Myths and hypotheses about Area 51 have long abounded, thanks to the intense secrecy enveloping it. Some claim it is home to aliens, underground tunnel systems, and nuclear facilities. Others believe that the lunar landing was filmed there. The prevalence of these rumors stems from the fact that no credible insider has ever divulged the truth about his time inside the base. Until now.
Annie Jacobsen had exclusive access to 20 men who served on the base proudly and secretly for decades and are now aged 75-92; she also had unprecedented access to 55 additional military and intelligence personnel, scientists, pilots, and engineers linked to the secret base, 32 of whom lived and worked there for extended periods. In Area 51, Jacobsen shows us what has really gone on in the Nevada desert, from testing nuclear weapons to building supersecret supersonic jets to pursuing the War on Terror. This is the first book based on interviews with eyewitnesses to Area 51 history, which makes it the seminal work on the subject. Filled with formerly classified information that has never been accurately decoded for the public, Area 51 weaves the mysterious activities of the top secret base into a gripping narrative, showing that fact is often more fantastic than fiction, especially when the distinction is almost impossible to make.
©2011 Annie Jacobson (P)2011 Hachette
This book is an overall history of Area 51 and is interesting as such. Some of the more controversial stuff that's been in the press lately, though, is from a single source she interviewed and should be viewed as such. Not saying it's not true. There's no way for me to know that. But that stuff comes from interviewing only a single source and was not corroborated by any other source.
Anyway, the overall history is pretty interesting despite that.
The writer does a decent job of reading her own book. Not exceptional, but not annoying either.
Jacobsen does a fine job of telling the story of Area 51, especially the spy plane missions that originated from there flying U-2 and A-12 aircraft. I've been a more-than-casual student of post WWII aircraft development over the years and I found much in this book I had not found elsewhere. If one is a aircraft history buff, this book will be very interesting.
The information about the CIA and how it utilized the base was also interesting but I have more doubts as to the accuracy of the author's statements and conclusions. By the nature of national intelligence there will be gaps in the narrative. I find Jacobsen's speculations in filling in some of those gaps sometimes a bit far-fetched.
The decision to have the author read her own book was, I believe, a mistake. She has a somewhat "sexy," breathy voice which is interesting for a short time, but after a few hours it becomes irritating. I think the book would have been better served read by a reader with far more experience in professional reading. It's not as demanding a book to read as a novel, where the narrator must keep characters straight for the listener by voice quality, but there is something to be said for the experience a professional reader has.
I bought it for the content, not for the reading. If I had it to do over again I think I would have purchased it in print. It has some interesting information but the reading just doesn't make it for me. Be sure to listen to the sample - if you feel you can listen to her voice for a long time, I encourage you to give it a try. The content of the book is worth it.
I optimistically chose to listen to this book despite the mediocre reviews because I'm interested in national security, CIA, spy aircraft, etc., but was greatly disappointed.
First the Good Stuff: Jacobsen actually did a lot of interviews for this book and was welcomed (past tense, before the book was published) into the network of retired contractors and military personnel who ran programs or flew planes at Area 51 over the years. To that extent, it's very interesting because she presents some interesting (and probably true) stories from pilots who flew the A-12 and other aircraft at Groom during its heyday in the mid-1960s. One particularly interesting event that I've never heard of before (and I've done a lot of reading on these subjects) involves a pilot recalled being scrambled in an A-12 to intercept a Soviet balloon that was overflying the U.S. in 1965.
Now the Bad... The book begins with a story that could most generously be described as highly implausible about the Soviets crashing a Nazi-built flying saucer near Roswell in 1947 to scare Americans and proceeds into a surprisingly non-critical (or insightful) recounting of Bob Lazar's even less believable tales. The book then transitions from utter fabrication to a poorly written history of the Nevada Test & Training Range, atomic testing, etc, during which the author and her editor repeatedly demonstrate that they neither understand basic concepts about science and technology that any college graduate should know nor apparently have the ability to cross-check their historical information against wikipedia. The author/editor repeatedly describe historical events, technology etc. in a way that would seem unnecessarily simplistic to a high school student, their explanations running the gamut from kind-of correct (as in, what's said isn't WRONG per se but anyone who actually understands the subject matter can tell that the author clearly does not) to simply off the mark. For example, Jacobsen feels like she needs to explain the concept of stealth aircraft to her readers (whom she assumes have never watched CNN) using a poorly-chosen analogy about how animals use skin color to blend into the environment. I felt my intelligence insulted on many occasions, not the least of which was the (second) time she explained that OXCART, the code name for the supersonic spy plane, was chosen because it's ironic (get it? an oxcart is SLOW but the A-12/SR-71 was really FAST!!!). In another minor-but-annoying error that typifies the book and erodes any credibility that survived the first chapter, the author describes an Area-51 employee flying to the Site in a Constellation aircraft and then says something like "...then the twin-engine aircraft banked and..." I want to shout, "Annie, have you ever seen a picture of a Constellation? It would take you like 5 seconds to google it and find out that it has four engines."
To summarize, her book is really a travesty to the men and women who worked on these projects over the years. It's truly disappointing that that their fascinating stories got blended into this melodramatic and otherwise poorly-written book. If you're really interested in classified projects or Cold War history then parts of this book might be interesting to you, as they were to me, but be prepared to wade through a lot of nonsense in the process.
One final note: the narration was usually fine, I didn't even realize that it was done by the author until I came to write the review. However, I did notice that, unlike every government official, newscaster or person around the country, Annie pronounces "NASA" as "Nasaw."
Say something about yourself!
This is a great history of the ultimate black ops site, Area 51. Some of these revelations will make you proud of our government and some will make you ashamed. Nothing is perfect including our government. I'll leave it to you to decide whether you are on balance happier with the projects of the CIA, DOD or State. On balance, knowing the truth of our history is a good thing, maybe we can try to do better in the future.
If you listen to this book, start at about the 1 hour mark, and stop listening with about 2 hours remaining. That way, you will hear an interesting work of clandestine and military history, with an engaging narrative style. The un-sensationalised history of the Nevada nuclear tests, the Area 51 site, the U2 spy plane, and their effects on Cold War US/Soviet relations make the middle section of this work very interesting and worthwhile.
Unfortunately, it seems the author couldn't resist adding some unbelievably sensationalistic touches which spoil the entire book.
So - the infamous Roswell craft was a (purposely) crashed Soviet hover-plane created by ex-Nazi rocket scientists and crewed with aviators who had been genetically/surgically altered to resemble extra-terrestrials by Josef Mengele, on the orders of Stalin who believed this would cause mass UFO panic in the United States?
This is the first theory I've heard that somehow manages to be LESS credible than little green men from outer space.
If you are looking for an interesting alternate history, this book is for you. If you are looking for a genuine history of Area 51, then not so much.
The "history" is liberally sprinkled with factual trivia, but over all, she missed the mark. The author was not really into fact checking or due diligence while writing this book. From trivial items (Surface to air missiles do not threaten ground troops, the Japanese did not have jet fighters in WWII, altimeters do not measure airspeed, etc, etc...) to major factual errors like yield and fireball size of various nuclear weapon tests, Jacobsen got most of it wrong. Some of what she presents as fact has no basis in reality.
Either the people she spoke with were pulling her chain, or she simply got what they told her wrong. Those of us that worked on the lake know better. In most cases a simple trip to the library would have set her straight.
Frankly, I was very disappointed. But it will probably sell well at the science fiction and conspiracy conventions.
I'm just a big kid.
The ridiculous Roswell/Stalin/Nazi/hovering disk theory that bookends this book is beyond belief. I understand that the author wanted to appeal to the Art Bell crowd, but she went way beyond what is needed.She also feels the need to paint the U.S. government in general and the Atomic Energy Commission in particular as evil incarnate, which gets very tiresome. The author stretches the umbrella of 'Area 51' to encompasses all sorts of defense related programs that have nothing whatsoever to do with the Groom Lake facility. The author does a pretty good job of recounting the stories of the U-2, A-11, and a bit about the the SR-71 and F-117. Most of of what is discussed in this book has been covered elsewhere, but Ms Jacobsen did interview some of the key players in these programs.She does include some distracting howlers mentioned by other reviewers, such as general officers with 'stars on their chests'.
No, I find the history of the Cold War to be interesting, as I had a bit part in it.
Everything about Roswell, everything about Bob Lazr, everything about 'The Engineer'.
I did not find Ms Jacobsen's reading of her book to be as off-putting as some of the other reviewers, but a professional reader would have done a better job. To give just one example, I got confused when she started about Nassau's space program until I realized she was really just mispronouncing 'NASA'
I very much enjoyed the technical and mission oriented focus of this book and found the author to be a compelling narrator. Fortunately, the bulk of this very interesting narrative focuses on the covert aviation technology developed and operated at Groom Lake in the Nevada Desert including the building, testing and deployment of the U2 and the A-12 Oxcart spy planes. The A-12 Oxcart program was the actual workhorse of the high speed, high altitude fleet of spy planes often mistaken for the more widely known SR-71 Blackbird. The technical and mission differences between these aircraft variants are discussed. Most of this book is a work of investigative journalism backed up by extensive documentary analysis and interviews. Towards the end, the author wanders off the path of fact and carefully reasoned analysis into the weeds of conjecture and speculation regarding the Roswell "UFO" incident. The author admits that the information presented is based on a single human source and, as presented, is bizarre enough to rival the usual UFO conspiracies. Fortunately, this comprises a small part of the story of Area 51 and even seems to differs in tone and structure from rest of the book. It may be nothing more than the publisher wanting to open up sales to the conspiracy theorist market. Still, I found it easy enough to set that portion aside and focus on the well presented history of engineers, pilots and crews that pushed the boundaries of technology to new heights as they pursued long-range recon missions testing the endurance and abilities of men and machines. The long and dangerous U2 and A-12 missions provided essential information that very likely kept the Cold War cold and prevent unnecessary excalation into a World (and very probably nuclear) War. Highly recommended for readers interested in aviation, engineering, military, covert operations and the geopolitical impact of these efforts. Absent the UFO portion I would have rated 5-stars.
I have finished reading Annie Jacobsen’s “Area 51” and I am ambivalent about it. One the one hand, it is very entertaining. The section on Francis Gary Powers and the U2 incident is exciting as are sections on the development of various aircraft. On the other hand, there are portions of the book – the flying saucer alien story for example – which make sense logically, but she really doesn’t have enough proof to substantiate her narrative. As a reader I had to accept her explanations as tentative and theoretical. That said, Jacobsen in the afterward, clearly tells the reader that she doesn’t have all the answers. Rather she has been positioned to “open the curtain” on what may well have taken place. I hesitate to say more because I don’t want to ruin the narrative for readers who may choose to read the book. If one is looking solely for a history of Area 51 and aircraft development, this isn’t the book. Jacobsen uses Area 51 as a framework from which to explain the area to the reader. Essentially, this is a great read with portions that stir the imagination. If you have an interest in Area 51 or UFOs or espionage, you might want to give this book a try. The book is expertly read by Jacobsen herself.
There is a lot of information in this audiobook, but man is it boring. 18 hours? I do like the information, but it could have been done in 5-8 hours and been much more palatable. The authors constantly jumps back and forth between subjects, as well.
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