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Napalm, incendiary gel that sticks to skin and burns to the bone, came into the world on Valentine s Day 1942 at a secret Harvard war research laboratory. On March 9, 1945, it created an inferno that killed over 87,500 people in Tokyo--more than died in the atomic explosions at Hiroshima or Nagasaki. It went on to incinerate sixty-four of Japan's largest cities. The Bomb g Napalm, incendiary gel that sticks to skin and burns to the bone, came into the world on Valentine s Day 1942 at a secret Harvard war research laboratory. On March 9, 1945, it created an inferno that killed over 87,500 people in Tokyo--more than died in the atomic explosions at Hiroshima or Nagasaki. It went on to incinerate sixty-four of Japan's largest cities. The Bomb got the press, but napalm did the work. After World War II, the incendiary held the line against communism in Greece and Korea--Napalm Day led the 1950 counter-attack from Inchon--and fought elsewhere under many flags. Americans generally applauded, until the Vietnam War. Today, napalm lives on as a pariah: a symbol of American cruelty and the misguided use of power, according to anti-war protesters in the 1960s and popular culture from "Apocalypse Now" to the punk band Napalm Death and British street artist Banksy. Its use by Serbia in 1994 and by the United States in Iraq in 2003 drew condemnation. United Nations delegates judged deployment against concentrations of civilians a war crime in 1980. After thirty-one years, America joined the global consensus, in 2011. Robert Neer has written the first history of napalm, from its inaugural test on the Harvard College soccer field, to a Marine Corps plan to attack Japan with millions of bats armed with tiny napalm time bombs, to the reflections of Phan Thi Kim Phuc, a girl who knew firsthand about its power and its morality.


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Napalm, incendiary gel that sticks to skin and burns to the bone, came into the world on Valentine s Day 1942 at a secret Harvard war research laboratory. On March 9, 1945, it created an inferno that killed over 87,500 people in Tokyo--more than died in the atomic explosions at Hiroshima or Nagasaki. It went on to incinerate sixty-four of Japan's largest cities. The Bomb g Napalm, incendiary gel that sticks to skin and burns to the bone, came into the world on Valentine s Day 1942 at a secret Harvard war research laboratory. On March 9, 1945, it created an inferno that killed over 87,500 people in Tokyo--more than died in the atomic explosions at Hiroshima or Nagasaki. It went on to incinerate sixty-four of Japan's largest cities. The Bomb got the press, but napalm did the work. After World War II, the incendiary held the line against communism in Greece and Korea--Napalm Day led the 1950 counter-attack from Inchon--and fought elsewhere under many flags. Americans generally applauded, until the Vietnam War. Today, napalm lives on as a pariah: a symbol of American cruelty and the misguided use of power, according to anti-war protesters in the 1960s and popular culture from "Apocalypse Now" to the punk band Napalm Death and British street artist Banksy. Its use by Serbia in 1994 and by the United States in Iraq in 2003 drew condemnation. United Nations delegates judged deployment against concentrations of civilians a war crime in 1980. After thirty-one years, America joined the global consensus, in 2011. Robert Neer has written the first history of napalm, from its inaugural test on the Harvard College soccer field, to a Marine Corps plan to attack Japan with millions of bats armed with tiny napalm time bombs, to the reflections of Phan Thi Kim Phuc, a girl who knew firsthand about its power and its morality.

54 review for Napalm: An American Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    This is a fine work of technological history, tracing napalm from dreams of recreating Greek Fire through the creation of the military-academic partnership that developed it at Harvard in 1942 (with a chapter on the spectacularly ill-fated plan to use bats as a delivery system). It was then enthusiastically used as an incendiary on Dresden and Tokyo, in the Greek Civil War and by the Greeks in Cyprus and in the Korean War. Vietnam, though, changed the public perception of napalm and in tandem wi This is a fine work of technological history, tracing napalm from dreams of recreating Greek Fire through the creation of the military-academic partnership that developed it at Harvard in 1942 (with a chapter on the spectacularly ill-fated plan to use bats as a delivery system). It was then enthusiastically used as an incendiary on Dresden and Tokyo, in the Greek Civil War and by the Greeks in Cyprus and in the Korean War. Vietnam, though, changed the public perception of napalm and in tandem with medical concern over treatment of those burned and debates over the morality of it as a weapon, organized protests began against Dow Chemical and napalm's original creator Louis Fieser, accelerated by shock when napalm was used against the USS Liberty and the South Vietnamese Presidential Palace. Neer includes a chapter on the popular culture of napalm--from Graham Greene to appearances on film in Apocalypse Now, Platoon and Fight Club, as well as in the famous photograph of Phan Thị Kim Phúc. He ends with the process of attempted regulation of napalm under Protocol III, an agreement the US signed only in 2008 and then with a diplomatic reservation that renders use discretionary.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

    A well-rounded, solid account on the birth and usage of one of the most devastating weapons developed in the 20th century from WW2 to now. Full of fascinating facts and accounts from the inventors, the militaries that used it for various conflicts, to the victims who were forever traumatized by it.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    Pretty interesting though gets a little repetitive towards the end. A real indictment of these here United States!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Abigail

    Napalm and American biography was an incredibly detailed book that anyone wanting to learn more about weapons of war and how Napalm was used should consider reading. While this book is on the longer side it is completely full of great information that could help anyone gain more knowledge on this particular topic. The book starts out with how napalm first started and describes the researchers and what they aimed to do. The book describes how the researchers at Harvard College flooded the tennis Napalm and American biography was an incredibly detailed book that anyone wanting to learn more about weapons of war and how Napalm was used should consider reading. While this book is on the longer side it is completely full of great information that could help anyone gain more knowledge on this particular topic. The book starts out with how napalm first started and describes the researchers and what they aimed to do. The book describes how the researchers at Harvard College flooded the tennis courts with water and tested Napalm in its earlier stages in on school grounds. The book talks not only about its debut in the Vietnam war but also its some what controversial use in the Vietnam war. Towards the middle of the book, the other tells about reporters sent to Vietnam to document the war. The reporters featured tell of how the villages were destroyed along with countless lives. This section of the book also tells of a girl seen running from her village seen burning in the background. She herself was also covered in burns her facial expression terrified. Many other children were seen throughout the book some had their parents to help comfort them while others were seen alone. The purpose of this book did not seem to try and persuade people that the war was bad or good but just wanted to help inform people on both sides of the matter. This book was full of great information but it was on the long side and did become quite slow at certain points of the book. The author of Napalm an American biography Robert M. Never seems to have quite the qualifications to write a book such as this. This is partly because he is a professor at the University of Columbia giving core history lectures. I feel that the author did an excellent job writing this book. I liked how he showed both sides of the argument with both of the wars involved with the book

  5. 4 out of 5

    Russell

    Neer, a lawyer and historian, sets out to produce an exhaustive history of napalm, and succeeds at producing one. The first half of the book was interesting, showing the World War II push to create an incendiary jelly, which proved successful in a Harvard laboratory, largely driven by one chemist. This jelly, napalm, found some use in the European theater, but was widely deployed in the Pacific war against Japan, where it proved revolutionary in taking the small occupied islands. It also found a Neer, a lawyer and historian, sets out to produce an exhaustive history of napalm, and succeeds at producing one. The first half of the book was interesting, showing the World War II push to create an incendiary jelly, which proved successful in a Harvard laboratory, largely driven by one chemist. This jelly, napalm, found some use in the European theater, but was widely deployed in the Pacific war against Japan, where it proved revolutionary in taking the small occupied islands. It also found a lot of use in area bombing of Japanese cities, which, due to their construction, were mostly leveled by combinations of conventional and napalm bombs. In the second half, Neer details public reaction to napalm, from post-World War II through post-Vietnam war, and how the weapon was largely outlawed, though the United States reserved the right to continue using it if it saw fit. This second half of the book, while perhaps interesting to a lawyer or historian, was less so to this layperson. Overall, however, and interesting study of a fearsome and controversial weapon.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sylvia

    Interesting book, but it drags and becomes lost in the weeds sometimes.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Gyro

    Great start for researching this history. Lots of fascinating connections and ideas.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Robert Powell

    Interesting in depth story of rise and fall of the public’s view of napalm.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Sprunger

    "Napalm" as a word is practically as disgusting as a deforming medical abnormality or repellent skin conditon/sexually transmitted disease. Nevertheless, the author gives readers a fair and sophisticated view of one of the post-war years' ultimate pariahs. The utility of fire as a weapon is investigated from its classical-heroic history in ancient and medieval times through the engineering problems it solves. (An incendiary device is economical, especially for purposes of delivery. Since incendi "Napalm" as a word is practically as disgusting as a deforming medical abnormality or repellent skin conditon/sexually transmitted disease. Nevertheless, the author gives readers a fair and sophisticated view of one of the post-war years' ultimate pariahs. The utility of fire as a weapon is investigated from its classical-heroic history in ancient and medieval times through the engineering problems it solves. (An incendiary device is economical, especially for purposes of delivery. Since incendiary bombs start fires, using their targets for fuel, they do not have to bring their fuel with them. This keeps weight and cost down and makes assembly and storage simple. Hydrocarbon gelled incendiary bombs use contents that stay a liquid, even for a short time after impact. This allows the contents to bounce off walls, splash around corners, and run into cracks and penetrate sub levels. As grim as the subject is, incendiary gelled bombs are an engineering triumph, allowing remote strikes to be made into spaces it might otherwise require a squad of vulnerable soldiers to penetrate.) During the course of the narrative, Napalm takes us down unexpected anecdotal avenues (an army plan to use bats (yes, bats) to be fitted with delayed detonation suicide vests as a way to deliver incendiaries across wide areas in remote locations. (Fire bombs work great in densely populated areas and industrial targets; not so well in farm country. The bat bomb sought to fill in the tactical gap.)). Naturally the weapons' use in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam are given detailed histories. But where Napalm really succeeds is explaining the protest movement's logic, the counter argument by the defense industry, and the legal basis and challenges under various non-use protocols. The legal basis provides some of the most thought provoking material to be found in the book - bordering on a review of ethics - perhaps the most refreshing discussion of the law of war I've ever come across in a neatly packed presentation written in plain language. Professional reviews stress the non-political tone the author maintains throughout the book. While our knee-jerk presumption that napalm is bad isn't challenged much, the author's impartiality and genuine quest to understand his subject spins off a lot of fun koans to consider. Neer shows how - like everything, really - things are never as straight-forward as they might seem.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    An excellent, readable, and often disturbing history of a weapon that's synonymous with the horror of modern warfare. Developed at Harvard after America's entry into World War II, napalm was explicitly designed to destroy urban and civilian targets: It was even tested on realistic mock-ups of German and Japanese houses. The book's description of the firebombing of Japan in early 1945 is especially horrifying, and Neer makes the case that this indiscriminate scorched-earth campaign, not the atomi An excellent, readable, and often disturbing history of a weapon that's synonymous with the horror of modern warfare. Developed at Harvard after America's entry into World War II, napalm was explicitly designed to destroy urban and civilian targets: It was even tested on realistic mock-ups of German and Japanese houses. The book's description of the firebombing of Japan in early 1945 is especially horrifying, and Neer makes the case that this indiscriminate scorched-earth campaign, not the atomic bombs, ended the war. Vietnam figures prominently, but is not the main focus. The book also details forgotten or lesser-known uses of the weapon in Korea and the Iraq War (where the US military insisted its "firebombs" were different than napalm). In the age of drone strikes and targeted killings, Napalm is a timely exploration of the last big debate over the morality of the United States (literally) raining death from above.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Chelsey Langland

    The first half of this was four stars, easily. The creation of napalm, the humanization of the creator, and the ethics of the drops on Tokyo were page turners. It even held on through the VietNam parts and the protests against Dow. But after that it kind of fell apart. It was repetitive and poorly paced. There were unforgivable typos and a date that was clearly wrong. This is from an academic press - where were the proofreaders? Kudos to the author for avoiding the academic book trap, and the str The first half of this was four stars, easily. The creation of napalm, the humanization of the creator, and the ethics of the drops on Tokyo were page turners. It even held on through the VietNam parts and the protests against Dow. But after that it kind of fell apart. It was repetitive and poorly paced. There were unforgivable typos and a date that was clearly wrong. This is from an academic press - where were the proofreaders? Kudos to the author for avoiding the academic book trap, and the strength of the first half just barely outweighs the problems in the second. But I came away disappointed because it started so well.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Gillian

    Covers the development of napalm as an incendiary weapon during WW2 and it's use throughout the remaining years of WW2, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and more recent military campaigns. Robert Neer also explains how the use of napalm in the Vietnam War led to permanent changes in public opinion on the role that napalm should play in War. Those who like war biographies should find this book interesting. Covers the development of napalm as an incendiary weapon during WW2 and it's use throughout the remaining years of WW2, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and more recent military campaigns. Robert Neer also explains how the use of napalm in the Vietnam War led to permanent changes in public opinion on the role that napalm should play in War. Those who like war biographies should find this book interesting.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Trailhoundz

    Tough book. It reads almost like a textbook- very dry and technical. Photo inserts are heartbreaking/disturbing but it was a nice asset having them. The cover is what drew me in (personally, I never heard of Napalm) and wish the text was written in a more engaging way so I could learn more about this stuff. I made it through 30-40 pages but the book was too dry for me, and I brought it back to the library. Oh well.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Umberto

    The US Stopped using this very effective weapon due to politics developed by harvard wide use in second world war used in firebombing campainges : very effective people have a strong psychological aversion to fire.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    This covers every possible thing you could want to know about napalm, from its creator, to its use, its bad reputation, its ban & its resurgence with a new name! Napalm is too effective & cost efficient to ever be put to rest. Well done.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Muhammad al-Khwarizmi

    Neat history on inter alia the hilarious effects of napalm on the human body. I have to say I cringed at the phrase "death metal punk" (made in reference to a paragraph on anti-war themes in death metal) because metal and punk are, barring some crossovers, quite distinct genres. Neat history on inter alia the hilarious effects of napalm on the human body. I have to say I cringed at the phrase "death metal punk" (made in reference to a paragraph on anti-war themes in death metal) because metal and punk are, barring some crossovers, quite distinct genres.

  17. 4 out of 5

    R.J. Gilmour

    I tried to read Robert M. Neer's, Napalm: An American Biography (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2013) but it is one of those institutional type histories that was weighed down by his subject. It became a succession of names, acronyms and people that was tedious and dull. I tried to read Robert M. Neer's, Napalm: An American Biography (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2013) but it is one of those institutional type histories that was weighed down by his subject. It became a succession of names, acronyms and people that was tedious and dull.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    As seen in Nature . As seen in Nature .

  19. 4 out of 5

    Robin

  20. 5 out of 5

    Christina

  21. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

  22. 5 out of 5

    Glenn Robins

  23. 4 out of 5

    Matt Lively

  24. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Bozzo

  25. 4 out of 5

    Beryl Morago

  26. 5 out of 5

    Alice Hahn

  27. 5 out of 5

    Brian Snoddy

  28. 5 out of 5

    Omid Fattahi

  29. 4 out of 5

    Christie Walker

  30. 5 out of 5

    Nick

  31. 4 out of 5

    'Aussie Rick'

  32. 4 out of 5

    Bob

  33. 5 out of 5

    Brendan Koerner

  34. 5 out of 5

    Mona

  35. 4 out of 5

    KC

  36. 4 out of 5

    Todd

  37. 5 out of 5

    James

  38. 4 out of 5

    sandra

  39. 4 out of 5

    Laika

  40. 4 out of 5

    John Land

  41. 5 out of 5

    Kristina

  42. 5 out of 5

    Dean Farrrell

  43. 4 out of 5

    Neverdust

  44. 5 out of 5

    Newman

  45. 4 out of 5

    Eric

  46. 5 out of 5

    Sean

  47. 4 out of 5

    Donald

  48. 4 out of 5

    Royce

  49. 4 out of 5

    Bob

  50. 4 out of 5

    Jason

  51. 4 out of 5

    Seth Stern

  52. 5 out of 5

    Mark

  53. 4 out of 5

    J M

  54. 4 out of 5

    Katie

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