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LeMay: The Life and Wars of General Curtis LeMay Hardcover – May 11, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Kozak’s biography of U.S. Air Force General Curtis E. LeMay (1906–1990) won’t convert those utterly convinced that he was a bomb-happy maniac. The more open-minded, however, will find in it a broader perspective on this controversial officer than we have had elsewhere. His outstanding competence as leader and organizer of strategic airpower in World War II and during the cold war is convincingly presented; so are his limitations in the Pentagon and his poor judgment in being George Wallace’s running mate in 1968. Kozak suggests that LeMay was utterly dedicated to the mission of destroying his country’s enemies and to the men under his command charged with carrying out that mission. This led to what can only be called a certain lack of the social graces and a good many of what might charitably be called misinterpretations of where LeMay’s patriotism led him. A book that definitely belongs in aviation and modern military history collections. --Roland Green


New biography of a dynamic military innovator focuses on his famously flawed personality.

With the ousting of General David McKiernan, America's top commander in Afghanistan, hijacking headlines, the topic of military innovation (or lack thereof) bears fresh consideration for a nation forced to rethink its approach to an unconventional battle. Let's face it: Some generals are simply more strategically creative (and therefore more effective) than others. Historically, one of America's most dynamic military innovators was Curtis LeMay, the World War II Air Commander heralded as the father of modern strategic bombing (he's credited with orchestrating the firebombing of Tokyo and crippling Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia with devastating aerial assaults). Warren Kozak's new biography on LeMay outlines the enigmatic air general's personal and military development--traced all the way back to childhood--with an unprecedented focus on his famously flawed personality. --The Daily Beast, May 26, 2009

Warren Kozak's new biography is not meant to hide LeMay's abrasiveness and absence of tact. And he does not claim that his revisionist account is the last word about the controversial general, or that he has unearthed radically new information. Rather, Kozak's achievement in this engaging portrait is to have provided a twofold reminder. First, like him or not, Curtis LeMay's brilliance and expertise saved thousands of American lives during World War II, helped to shorten the war, and then restored the American strategic deterrence that was essential in keeping the peace during the Cold War.

Second, the larger LeMay paradox is an old one in American military history: peace-loving democratic peoples fear fiery warriors in times of calm as much as they clamor for them in extremis. Those whom we applaud in wartime, we usually damn later during peace. So it was with LeMay, who graced the cover of Time magazine and, by the end of World War II, was a national icon....

Kozak does a good job of uncovering the studious and thoroughly professional side of LeMay, one that belies his image as an out-of-control saber-rattler. Even before World War II, he was a flight engineer and an astute navigator, pioneering long-range navigation techniques on the new B-17 bomber.

LeMay was the longest-serving general in our history, and the youngest to reach four-star rank. President Kennedy was no fan of LeMay, but astutely appointed him to the Joint Chiefs, remarking, "I like having LeMay at the head of the Air Force. Everybody knows how he feels. That's a good thing right now." And even LeMay's perennial liberal foe, Robert McNamara, once concluded that Lemay -- his former wartime boss -- was "the finest military strategist the nation has ever produced."

What are we left with, then, in assessing Curtis E. LeMay? Kozak suggests a tragedy of sorts. LeMay grew up in an age when public-relations ability was largely irrelevant in comparison with personal courage and proven expertise. LeMay's approach -- a combination of reticence and occasional blunt talk about victory at any cost -- privileged action over rhetoric; it was perfectly suited for the conventional struggle of World War II, and even to the frightening, but far more complex, early years of the Cold War....

Yet LeMay's competence and honesty were never questioned. He did not cash in -- as so many have since -- by hawking superfluous new weaponry to former subordinates in the Pentagon. LeMay would rather have perished than have changed to facilitate new doctrines of limited war and faith in international peace-kee ping organizations. In this sympathetic biography, Warren Kozak lets facts about LeMay speak for themselves and reminds us why one of our greatest soldiers is today hardly recognized.

In short, the LeMay DNA was almost divinely engineered for America's ordeal between 1930 and 1960. When that era passed -- and passed without Armageddon, thanks, in large part, to a few brilliant and courageous warriors like LeMay -- we were to be done with him as well. --National Review, Victor Davis Hanson

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 434 pages
  • Publisher: Regnery Publishing; First Edition edition (May 11, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596985690
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596985698
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 7 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (108 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #148,667 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

209 of 225 people found the following review helpful By J. L. Lodge on April 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover
As the daughter of Curtis LeMay I found this book the most cogent and descriptive of my father the man. Many of the myths that frequently clouded the facts and lead to a misunderstanding are dispelled. Kozak has done extensive research and presented a candid and unbiased account of his colorful career.

I never saw my father as anything less than honest, fair and a willing leader beloved and respected by those he commanded. Frequently he has been quoted as having said of the Vietnam War "bomb them back to the stone age". Personally I can set the record straight. This was not his quote but MacKinlay Kantor's statement missed in my father's early editing of the manuscript for "Mission with LeMay". My family is heartened to know that his sacrifices, contributions and patriotism are being recognized.
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65 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Laura Shubert on April 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I began this book because of my interest in the Second World War. Curtis LeMay seems to have been the only significant figure on the American side without an in-depth biography. Well, he has one now, but that is not my point. Looking for a biography of a man of the middle 20th century, I found a biography of the United States in the middle 20th century. Only in America would this child of a terminally unsuccessful, uneducated father work his way through college, join the Army and make such an amazing success of his life without the advantages of a "good family," good looks, charm, social or political adeptness, or even all that much luck. What he had was guts, brains, and the ability to apply relentlessly those guts and brains to the problem at hand. It seems that the only "gift" he was endowed with was the ability to inspire others to work hard and fight hard, but this inspirational "gift" was probably the natural consequence of his own hard work and devotion to duty and country. Indeed, he was such a lousy politician that he thought that he could actually accomplish something useful by a short-term alliance with George Wallace (of all people!), with whose abhorrent views he disagreed.

Although I purchased the book because of LeMay's role in the Second World War, what I found most interesting was the application of LeMay's ideas to the problems faced by the United States today. LeMay believed (of course) that is the job of the politicians to decide when and where to go to war (and they had better think long and hard about that!) but, once they have made that decision, it is the job of the professional soldier to bring that war to as quick and successful a resolution as possible.
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49 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Kristina E. Harrigan on April 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A gripping story vividly told. The author captures LeMay's life and achievements in a single, telling phrase: a "life of great consequence." His life was of great consequence for the country, for the men serving under him and for aviation in general. General LeMay's virtues, and shortcomings, make for a story that I could not stop reading. His struggles and successes at so many critical stages of his life and the life of this country repeatedly provoked a mental exclamation: "What a man!" His ingenuity and perseverance, whether in pursuing entry into flight school in the twenties or in creating the Strategic Air Command in the fifties, are astonishing. The book's presentation of LeMay's career before World War II was especially fascinating.

The political and military situation of those years has spooky echoes in our own time, and it is hard to imagine who would be our own LeMay if we needed one.

LeMay's guiding principle--civilians decide whether to go to war, generals must then carry it on so as to end it as fast as possible with the minimum loss of life--threw a new light on his career. It certainly revised my view of LeMay, which reflected the portrayal of "General Jack D. Ripper" in the movie Dr. Strangelove. At the same time, the story, told so clearly, is a modern tragedy. LeMay was not a "man for all seasons," but he was the best man for the difficult seasons of World War II and the Cold War. The very virtues that made him so essential during those periods--his doggedness, his utter focus on results rather than on appearance and style--made him someone for whom the country at peace thought it had no further use. He may not have been the man you want to sit next to at dinner, but he was certainly the man you want to stand next to in combat. A "must read" for anyone interested in World War II or in the country's response to unexpected but lethal external threats.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Allen Roth on April 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Before reading this wonderful biography/history, my information about General Curtis Lemay was limited to his comment about bombing the North Vietnamese "into the stone age." I had also heard that he was the real character behind a bomb crazed character in Dr. Stangelove.

This biography taught me how much more there is to know about Curtis Lemay. Warren Kozak takes us through the complex life of an important figure in recent American History. Lemay played a central role in devising American Air Force strategy. He was clearly a military visionary (and hero) who broke new ground that helped America fight wars starting with the Second World War. He was also responsible for developing United States Air Force into the greatest air force in world.

As Mr. Kozak takes us through the fascinating story of Lemay's accomplishments he also relates the history of these tumultuous times. Mr. Kozak has a very good eye for the anecdotes and events that inform readers. Lemay's interaction with President Kennedy is one example I am sure all readers will find of interest.

While Mr. Kozak clearly admirers Lemay's professional accomplishments he does not shy away from the less attractive and controversial side of his subject.

This book is superb history integrated into the biography of an important historical figure who has been largely forgotten. I highly recommend it to everyone.
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