LeMay: The Life and Wars of General Curtis LeMay

LeMay: The Life and Wars of General Curtis LeMay

by Warren Kozak

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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781597772716
Publisher: Phoenix Books, Incorporated
Publication date: 05/01/2009
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 5.70(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

WARREN KOZAK is an author and journalist who has written for television’s most respected news anchors. Winner of the prestigious Benton Fellowship at the University of Chicago in 1993, he was an on-air reporter for NPR, and his work has appeared on PBS and in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the New York Sun as well as other newspapers and magazines. Warren Kozak was born and raised in Wisconsin and lives in New York City with his wife and daughter. Visit his website at WarrenKozak.com.

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Lemay 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
Corgle More than 1 year ago
With apologies to the other reviewers here, I was extremely disappointed by this book. It is based in significant part on General LeMay's autobiography and other pieces to which LeMay himself heavily contributed. Mr. Kozac has written a cracking good story, but he offers precious few insights into LeMay, the complete person. Nor does he seem to offer a critically balanced portrait of the public LeMay. The book struck me as superficial. For example, I particularly looked forward to learning more about LeMay's role in the Cuban missle crisis in light of recently declassified documents. Nevertheless, the section is less than eleven pages long and does not present as complete a picture of LeMay as we find in Schlessinger, Sorensen and in RFK's Thirteen Days. The entire book is written in short sub headed sections that do not seem to have much structure or direction. Too much of the writing is just confused. In one section we learn that the Air Corps is so impressed with the B-17's first test flight that procurement officers decided to place orders for 65 aircraft immediately following the first test flight. The next paragraph makes a u-turn and tells us that the airplane had a "disasterous beginning" by crashing on its second flight and the program nearly being cancelled. There are also numerous factual errors in the book regarding small things that raise questions about the author's thoroughness and judgment. We are told, for instance, about LeMay's accuracy with a ".22 caliber BB gun", and about the "mid year" (read "mid term") Congressional elections of 1962. There are also several glaring errors regarding aircraft type and capability. I approached this book with great anticipation, hoping to learn more about a character whom I already could place in historical context. It disappoints greatly and reads instead like an extended official biography or a book for young readers.
SantaFeReader More than 1 year ago
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.
MJT More than 1 year ago
As a retired (1977-2007) U.S. Air Force veteran, I found Warren Kozak's book did a wonderful job presenting General LeMay's contributions, both before the establisment of a formal Department of the Air Force and his subsequent service following. I served in the Strategic Air Command (SAC) for over 5-years, and although General LeMay had been retired for some time, his legacy was very much still present during my tour in the command. The Air Force actually did away with SAC in 1992 and dispersed it's assets to other commands. Recently, after a series of critical mis-steps regarding the oversight of the Nuclear missions, current Air Force leadership realized that special procedures and expertise would only be restored by returning to a "SAC-Like" dedicated command as created by General LeMay--thus the establisment of the Air Force Global Strike Command. Given the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, General LeMay's unique leadership style, as portrayed by Mr. Kozak, seemed to be just what was needed at crucial points of the emerging Air Force and it's formative years. I am glad this book provides the reader an opportunity to see General LeMay for the outstanding leader he was, while providing insight as to why he ever decided, for a very brief time of his achievement filled life, to partner with a man like George Wallace in his failed attempt to win the office of the President of the United States. Clearly, General LeMay was a leader and American far above the likes of Wallace. Mr. Kozak's book is definitely worth buying and reading!
laurasview More than 1 year ago
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. LeMay believed that the all-out approach to war (such as the firebombing campaign he designed for the Japanese home islands) was ultimately the most humane method and resulted in the fewest civilian casualties as it ended a war more quickly. The LeMay Doctrine is directly opposed to the "proportional response" methods endorsed by such men as Robert McNamara, who believed that the US should temper its responses to match those of its enemies and not bring its overwhelming firepower to bear on the enemy. This McNamara view appears to be the view of each Administration since the end of the Korean War - and does not appear to have worked very well.
Barney4 More than 1 year ago
Having served in SAC in the mid 60's it came as additional information to endear me to this extrodinary officer. A rare bread that was respected down on the flight line!
aharrigan More than 1 year ago
LeMay had an exterior as blunt as a bulldozer, but his power lay in sublety, craft, planning, and then meticulous, relentless execution. This book mirrors its subject. The prose has few frills. The author's skill lies in painting a subtle portrait using the same plain-speak Curtis Le May employed to get his job done. LeMay is a worthy subject. He is a thread that wound its way with ever-growing power throu five decades of tumult. LeMay came to age at the outset of the Great Depression, was in at the birth of our Air Force, rose to command leadership in World War II, ran the Berlin Airlift and then the Strategic Air Command through and beyond the Korean War, predicted the failure at the Bay of Pigs, and became Air Force Chief under Kennedy in spite of the President's dislike for him. Le May's genius consistently shone through his off-putting shell. Le May was subtly implacable. He planned his maneuvers and executed them with daring and determination. LeMay was not without charm, but he had a daunting demeanor. He had no interest in cultivating friendship in the ranks or in socializing with his superiors. Instead, because of his stunning effectiveness, he was soon respected, then admired, then revered from below and from above. He was a real military man. He lived and worked to defeat those who would do his country harm, but worked just as hard to find ways to do it at least cost in American lives. The author has created a deep and compelling portrait of this complex man, whose blunt exterior concealed a subtle genius for outmaneuvering the enemy-which, more often than not, included both the nominal enemy and the military bureaucracy. The author has a fine talent for staying out of the way of his own story. And what a story it is. The book opens a series of unique windows into critical events in our history, beginning with the birth of large-scale aerial bombardment, with Le May as its American father. This chapter at the outset of Le May's rise epitomizes the combination of genius, craft, determination, and stubbornness that he brought to every job. Le May was offended by, and doubted, the conventional wisdom then governing aerial bombardment over Germany. American B-17 pilots were expected to "jink" over the target to avoid anti-aircraft fire. Le May concluded that his men could not hit the targets while preoccupied with dodging flak. He also calculated, based on his own artillery training, that anti-aircraft fire could not be effective enough against fast-moving aerial targets to justify dodging around in the air to avoid it. After days of calculations and planning, Le May set a course straight over the target for the next bombing run with LeMay in the lead aircraft. Le May was right. Not one plane was lost to anti-aircraft fire. The bombing results were in a class by themselves. Le May's approach was immediately adopted fleet-wide. Le May's men revered him for finding a way to the job they were there to do without increased risk to them--and for flying in the most vulnerable plane on his experimental mission. This Le May pattern is repeated throughout a career of spectacular effectiveness at critical moments in our military history. The story is inherently absorbing. The author presents Le May with skill and finesse. A very worthwhile read.
kerns222 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
OK he was an engineer, OK he was brave, but . . . Kozak brushes over analyses of aerial terror bombing (as it was called when I was growing up and the Nazis started it) and its aftermath on civilians, but includes lots of technique--low level B-29 tactics explained well. And a bit of family life too.
Tom_Lane More than 1 year ago
Amazing story of the life of an amazing man!
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HerbGoodheart More than 1 year ago
Mr. Kozak's book gives a balanced portrayal of LeMay's important role during the Second World War in both Europe as well as Japan. It also covers his revamping of the Strategic Air Command. It seems that LeMay was the right man at the right time. I was quite surprised to discover how much of a debt our country owes to this currently unheralded military genius. As a liberal, I realize that it's not politically correct to praise him, but anyone who reads this book will have an awakening and new appraisal of this man. A great read!!!
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ZazMeissner More than 1 year ago
If ever you could call a biography a "page-turner," this is it. Lemay is a fascinating book about a man who began his career in the post-WWI era flying biplanes and finished his career as the man who designed the Strategic Air Command (SAC). Had I not known something about Curtis E. LeMay before picking up this book, I would have thought its subject was a fictional character. After all, how many men begin flying biplanes and end up flying B-52 jet bombers with nuclear payloads?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
stormsTC More than 1 year ago
"lemay" is a very indepth and very well writtion book very well documented. the arthur warren kozak has opened up all of curtis lemays life from his early child hood to his later years as a world 2 bomber commander. what i found fasinating is he had a remarkable ability to overcome tough odd whean he saw that a situation was going to stifel the goals he neded he always found other methods to achieve what he needed. this courage and wisdom of his was what he used whean he confronted the problems of the bombing campaigns as a result of his learning and how to deal with problems and solve them at an early age he was able to apply these same efforts in lowering bomber caualties as well as helping bomber command achieve better bomber results agaist the enemy on the ground.hope to see lemays diary published soon