environment of the times. Nuanced, polished, and engrossing, it is must-read for anyone interested in the development of American air power and the role of this complex and fascinating man, one of the "Great Captains" of air warfare.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Charlotte A. Hu on December 28, 2011
Format: Paperback
As a former Marine, my life has been filled with Chesty Puller, Presley O'Bannon and Molly Marine for as long as I can remember. LeMay is my first introduction to leadership from the Air Force. I love reading about LeMay's life. He seems more legendary than real, a solid modern day hero. I love the stories about his ability to return his team to combat, either by giving them a mental health break or, best, by moving a mutinying bomber pilot who had crewmembers die on three consecutive flights to a fighter. The pilot didn't mind risking his own neck; he just didn't want to kill America's sons.

This books is chalked full of great anecdotes of awesome and inspiring leadership. LeMay was a real no-nonsense, mission-focused, tolerate no BS kinda guy. While gruff, he took recommendations, even criticisms from subordinates and implemented ideas when they seemed effective. He was at the helm for some of the most unseemly elements of America's history including the firebombing of Tokyo and Enola Gay's flight over Hiroshima, but he never blinked. He did what he thought was necessary to keep the world free from dictatorship.

He reshaped America's concept and use of airpower and technology.

This book is a nice blend of facts and stories that tells not only the history, but also the mystery of what was LeMay. I'm enamored.
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