1000 Books In 10 Years; Vol. 55: Area 51, by Annie Jacobsen

Area 51: An Uncensored History Of America’s Top Secret Military Base,  evokes ‘conspiracy theory’ upon reading the title, and whilst it does deliver in that aspect, it also serves as an interesting history of aeronautics in the mid to late 20th century, as well as an interesting examination of a government drunk with a dangerous combination power and paranoia. Annie Jacobsen delves into experimental planes, bombs, and conspiracy theory, and does so in a journalistic tone that though sometimes lengthy and repetitive, is interesting and insightful.



The history of aeronautics which Jacobsen presents is an interesting one. Via personal stories gathered from a plethora of interviews, Jacobsen details design and test flights of several experimental planes and drones. She details interesting aspects of the engineering process in a way that is digestible and interesting to a novice. This is only a slice of what the monograph has to offer however, for as impressive and fascinating as the narrative concerning aeronautics might be, it is over shadowed by disturbingly reckless abandon used in testing nuclear weapons. Under water explosions, dirty bombs, countless underground explosions, and a plethora of above ground and water detonations. Even after signing treaties stating that testing would no longer go on, the American government, not content with having enough nuclear weapons to destroy the entire planet ten times over with plenty to spare, continued testing new weapons and risking contamination, whist failing to make any real headway on issues such as cleaning up contaminated sights. Coupled with that, the theory about Roswell is equally disturbing. Jacobsen, leaning heavily on the testimony of one former researcher at Area 51, suggests that the Russians, having been made familiar with the hysteria caused by the radio broadcast of War Of The Worlds, aimed to create mass hysteria via a plot which would land a faux flying saucer stateside, that would in turn have to child sized individuals, disfigured from genetic and/or surgical experimentation to look extraterrestrial, exit the disc and cause panic. The hope, it is suggested, was to plant seed of panic that would later be exploited when a number of disc would be launched, causing citizens to create a back log in the first-response-air-defence system, making the US vulnerable to an air borne attack from Russian since their response teams would be taxed by the panic induced back log. With the disc recovered, as well as its occupants, Jacobsen suggests the reason this information wasn’t revealed was because US officials wants to reverse engineer both the disc and the occupants, and that experiments were conducted on humans in the US, to replicate the disfigured persons who peopled the disc. The narrative includes Nazi doctors and scientists, which is not unbelievable in the least since the US government employed Nazi scientists themselves in developing a number of aeronautic projects, and though experiments on people may seem far fetched, but the US government has, in documented instances, injected people with, or put plutonium water of people to test its impact. Seventy-three mentally challenged children were fed oatmeal by the US Atomic Energy Commission that was tainted with radioactive calcium. In that context it seems quite believable that the US government would indulge in such practices.



The book is not all doom and gloom and conspiracy theories though. There is a light side to the narrative that creeps up from time to time. When testing the first jet engines (all planes had had propellers at that point), one pilot decided to take his faux propellers off of the nose of his jet and fly it wearing a gorilla mask, so as to confuse any nose pilots who flew too close to get a look at the curious plane. Needless to say, a pilot walking into a bar saying he saw a gorilla flying a propeller-less plane was scoffed at. There was also a man who crossed a barrier marked off as radioactive to steal a truck that had been part of a nuclear test. And engineer got a position in Area 51 via his claim to fame for having designed a contraption that would prevent a pilot’s penis from freezing whilst seated in the cock pit of a plane. And there is also the story of a plane that was renamed because Lyndon Johnson misspoke its name, and the folks didn’t want to have to correct the president. There are several other funny anecdotes throughout the book that help to lighten the mood up.

Author Annie Jacobsen


Though a little repetitive at times, and laboriously long in other parts, the books is both insightful, interesting and entertaining. It would have been interesting to read a more thorough narrative concerning the unethical experiments made by the American government, but as most such things didn’t not happen at Area 51, it steps outside of the purview of this book. The book serves to feed and encourage curiosity, and calls for American to indulge in self-examination, to consider if the ends always justify the means, and to consider also whether its it worth defending “democracy” or “freedom”, or whatever other buzz word one might use to justify misdeeds, if one is going to indulge in the same behaviour as the totalitarian governments which one aims to defend oneself against.

Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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