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Book Review - Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base by Annie Jacobsen

Category Book Review Annie Jacobsen Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base
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I first noticed Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base by Annie Jacobsen while wandering through a bookstore in London.  I read a bit and thought this was something I had to grab from the library when I got home.  I didn't want to buy it there and haul 500+ pages around in a suitcase.  After reading it once I got home, I'm glad I didn't commit to the weight.  This is one of those reads that leaves me conflicted as to whether I liked it or not...

Contents:
The Secret City; The Riddle of Area 51; Imagine a War of the Worlds; The Secret Base; The Seeds of a Conspiracy; The Need-to-Know; Atomic Accidents; From Ghost Town to Boomtown; Cat and Mouse Becomes Downfall; The Base Builds Back Up; Wizards of Science, Technology, and Diplomacy; What Airplane?; Covering Up the Cover-Up; Dull, Dirty, and Dangerous Requires Drones; Drama in the Desert; The Ultimate Boys' Club; Operation Black Shield and the Secret History of the USS Pueblo; The MiGs of Area 51; Meltdown; The Lunar-Landing Conspiracy and Other Legends of Area 51; From Camera Bays to Weapons Bays, the Air Force Takes Control; Revelation; Epilogue; Acknowledgments; Notes; Author Interviews and Bibliography; Index

Jacobsen sets out to write a comprehensive expose on the history and secrets of Area 51.  Using declassified documents and countless interviews with people associated with the topic, she weaves a narrative going from the search for an out-of-the-way area that could be used by the government for sensitive research to the creation and use of the armed drones we see in the headlines today.  Along the way, there are nuclear explosions, high-altitude spy planes, permanently contaminated soil, and of course, the "Roswell incident."  But even as much as is told here, there's so much more that remains unknown and unknowable, as there are thought to be over 600 million pages of documents that remain classified to this day.  The full and complete story of Area 51 will never be known or told.

On the positive side, Jacobsen does a good job giving a broad history of Area 51.  Knowing why the site was created and how it's been used over the years provides the context for how perception and reality has been shaped by the government over this topic.  She spent the time and effort finding and interviewing people who are rapidly becoming inaccessible due to age.  As these individuals die off, parts of the story and history of Area 51 die off with them.

On the flip side, some basic facts are botched badly.  If you read other reviews on Amazon, you'll quickly understand the errors.  Either she didn't understand many of the facts, or the editors of the book were asleep at the wheel.  Many of the interviews are stories told by the interviewees of things they heard, not necessarily things they were part of.  After awhile, you have to start wondering where facts stop and legend/imagination/rumor begin.  Unfortunately, that type of mindset ends up coloring and clouding *all* the content, not just the parts that seem to be shocking or unimaginable.  I also had problems with her conclusions related to Roswell.  If the craft that was found really was a Russian aircraft piloted by mutated/genetically engineered children, why haven't we seen that particular technology used in other aircraft since then?  It's hard to believe that the saucer technology, if real, hasn't been used or made public in 60 years by either Russia *or* the United States.  I'm not saying I think it was really an alien craft.  I just can't buy into the story as told here.

So is Area 51 worth reading? It's a toss-up.  I think the book could have been done in about half the page count, and you have to read with an eye towards deciding some things for yourself.  On the other hand, the story of how high-altitude spy planes came to be is fascinating, as is the concept that some things are "born classified" and that even the President doesn't have a "need-to-know" to access the material.  It's not hard to imagine how many things are being done without oversight or control as to what ramifications may exist.  I'm reasonably certain that if those 600 million pages (where do you STORE that much paper???) were ever declassified, we'd have a drastically different view of our government and elected leaders.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

Comments

Gravatar Image1 - A good review of the technical developments by the CIA, Air Force, and others in the Utah desert to create the U2 and successors. Not a "little green men" history: more a "dark side of intelligence" history.

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