"A parable of … American power"

Recommended by the New Statesman from university press books on 26 April 2013:

"Napalm was born a hero but lives a pariah," Robert M. Neer writes. As such, its history is a parable of the vicissitudes of modern American power. Developed at Harvard in the early 1940s, napalm is indelibly associated with the war in Vietnam but Neer shows that it played a role as important as the atomic bomb in hastening Japanese surrender in the Second World War.

"Napalm's Death"

Tom Streithorst for Prospect Magazine in the United Kingdom, "The leading magazine of ideas:" 

Robert M Neer’s thoughtful history, Napalm: An American Biography (Harvard University Press, £22.95), is divided into three sections: hero, soldier and pariah. These neatly describe the evolution of our attitudes towards the incendiary. During the second world war, few had any objections to its use. Its horror was viewed as an advantage because it frightened opponents. Battle hardened soldiers who resisted conventional attacks soon surrendered after being sprayed with napalm from flamethrowers or from specially adapted tanks. Our atavistic fear of fire made napalm the weapon of choice. “People have this thing about being burned to death,” one soldier explained.

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"Harrowing history"

Marilyn Young for Times Higher Education:

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), US 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. Although it has been used by other countries, napalm has “burned more people in the name of the United States, more widely, and over a longer period of time, than any other country”, Neer says. He ends his disturbing book where he began, with the words of a grown-up Kim Phuc, able to describe the ongoing pain of her days while at the same time forgiving those responsible for it. I doubt most readers will feel quite so generous.

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"A war criminal on probation"


Brian Bethune in Macleans 25 March 2013:

"Until Vietnam and one of the 20th century’s most famous photos: nine-year-old Kim Phuc, now a grown woman in Toronto, running down a Vietnamese road in 1972, naked and on fire. Revulsion has held sway in popular opinion, foreign and domestic, ever since. Napalm, a hero of the Second World War, Neer writes, is now a war criminal on probation."

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"Meticulously researched and vitally important"

Nick Turse in the San Francisco Chronicle on 24 March 2013:

"Neer's "Napalm: An American Biography" is a meticulously researched and vitally important academic study of one of the most terrible weapons to emerge from a century that produced a seemingly endless supply of terrible weapons. [A] fascinating and long-overdue study of one of modern warfare's signature weapons. Neer has provided a valuable book that fills in historical gaps and sheds much-needed light on a history that many would rather forget."

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"Best from university presses"

2013 Spring Fling selection of the best from university presses.  Karl Helicher writes on March 15, 2013:

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.

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"A thought-provoking lesson" (PW Pick)

Publisher's Weekly chooses Napalm as a PW Pick and writes on January 14, 2013:

Neer’s thoroughly researched, well-written account mixes lucid discussions of chemical engineering and the law of war with gut-wrenching depictions of napalm’s nightmarish effects. More than that, it furnishes a thought-provoking lesson on evolving attitudes toward military means and ends.

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"Napalm is a revelation"

John Fabian Witt, Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law at Yale Law School and author of Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History.

“Napalm is a revelation. In a story that takes us from Harvard Stadium to Vietnam, Robert M. Neer retells the past 70 years of American history through a single extraordinary and terrible invention. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the American way of war and its humanitarian dilemmas.”


"No one else has told so deeply and compellingly …"

Michael S. Sherry, Richard W. Leopold Professor of History at Northwestern University and author of The Rise of American Air Power: The Creation of Armageddon and In the Shadow of War: The United States since the 1930s:

No one else has told so deeply and compellingly the story of how ‘Napalm was born a hero but lives a pariah’—a terrifying weapon associated with America’s Vietnam War whose history went back much further, as did the dishonest efforts of leaders to cope with its reputation.

"Brilliantly conceived, masterfully executed, and deeply disturbing"

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Andrew J. Bacevich, Professor of International Relations and History at Boston Universityeditor of The Short American Century: A Postmortem and many other books.

“Napalm is a brilliantly conceived, masterfully executed, and deeply disturbing book. Robert M. Neer offers a vivid examination of the military–technological partnership that drives the evolution of warfare, with moral considerations lagging far behind.”