The Pentagon’s Brain: An Uncensored History of DARPA, America’s Top-Secret Military Research Agency

Annie Jacobsen. Little, Brown, $30 (544p) ISBN 978-0-316-37165-0
Journalist Jacobsen (Operation Paperclip) draws on interviews with 71 individuals affiliated with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to paint a fascinating and unsettling portrait of the secretive U.S. government agency. Though many Americans may not be familiar with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which was created by Congress in 1958, they’re undoubtedly familiar with the fruits of its organizational labors. The modern computer, the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, the Internet, unmanned aerial vehicles (aka drones), and even massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) all began as DARPA projects. Startling revelations, including the fact that four nuclear weapons were detonated in space during the Cuban Missile Crisis and that insect-shaped drones hovered above American antiwar protests in 2007, pop up through Jacobsen’s narrative as she relays how the agency’s innovations incorporated mechanical, psychological, and anthropological efforts to wage war. Jacobsen walks a fine line in telling the story of the agency and its innovations without coming across as a cheerleader or a critic, or letting the narrative devolve into a salacious tell-all. Jacobsen’s ability to objectively tell the story of DARPA, not to mention its murky past, is truly remarkable, making for a terrifically well-crafted treatise on the agency most Americans know next to nothing about. Agent: Jim Hornfischer, Hornfischer Literary Management. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 07/06/2015
Hardcover - 784 pages - 978-0-316-38769-9
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