2 Reviews: Mirage Men & Area 51

Two previous books I’ve read and reviewed on Goodreads are relevant to my follow-up discussion of Leslie Kean’s UFOs. That follow-up will be posted later today. For now, I’m sharing the two older book reviews here to consolidate their location and make them a little easier to reference.

Mirage Men: An Adventure into Paranoia, Espionage, Psychological Warfare, and UFOsMirage Men: An Adventure into Paranoia, Espionage, Psychological Warfare, and UFOs by Mark Pilkington

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The narrative Mark Pilkington presents is truly troubling and conspiratorial: the U.S. intelligence services and military have largely invented the core UFO myths of today; this work started with the inception of UFO culture in the 1940’s and 1950’s; and all of this serves as disinformation to conceal various government projects, often top-secret aircraft. As crazy as it may sound, Pilkington slowly builds a solid base of evidence in support of his theory, pointing out the U.S. government’s history of black projects and shadowy espionage and the revealed history of covert spy planes. It helps that he does not suggest some overarching objective. He instead proposes that the intelligence agencies have simply employed disinformation about UFOs as convenient for a variety of projects, and the lore has been kept alive by the fervent believers in the ufological community.

Most importantly, he actually speaks to a few former intelligence operatives who admit to their roles in spreading some of this disinformation. The centerpiece to this narrative is Rick Doty, responsible in part for driving one ufologist insane with a constant barrage of alleged government secrets hinting at a dark and sinister alliance with extraterrestrials. Doty has since admitted to many of his lies, and he proves to be a bizarre, frustrating, and charming character who continues to spout nonsense all while claiming to believe in a great alien cover-up. Pilkington’s narrative is witty, observant, and personalized, proving to be a highly enjoyable read. His overview of much of ufological lore with the twist of government disinformation is insightful.

As someone who recognizes that most UFOs are misidentified aircraft (secret and otherwise), stars and planets, comets, other natural phenomena, or the result of some underlying psychological concern but who concedes that there may be a very small subset of sightings worthy of further review, I was prepared to enjoy this book. Its take-down of the more absurd layers of ufology–like the alien abductions and alien-government alliances–is simply fantastic, yet the author nonetheless appears quite fond of ufologists and somewhat embedded within the oddball community.

No matter what your level of familiarity with UFO stories or ufology, this is a charming overview of the lore and the community that has grown up around it, and the central thesis of government disinformation certainly makes quite a good deal of sense by the end.

Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military BaseArea 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base by Annie Jacobsen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is a fascinating history of Cold War-era espionage and black project development. It also doubles as an interesting overview of the creation and testing of some of the most well-known reconnaissance aircraft to be produced during that period. There are several interesting profiles of different individuals who had been posted at Area 51; many were interviewed by the author. Unfortunately, little in this book feels like a genuine revelation, since many of the projects discussed have been detailed to some degree beforehand. Further, it is far from an exhaustive history, focusing mostly on CIA involvement at the base. While it would be hard to know what has been left out given the secret nature of the facility, it is clear that developments since the 1980’s are still rather well-concealed. The author, probably wisely, mostly avoided speculation about more recent projects. On the other hand, she very unwisely devoted a good deal of the book to the testimony of an anonymous source who claims a massive cover-up around Area 51 stemming from the crash-landing of a Soviet-operated, Nazi-designed flying saucer craft at Roswell that contained genetically augmented human children as part of a high-level Soviet propaganda/disinformation move. While minimizing and ignoring more down-to-earth explanations of the so-called Roswell Incident, the author instead jumps into the realm of the absurd, all the while claiming that this is the simplest solution (admittedly, if one assumes the only other explanation is space aliens, then maybe this does not sound as bizarre). In making these assertions, the author appears willing to forgive and forget the lack of evidence to support these claims, and they don’t hold up well under rational inquiry. After all, a great deal of the book deals with how the US maintained air superiority over the Soviets, but we are supposed to believe that the Russians early on had advanced technology that the Americans could not copy. Besides these substantial flights of fantasy, the book nonetheless appears well-researched and well-intended, and I did enjoy reading about the development of the U-2 and the Oxcart.

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