The story of the development of early spy planes used in Korea and Vietnam through to what can only be presumed is the latest tech flying over Iraq and Afghanistan reads like a good thriller. The author's depiction of the CIA and Air Force's power struggle for control of the facility is engrossing and descriptions of post-war nuclear bomb tests are both vivid and staggeringly frightening. Indeed Annie Jacobsen's narrative tries to be all encompassing and she can be forgiven a few factual errors along the way.
But where she comes totally undone is in relying upon one unnamed source to explain the thing we all really want the answer to - the Roswell Incident - and in accepting a single ludicrous account as fact.
In 1951 the Roswell wreckage was moved from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base where it had been stored since the crash site was discovered in 1947. It was taken to an as yet unnamed secret facility, where a team of engineers was ordered to figure out how it hovered and flew.
I have to ask at this point, did any Roswell eyewitness ever claim to have actually seen the vehicle in the air, hovering or otherwise?
If the incident was, as Jacobsen asserts, really a Russian hoax designed to strike fear into the average American how did the Soviets achieve this engineering marvel when it's well documented their technology was well behind that of the US. And if they had such technology why would they hand it over to the US military as a gift? It makes America's later procurement of a prized Russian MiG (also covered in the book) at the height of the Vietnam War look like chicken feed.
Jacobsen and her unnamed source go on to describe the allegedly still living occupants of the craft as being modified human children, genetically or surgically altered by former Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele. Co-incidentally I've just watched an episode of The Outer Limits from 1963 called "The Architects of Fear" that features a plot startlingly similar to Jacobsen's central idea!
Setting aside the practical improbabilities facing the Russians, what's the likelihood US brass would name their prized top-secret base responsible for developing sophisticated aerial surveillance and supersonic aircraft after a vile and elaborate practical joke designed by their nemesis, Joe Stalin?
Overall, the book feels well researched and fluidly written on a fascinating subject, but every time she brings up Roswell, which happens to be the lynchpin around which everything else revolves, she loses all credibility.