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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is not funny
"The Men Who Stare at Goats" is a book by Jon Ronson. The author has written several books on religious cults, conspiracy theories and other absurdities. He has also made TV documentaries on the same subjects. "The Men Who Stare at Goats" is arguably Ronson's most bizarre book ever. In fact, it might be the most bizarre book ever written.

The first part of the...
Published on 15 May 2011 by Ashtar Command

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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Crazy belief systems at the heart of government
This is written as a documentary exploration of some truly bizarre forms of research into alternative forms of killing, torture and manipulation by various governments, mainly US and UK. While similar to a Michael Moore exposure, it's also so close to a novel that it's hard to tell whether this is truth or fiction (take Moore's Sicko and add in The Constant...
Published on 1 Aug 2009 by John Holland


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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is not funny, 15 May 2011
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"The Men Who Stare at Goats" is a book by Jon Ronson. The author has written several books on religious cults, conspiracy theories and other absurdities. He has also made TV documentaries on the same subjects. "The Men Who Stare at Goats" is arguably Ronson's most bizarre book ever. In fact, it might be the most bizarre book ever written.

The first part of the book is hilariously funny, so funny that I almost laughed out load when reading it at my favourite café and, later, at the metro. People must have wondered what the hell I was up to! Apparently, several high-ranking members of the US military believe in paranormal phenomena. They have attempted to create the ultimate soldier, a soldier with supernatural powers: invisibility, the power to walk through solid walls, killing people just by staring at them, etc. Some of these ideas originated with a New Age hippie who wanted the US military to become more peaceful and friendly. His ideas were seized upon by other operatives, more interested in "the dark side".

Are we to believe Ronson, the military actually recruited a number of "psychic spies" who attempted to kill goats just by staring at them (one of them says he can kill hamsters, too). They were also supposed to spy on Panama's then-dictator Manuel Noriega, a former CIA asset who later had a fall out with the US authorities. Noriega apparently believed in occult powers himself, and tried to defend himself from the psychic spying by erecting a crucifix on some distant shore in Panama. One of the clairvoyants later ended up at a mental institution, while another became a big star on Art Bell Show. Ronson also writes about his own experiences interviewing these somewhat shadowy characters. Apparently, the guy who can kill golden hamsters just by looking at them, quite seriously believed that Ronson (a Jew) must have been al-Qaeda!

I'm not surprised that the first chapters of "The Men Who Stare at Goats" have been turned into a comic flick by Hollywood. Unfortunately, the second part of the book is not funny, not funny at all...

It deals with MK-Ultra, suicide cults, the bizarre torture of prisoners at Guantanamo and in Iraq, and the disturbing mindset of music producers and media people in the United States. I wasn't laughing when reading the concluding chapters.

Jon Ronson's book "Them: Adventures with extremists" left me similarly bewildered. That book is also supposed to be entertaining, but when I read it, I got some kind of involuntary sympathies with the extremists.

I honestly don't know how to rate "The Men Who Stare at Goats". The book is just too bizarre and disturbing. After some deliberation, I nevertheless settled for a five star review.

But don't tell me I haven't warned you!
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Crazy belief systems at the heart of government, 1 Aug 2009
By 
John Holland (Surrey, UK) - See all my reviews
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This is written as a documentary exploration of some truly bizarre forms of research into alternative forms of killing, torture and manipulation by various governments, mainly US and UK. While similar to a Michael Moore exposure, it's also so close to a novel that it's hard to tell whether this is truth or fiction (take Moore's Sicko and add in The Constant Gardener).

The book investigates forms of development of the human brain usually associated with the personal development movement, but applied to military and government control. From staring at goats (to kill them) to walking through walls, this covers a number of esoteric development skills. The reporting lists interviews with people purported to be involved in this research, and interweaves well-documented cases that add semblance of veracity to these reports. But the evidence is thin.

As a light-hearted holiday read, this deserves marks for an imaginative overview of potentially crazy investments of public funds. As an investigative journal, this is light on evidence and poorly organised to prove a point. Read it and laugh, and suspend belief.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Weirdness in fatigues, 27 April 2008
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M. G. Wilson (Eastbourne) - See all my reviews
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An enjoyably light read that doesn't try to over-claim for what is quite a slight piece of investigative journalism. The style is similar to Louis Theroux: ask innocent sounding questions, and let people talk. And quite soon you're thinking...are these people for real? In this case that's a pretty serious question, because these people are in charge of the most powerful military in the world. But in the end, too many questions are left unasked, never mind unanswered.
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35 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beware the Goats, 15 Aug 2005
By 
I. Curry "IDC" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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Jon Ronson is probably better suited to the medium of text than the airwaves. His previous book, Them, was both a successful and interesting book, and an interesting TV programme. The only problem being that as a presenter Ronson is just not as funny or masterly as he appears in print.
This is his second outing in the world of the bizarre and deluded. Whereas 'Them' dealt with the world of extremists, from the militia men, ku klux klan of the USA to our homebread extremists, Men Who Stare At Goats deals with the US army's willingness to use all methods to secure victory in the cold war. All methods.
This extends to the training of the psycorp - a group of men being specially selected and trained to be able to walk through walls, stop the heartbeats of animals by a glance and become invisable (the title refers to the experiments carried out by these men on goats - I would like to say no animals were harmed in the making of the book, but you will have to read it to find out)
All of the wealth of information that Ronson provides is delivered in a trademark jaunty and incredulous style, which mixes healthy sceptisism with a willingness to believe the incredible. It makes for a very refreshing read in an area of science that is too often the reserve of those even more paranoid and crazy than the members of the psycorp.
The only criticism I have is that Ronson narrowed the field of inquiry so much that the book begins to drag. It becomes obvious that the US Army did little more than flirt with these ideas, and that they remain in the realm of fringe belief. He does hold out the hope that a pinch of the mind techniques are real. Whereas 'Them' was kept flowing by flirting with such different extreme groups, Men Who Stare At Goats is a touch too limited to maintain interest throughout.
If you enjoy Ronson's work, from his newspaper column to 'Them', or enjoy the style of comic writing that is also used by Bill Bryson amongst others, this will be a very enjoyable read. Just don't forget not to stare at any pets in the vicinity.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The goats come off lightly ......, 2 Sep 2014
By 
Adrian Maxwell "Floreat Aula" (Bedford Falls) - See all my reviews
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Ronson has nearly cornered the market in the 'what a crazy world we live in, where will it all end' genre of gonzo journalism, at least in the UK. A sort of Danny Wallace meets Louis Theroux. In particular, Ronson's adventures and subsequent breathless prose relies heavily on the Louis Theroux on screen device of feigned innocence and naiveté. This is his 2nd book, published in 2004 some 10 years after his first, and well before he got into his stride with The Psychopath test (2011) and Lost at Sea (2012). I read it as a result of seeing the film of the book (2009) staring George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan MacGregor and Kevin Spacey.

The film covers only a small part of the book which, like all Ronson's efforts, is largely taken up with him wandering around meeting odd balls, engaging in one sided ironic comment and going on to meet the next oddball. One either loves or hates this style of reportage which very much succeeds or fails on the author's skill at characterization. Ronson is generally good at this. In this book he brings to life the oddballs that interact with, or are part of, the US military over the last 40 years.

I find the Ronson's style very entertaining but this book does not have the punch or drive of the 2 later books. Any new readers coming to the book in 2014 or beyond will probably do so following the film. And they will probably be disappointed.

The best that can be said about the book is that it is decent knock about stuff and entertaining to a degree. Not particularly sensational and with little revelation of things we didn't already know about. I can only go to 3 stars.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars crazy world of American army "psychics", 20 Dec 2009
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V. A. Scott "books are great" (middx, UK) - See all my reviews
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A wonderful book about the nutcases in charge of American military "intelligence". The general who thinks he can train himself to walk through walls, levitate and kill a goat by staring at it, would be hilariously funny if it were not for the scary thought that men like him are in chage of anything. The book tells the story of the same sort of people who are responsible for the Abu Ghraib debacle as they put into practice ideas invented by the First Earth Batallion. This is a must read for everyone.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Almost unbelieveble, 8 Aug 2010
The Men Who Stare At Goats is the story of the First Earth Battalion, an attempt by the post-Vietnam American army to find new ways to fight their wars.

What I liked about this story is that despite the ludicrous subject matter epitomised by the title of the book, Ronson deals quite sensitively with it. He never mocks the men who were war-weary enough after Vietnam to attempt psychic warfare. The story is absurd enough without mocking, anyway.

The book becomes rather disturbing, however, when discussing the methods used during the current war on terror and the CIA, and that's when things become quite sinister. Even so, I don't think Ronson ever rushes to any conclusions, instead leaving the reader to draw their own.

It's a very readable book. I couldn't help feeling sad for some of the Men Who Stare At Goats, and their hopes for our future.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book, a very compelling read, 30 Nov 2013
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This review is from: The Men Who Stare At Goats (Kindle Edition)
A great book, I laughed at the absurdity throughout the first half and gasped at the more sinister nature of the second. I'm not much of a reader but really like Jon Ronson's books, I have found them enjoyable, informative and entertaining
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What were they thinking, 28 Sep 2012
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This odd little journey into the world of alternative weapons and strategies has me laughing and worrying equal measure. How could the most powerful country in the world choose to use such alternative tools against its enemies?

Delivered in a compelling style its just a great read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Scary Thing is that it might be TRUE, 10 Aug 2014
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This review is from: The Men Who Stare At Goats (Kindle Edition)
This book is a likeable romp through the world of secret services, conspiracies and military research with a psychic and psychological, if not occasionally psychotic, bias. It is well written and features a number of larger than life characters. As a reader you have to decide whether they are completely barmy, slightly deranged, the victims of bizarre experiments and whatever. The twist in the book is that quite a lot of the ideas have come home to roost in the war on terror which shows that inhumanity can take any number of interesting forms. I quite enjoyed it but wasn't convinced by a lot of the evidence.
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