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Publisher's Summary

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

What listeners say about Area 51

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  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

What a marvelous work of fiction

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.

18 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Reality, always more interesting than fiction.

Wow. My mind was officially blow by this book. A wonderfully researched in depth insight into Area 51 and many marque' events of the Cold War era. I generally trudge through most history texts even "The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich" as admirably written as it was took attrition to get through. In contrast, I could not put this book down, so to speak. The narration is done by the author with much success, take note voice over talent agents Annie Jocobsen is a gem. Buy this book without fear of regret.

108 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

William of Ockham would be proud.

Annie Jacobsen's investigative work 'Area 51' first interested me when I caught an interview on NPR's Morning Edition. She herself has a great radio/listening voice. Sort of a Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson speaking low and a little raspy the day after attending a big game. Seeing her on The Daily Show sealed it for me: I had to see if this was available on Audible.

I expected to feel let-down by feebly-supported suppositions and accusations based on common alien and conspiracy lore. Jacobsen delivered instead a very well-investigated piece spanning some seven decades of secret US military, intelligence and corporate R&D. And this book contributes to the Area 51 conspiracy colloquy as a pillar of hard research and rationality, at least, perhaps, the best that can be done with the most recently declassified documents still decades old.

There are still some very difficult, if not dubious claims made. But they at least are claims that mesh with how the world works, and not fantastic claims of alien visitors. Annie Jacobsen attributes the least-believable, most deeply-concealed secrets to our collective fears of insecurity, legal liability, moral viability and military effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) before the wider world. The picture she paints is of too few men with too much power and not enough accountability accomplishing astonishing scientific and technological feats, often by means so shady and with consequences so damaging that hiding was deemed a better option than transparency.

82 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Interesting, but flawed.

I will premise this by saying I am still listening to the book...

First, I have a problem with Ms Jacobson's reading style. She speaks very slowly and pauses frequently to make sure that the reader or listener understands that what she is saying "has never before appeared in print." A statement she uses so frequently it has become a joke between my boyfriend and I. Furthermore, she writes like a reporter (which she is) penning a piece for installments, not just reminding the reader of earlier facts but restating them verbatim.

Second, many will feel miss-led by the title of the book. Yes, it is about Area 51 but not as much about aliens (there is a sensational aspect to that effect that she has mentioned but yet to adequately explain). It is mostly about the alliance of science and the military, the development of cutting-edge aircraft, and the questionable ethics on the part of all parties involved. It is also about espionage and the misdirection and miss-communication practiced on the American people and the government to maintain secrets. Some have noted that her facts are wrong, but according to her argument, the official record is incorrect as part of a concerted campaign of dis-information engaged to keep the happenings on the site secret. She maintains she has the true story because she spoke with the people that were actually there, but following her logic, her information can not be otherwise verified. She is a reporter specializing in military (I believe) affairs so I would think she would know how to work from primary sources. However, if there are such major problems with minor facts as other reviewers have noted, it does make one wonder.

I am enjoying this book for the way it ties together many threads of history. Am I taking it as gospel? No. But it has introduced me to aspects of history I would like to further investigate. And I have recommended it to my father who enjoys military and aviation history.

55 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • 11-06-11

Slow going

Started off well, I kept on listening thinking it would build up to something more in line with the classic Area 51 rumours.

The stories of pilots and staff working at the base become tiresome and sometimes, in my opinion, were not worth mentioning.

10 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

Disappointing

This book bills itself as an "uncensored history" of the secret military base, but feels much more like a telling of the declassified aspects of its history. The majority of the book is made up of easily
believable histories and anecdotes of mostly known weapons testing in the Nevada desert and the end of the book contains the items of a more sensational nature. The problem is that there are so many
statements in the early part of the book that are either scientifically or historically incorrect, misleading or grammatically confusing that they make it hard to believe the later statements. Here are some of them:

STATEMENT: The killing of the Russian royal family triggered the Russian Civil War.
COMMENT: The Russian revolution began in Feb 1917, tsar Nicholas abdicated in March, the Bolshevik revolution took place in Nov and the Rominovs were executed in July 1918, long after the revolution started (all dates Julian).

STATEMENT: One of the spy planes landed on the island of Kadena.
COMMENT: There is no island of Kadena. She probably means that the spy planes landed at Kadena AFB on the island of Okinawa.

STATEMENT: Generals wearing stars on their chests?
COMMENT: Generals, like all officers in the US military, wear their insignias on their shoulders and collars.

STATEMENT: Rods from God traveling at 10,000 miles per second?
COMMENT: I don't think so. 10,000 miles per second is the same as approx MACH 48,000, and nothing can move that quickly in the earth's atmosphere. The air cannot get out of the way quickly enough. She probably meant 10,000 miles per hour (or approx MACH 13). That is closer to what all of the online articles about this weapon specify as its possible speed.

There are more, but I think this is enough to make the point. If I cannot believe what I read in the body of the book, how can the author expect me to believe the more sensational parts of the book?

Having said all of that parts of the book are moderately interesting.

98 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Not as interesting as it sounds.Reads like a text

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

No, not to my friends or family. It had very little new information and was a bit slow.

What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

I didn't find one. The entire book wasn't interesting or exciting enough to to inspire interest.

Did the narration match the pace of the story?

Yes. Slow and Monotone.

If this book were a movie would you go see it?

No.

Any additional comments?

I kept falling asleep while listening to this book.

9 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

A bad book with an embedded good book

What disappointed you about Area 51?

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'.

Has Area 51 turned you off from other books in this genre?

No, I find the history of the Cold War to be interesting, as I had a bit part in it.

What three words best describe Annie Jacobsen’s performance?

average

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Area 51?

Everything about Roswell, everything about Bob Lazr, everything about 'The Engineer'.

Any additional comments?

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'

4 people found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

Poor writing and worse editing

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."

19 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Fantastic!

Having read most of the conspiracy stuff and hung with a lot of the conspiracy folks, I can tell you that Annie Jacobsen's narrative is much more frightening than any fabricated paranoia might be. The research for and rendition of her book is superb....although you might become even more paranoid. :-)

27 people found this helpful