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

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  6,490 ratings  ·  964 reviews
It is the most famous military installation in the world. And it doesn’t exist. Located a mere seventy-five miles outside of Las Vegas in Nevada’s desert, the base has never been acknowledged by the U.S. government-but Area 51 has captivated imaginations for decades.

Myths and hypotheses about Area 51 have long abounded, thanks to the intense secrecy enveloping it. Some cla
Hardcover, 540 pages
Published May 17th 2011 by Little, Brown and Company
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J Henderson I agree with Brad Kotz. It's more of a "secret" Cold war history. Operation Paperclip is touched upon in this book, but it isn't the focus.

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Stephanie *Extremely Stable Genius*
"Wow! It sure is hot in the desert. Hey, why does that rattle snake have two heads?"

"I can tell you……."

"Oh, hello…I didn‘t see you there, just talking to myself and the snake---s. I’m Stephanie, and who are you and what are you doing in the middle of the Mojave Desert?"

"I could ask you the same thing. I’m Annie Jacobson, I wrote a book about Area 51. It’s just over the hill there."

"The hill with the two Hummers on it? Hey, and there seems to be a couple guys with guns…..uh……pointing in our direc
May 16, 2011 rated it did not like it
Area 51 is a very odd book. On the one hand, much of it is a sane, grounded history of the installation's key role in Cold War nuclear testing and spy-plane R&D, full of previously undisclosed information based on declassified records and dozens of interviews with people who worked there.

Jacobsen sticks to that sensible course for about 90 percent of the book. But the other 10 percent is kind of, well, nuts. Things get weird when she links Area 51 to the Roswell incident. Based on a single, uni
May 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I heard an interview with Jacobsen on Fresh Air which intrigued me. Then I got a sample chapter to see if it held up to a critical reading, and I was hooked.

If all you know about Area 51 is the alien/spaceship wacko thing, then you can be forgiven for thinking that is what this is about. Rather, this investigative reporter examines the secret, "black operations" that have gone on here since the beginning of the Cold War. And what has piqued my interest the most is her detailed account of how the
Sep 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ufology
The CIA has a very mysterious history, and a very dark history at that. Area 51 is one of those mysteries. Investigative journalist Annie Jacobson excellently writes and reports on the historical context of the time surrounding it and uses her interviews from 75 former Area 51 pilots-much of which has been declassified since 2008. Area 51 was once considered a legend, now known to be an actual place. This book is an excellent background to further speculate and wonder on its history and what els ...more
I was just listening to Terry Gross interview Jacobsen on Fresh Air, and what I heard has really blown my mind, and I don't use that term, ever. I am definitely going to get a hold of this book asap.

Jacobsen's final chapter of the book apparently concerns the 1947 Roswell alien-landing conspiracy theories. Being very secretive but convinced of her source's veracity, she said the crash was of a Soviet flying disc aircraft, inspired by or possibly directly designed by some German engineers, those
Excellent book. I don’t know how Annie Jacobsen compiled the half of it. Her work is extensive and exhaustive and it’s fascinating on all fronts. How could it not be, with a subject like this? But in connecting the dots of such an unwieldy story, it never bogs down. Her research is as satisfying as it is incomplete and disconcerting— the few pixels of a much larger picture. And she presents it without hype or paranoia, not even when such things could arguably be justified.

Lest you think this is
Mar 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Annie Jacobsen is obsessed with secrecy. Her other book, Operation Paperclip, deals with the hidden machinations of the US government after WW II to find and import Nazi scientists who had special expertise in rocketry and chemical weapons.

This book details the hidden history of Area 51, an ultra-secret location (officially it doesn’t exist) in the Nevada desert just next to the atomic weapons testing area. Supposedly created by the CIA in 1955 for U-2 flights, Jacobsen discovered it had been se
Scott Gilbert
Jul 08, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
UFO and conspiracy books are a particularly guilty pleasure of mine. I believe nothing, but am entertained and thrilled by all of it. Jacobsen didn't fail me in this regard. She has piled up a fast, heated history of Area 51 and the elements of the "Military-Industrial Complex" which bred the secret base (and its matching mystery installations around the world and country). Much related here must be true, and most of it is quite reasonable and revelatory (stolen technologies, blundering atom bom ...more
Annie Jacobsen concludes this ambitious and mostly very good alternative history epic with a bizarre misinterpretation of Occam's razor that has plenty of readers, UFO buffs and others up in arms, but even so, I don't believe this preposterous final chapter invalidates the good, valuable and fascinating overview of the most secret "black project" weapons research conducted by the United States in the Nevada desert during the Cold War, the Vietnam War and the War on Terror.

The *real
Nov 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
When this was first recommended to me, I was afraid it would be another UFO conspiracy tome. It is far from that. Of course, the author does give her attention to the UFO theories surrounding the mysterious Area 51 and, in the first chapters, teases us with the promise of an explanation. By the last chapter, we get that explanation and it is more mind-boggling and disturbing than any UFO theory could be.

But while that may be the author's most sensational claim, this is a book about the real impo
Erik Graff
Aug 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Americans
Recommended to Erik by: Erik Badger
Shelves: history
A great deal has been written about the Nevada Test and Training Range, much of it disinformation, much of it rumor or nonsense. Jacobsen's Area 51, based in part on public record, in part on interviews, is an accessible and generally accurate history of the area and what has occurred there since 1951, all of it originally secret, much of it profoundly disquieting.

Running as a leit motif throughout the book is reference to what happened outside Roswell, NM in 1947, an event finally explained in
Sean Blake
Apr 25, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed Annie Jacobsen's effort to bring the history of Area 51 to life through a paranoid scope, strongly highlighting the political ramifications of military experimentation and its dangerous consequences.
Oct 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Jacobsen, a national security reporter for the LA Times, spends much of the book demystifying Area 51, using exhaustive research to show that it was the key testing ground for everything from nukes to the SR-71 Blackbird to today's drones. Then she drops a theory on the Roswell crash that's nothing short of revolutionary: it all was a Soviet psy ops mission designed to freak the American people out and make them distrust the government (if so, it sure as hell worked).

It sounds far-fetched at fir
May 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Nothing to Placate Mulder Here

Firstly: put away that tin-foil hat, Clarence, this has nothing to do with telling you about the bodies of alien visitors. The Roswell, NM 'incident' is debunked in this book as being nothing more than a demented attempt by the then Soviet leader Stalin to create panic among the American public akin to the 1938 "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast. Had the original USAF Press Release not been replaced in a matter of hours, he might have succeeded. The craft was a cre
Marc Weitz
Dec 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is not the Area 51 book for those of you who wear tin foil on your head. Written by a real reporter for the LA Times Magazine, this book examines fact-based accounts of Area 51. Mainly this book explains that all the crazy alien and UFO stories were the development and testing of advanced planes such as the U-2 and the SR-71 Blackbird. We know these planes exist today, but it understandable that when these planes were being developed top-secretly in the 1950's and 1960's, a plane like the B ...more
Alias Pending
Dec 10, 2012 rated it did not like it
Short review: "I've been saying for years: The Shadow Government already has scare-goat related disinfo hypnology.“ – Schaeffer T. Darklord

Medium review: I want to call this book pure propaganda. But, it is not. It’s highly muddled propaganda and disinformation. I'll try to ravel this poorly told tale in the Long Review.

Long review: 1) This book is not about Area 51. It is about the A-12 Oxcart. If you want to read about the Oxcart program, I recommend you seek more coherent information elsewher
Lisa  Carlson
Aug 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: experienced readers
Recommended to Lisa by: read a review
Shelves: memoir
This book gives complete credibility to the statement; "We have no idea of what we really don't know." Understandably, there are going to be people who think this book is worthless but what caught me is the power of the very few who go unchecked; including Presidents. To me this is more alarming than any possible alien sightings. Jacobsen begins her story with how things began and who oversees Area 51 which is located 75 miles from Las Vegas. The Air Force and Government will not acknowledge its ...more
Chris Dietzel
Aug 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
As a book specifically about Area 51, this might fall a little short due to only half of it actually being about Area 51 and the other half being about interesting side stories. But what interesting stories they are! This could really be subtitled "An Uncensored History of Military Surveillance and Aviation" instead and it would work even better. Jacobsen does a great job of providing sources to validate all of her claims, citing when she is relying on declassified documents, face-to-face interv ...more
May 22, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook, ufos
Not what I thought it would be…but still surprisingly better!

I had anticipated a book about UFOs and the secret testing and/or cover up of alien beings. Instead this is basically a biography of Area 51 and its environs. Well researched and documented with people who were willing to talk to set the record straight about what happens there. Some of it more mundane and some scary, but all very interesting.

The stories told are compelling and the narration by the author, professional. It made for a h
Joy D
Annie Jacobsen takes a journalistic look at the history of Area 51 in the Nevada desert using declassified documents, Freedom of Information requests, and interviews. Well, it is mostly journalistic and mostly history, avoiding many of the well-worn conspiracy theories. There is at least one outlandish claim that cannot be proven.

I enjoyed the history of the Cold War, nuclear testing, military vehicles, espionage, pilots and their various experiences, and disputes between the CIA and the Air Fo
Jul 12, 2011 rated it it was ok
Early on, I was going to give this book 4 stars. The opening chapters are exciting and while they may or may not be true, they inspire a sense of the mystery that has surrounded Area 51.

Unfortunately, the wheels begin to come off in the middle of the book.

(view spoiler)
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 15, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: military
This entire book is written in fluent clickbait. "Here's what the CIA will never tell you about their top secret drone program...number five will shock you!!!"

I can sort of forgive Jacobsen for milking the scandal factor so hard. Aviation history doesn't exactly fly off the shelves (hurr, hurr), and there's nothing wrong with sexing up the dry source material to hook in readers. Plenty of what's in this book is interesting and informative, if you're into the history of America's military-industr
Jonathan Kamp
Aug 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I was 3/4 of the way done with the book before I began to read the Amazon reviews, and began scratching my head, wondering: What the *Heck* is Going On?! This is the best nonfiction book I've read since I read "The Lost City of Z," and that's saying a lot, because "Z" is the best nonfiction book I've read in many years - and then I stumbled across my own thought process: Everyone's a critic! All the fact checkers writing the Amazon reviews need to take a few years out of their "busy" lives and w ...more
Craig Fiebig
Jan 06, 2016 rated it liked it
The discussions of the pilots and engineers in the overflight programs was awesome. The tale of the intra-agency fratricide between the CIA and the Air Force was brilliant. These two themes alone make the book worth reading. But the reader must be forewarned that the quality of this book fluctuates wildly. The ups and downs, in the detail and in simple (hopefully) editorial errors distracted and diminished the overall quality. And ... really ... either find the smoking alien or just avoid the wh ...more
Mar 28, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobooks
Jacobsen proposes a wild theory about Roswell in an otherwise pretty rational and seemingly deeply researched book (space historians aren't that positive about it, according to Wikipedia), so I'm not sure what to make of this. The ending really called into question the rest of the information in the book. I'm conflicted because she was nominated for a Pulitzer for a different book, and I get that not every source/fact is going to be irrefutable because history is not like that so that could expl ...more
Randy Auxier
Aug 14, 2012 rated it it was ok
I don’t know. I mean that. According to Annie Jacobsen, that’s because I don’t “have a need to know.” Probably no phrase is repeated quite as often (in any book I have ever read) as that phrase in this book. It’s forgivable. Jacobsen explains how this concept of the “need to know” has safeguarded information since the Manhattan Project. If this book has a thesis, it is: It’s bad to have government agencies operating wholly beyond the reach of reasonable oversight.

Apparently, even the President,
May 19, 2011 marked it as to-read
Review from NPR:

Seventy-five miles north of Las Vegas sits a land parcel in the middle of the desert. Called Area 51, the parcel is just outside of the abandoned Nevada Test and Training Range, where more than 100 atmospheric bomb tests were conducted in the 1950s. Officially, the U.S. government has never acknowledged the existence of Area 51. Unofficially, it has become a place associated with conspiracy theories, alien landings and tiny spaceships.

Journalist Annie Jacobsen tells Fresh Air's T
Jun 25, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: aliens
Holy crap Batman! I am sorry for the use of the expletive but I felt it was necessary.
Here is how this book was written: This woman read several books on the early years of nuclear weapons development in the United States. Than she said, "That was interesting, I wish I could have written that." Next she read several books on the early development of spy aircraft by the United States. Again she thought, "Man I wish I could have written that". Then she sat down to lunch.
Living in California she of
Jonathan Hutchins
Right up to the last chapter this was really interesting, detailed and plausible. Time brings many secrets to light, either through lapse from their secret status, in response to direct FOI requests, or when a witness decides to spill the beans, and the biggie here is saved till last. Jacobsen is interesting in her accounts of the U-2 and A-12 ('Oxcart') projects, especially the power struggles over control of the latter. She has no time for the reality of UFOs, but we are invited to consider th ...more
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Annie Jacobsen is a 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist and the New York Times bestselling author of AREA 51, OPERATION PAPERCLIP, THE PENTAGON'S BRAIN, PHENOMENA—and SURPRISE, KILL, VANISH, paperback out July 7, 2020.

She also writes and produces TV (Tom Clancy's JACK RYAN) and the forthcoming PHENOMENA (Amblin/Blumhouse), a dramatic series based on her book PHENOMENA.

A graduate of Princeton University

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“Building the bomb was the single most expensive engineering project in the history of the United States. It began in 1942, and by the time the bomb was tested, inside the White Sands Proving Ground in the New Mexico high desert on July 16, 1945, the bomb’s price tag, adjusted for inflation, was $28,000,000,000. The degree of secrecy maintained while building the bomb is almost inconceivable.” 0 likes
“The Manhattan Project employed two hundred thousand people. It had eighty offices and dozens of production plants spread out all over the country, including a sixty-thousand-acre facility in rural Tennessee that pulled more power off the nation’s electrical grid than New York City did on any given night. And no one knew the Manhattan Project was there. That is how powerful a black operation can be.” 0 likes
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