The Imagineers of War: The Untold Story of DARPA, the Pentagon Agency That Changed the World

Sharon Weinberger. Knopf, $30 (496p) ISBN 978-0-385-35179-9
Weinberger (Imaginary Weapons), national security editor at the Intercept, scours reams of archival material and interviews former officials of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, revealing a highly secretive organization with a fittingly mixed legacy. Following Annie Jacobsen’s 2015 book on DARPA, The Pentagon’s Brain, Weinberger’s complementary take is a deep organizational history rather than a technological chronicle. The now “$3-billion-a-year research agency” was founded in 1958 as the Advanced Research Projects Agency, with a post-Sputnik mission “to get America into space.” That quickly shifted into finding a science-based “solution to counterinsurgency.” DARPA’s real purpose has been to tackle critical national security problems while freed of bureaucratic oversight and scientific peer review. Agency scientists developed the Saturn rocket, the technologies that led to GPS, and evidence supporting the then-controversial theory of plate tectonics. Perhaps most famously, they “laid the foundations for computer networking.” DARPA has engaged in regular turf battles with competing agencies or branches of the armed forces, and some of its big risks have resulted in disastrous consequences; DARPA spent much of the early 21st century embroiled in debates over data-mining, privacy, and surveillance. Weinberger’s fascinating, if occasionally dry, account abounds with examples of technocratic arrogance in thrall to the “allure of science fiction.” Agent: Michelle Tessler, Tessler Literary. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 01/02/2017
Release date: 03/14/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 978-0-385-35180-5
Paperback - 496 pages - 978-0-8041-6972-1
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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