Napalm: An American Biography

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9780674088085: Napalm: An American Biography
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Napalm was invented on Valentine’s Day 1942 at a secret Harvard war research laboratory. It created an inferno that killed over 87,500 people in Tokyo―more than died in the atomic explosions at Hiroshima or Nagasaki―and went on to incinerate 64 Japanese cities. The Bomb got the press, but napalm did the work. Neer offers the first history.

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About the Author:

Robert M. Neer is an attorney and Core Lecturer in the History Department at Columbia University.

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The author details napalm's creation by Louis Fieser (1899-1977) at Harvard and its pre-Vietnam use, wreaking mayhem in Japan during World War II and later in the Korean War. Neer's coverage of napalm's toll on thousands of Vietnamese citizens and the growing American awareness of these atrocities, which sparked the antiwar movement against Dow Chemical, napalm's largest producer, is gripping... [A] concise, often fascinating, story of this weapon's place in warfare and American popular culture.--Karl Helicher"Library Journal" (03/15/2013)

Neer recounts in rich detail the extraordinary evolution of napalm from hero in the gilded age of post-WWII American power to pariah in the aftermath of Vietnam...Neer ultimately moves beyond the protests to examine how antiwar grassroots activism, art, journalism and politics during and immediately after the Vietnam War radically reshaped cultural attitudes about napalm and the United States.--Warren Wilkins"Vietnam Magazine" (06/01/2013)

Neer's biography covers the post-Vietnam years of napalm, its appearance in song and story (the scabrous military call-and-response "Napalm Sticks to Kids, "the film "Apocalypse Now), "U.S. resistance to international efforts to ban its use (overcome finally in 2008, although with reservations) and, albeit with a name change, its ongoing use in the war in Iraq...[A] disturbing book.--Marilyn Young"Times Higher Education" (04/18/2013)

As described by Neer in this hideously readable account, napalm--developed in 1942--was one of the first fruits of the academic-military-industrial complex which has done so much to shape America--and the world--in the decades since. Its history seems quintessentially American, too, in the combination of ingenuity and ingenuousness which went into its development and deployment; the moral blindness to what all the world except the U.S. can see.--Michael Kerrigan"The Scotsman" (04/27/2013)

[A] gripping, meticulously documented study of a devilish weapon...Besides giving us an accurate description of the political and military landscape of the time--the relentless bombing of North Vietnam, the antiwar protests, the endless arguments over the war's morality, the outcries over napalm-producing Dow Chemical's recruiting on campuses--Neer vividly makes clear how napalm earned its satanic reputation as an indiscriminate incinerator of children...[A] thought-provoking and heart-rending book.--Chris Patsilelis"Tampa Bay Times" (05/04/2013)

[Neer has] a brilliant eye for the horrible detail...Neer constructs this early narrative with exceptional skill and intelligence, vividly tracing the path that connects gleeful scientists on Cambridge soccer fields to streets and basements choked with human ash in Europe and Asia.--Chris Bray"Bookforum" (04/01/2013)

[This] is the first comprehensive history of napalm, and tells the story of how a weapon deemed so useful in World War II and Korea hit a turning point in Vietnam. During that time it became the target of antiwar protestors, who mounted a nationwide campaign to stop Dow Chemical Co. from manufacturing it.--Gal Beckerman"Boston Globe" (03/24/2013)

Napalm was not developed as anything other than a weapon to burn people. Neer provides damning proof of this...Napalm killed hundreds of thousands and helped the Allies to win the Second World War. But it helped to lose America the war in Vietnam. Photographs of napalm victims turned opposition to the war into a national movement.--Sam Kiley"The Times" (04/27/2013)

Neer has created the first comprehensive history of napalm, meticulously charting the early years when the weapon--developed by scientists at a secret war research laboratory at Harvard--was treated as a glorious new instrument of war at the tail-end of the second world war, to its controversial image in the aftermath of Vietnam and the protest movements that grew around it...Neer doesn't hold back his punches in describing the nightmarish scenes following napalm strikes, quoting heavily from accounts of those caught underneath and journalists who arrived on the scenes soon after...There is no question that Neer has done a masterful job of writing a compelling history of one of the major villains of the 20th century.--Kit Gillet"South China Morning Post" (04/28/2013)

Neer help[s] us understand why the events of 1945 linger on as exemplars of both the pinnacle of military engineering and the essence of what war should not be.--Jan Mieszkowski"Los Angeles Review of Books" (05/07/2013)

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