cover image Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base

Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base

Annie Jacobsen. Little, Brown, $27.99 (520p) ISBN 978-0-316-13294-7

Even the most prosaic explanation of the oft-mythologized conspiratorial epicenter known as Area 51 can't resist flights of bizarre speculation, to judge by this wildly inconsistent expos%C3%A9. L.A. Times contributing editor Jacobsen (whose articles on Area 51 appeared in the paper's magazine) identifies the main business of the super-secret patch of Nevada desert as aerospace research, especially the development of the U-2 and A-12 spy-planes. A cross between The Right Stuff and The X Files, her absorbing history of the site shows us brilliant engineering, harrowing test-flights and crashes, paranoid security protocols, and vicious Air Force-vs.-CIA turf battles. Her rambling narrative often wanders away to other secret locales, including the Nevada Test Range and Area 52, where atom bombs and other infernal devices underwent trials. Drawing on interviews with ex-Area 51 staffers, the author's account of Area 51 and environs is thoroughly researched, lively, and quite sensible: she suggests that the base's odd-looking, high-flying, fast-moving experimental airplanes were the likely cause of associated UFO sightings. Unfortunately, Jacobsen then demolishes her own credibility by proposing a novel conspiracy theory%E2%80%94sourced mainly to a nameless engineer, it links the Roswell UFO incident to Soviet-built flying saucers and a grisly hoax cooked up by Stalin in which the "aliens" were human children created by Josef Mengele based on his gruesome human experimentation at Auschwitz. Her account makes Martian-invasion scenarios look downright plausible. Let the reader beware. Photos. (May)