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Phenomena: The Secret History of the U.S. Government's Investigations into Extrasensory Perception and Psychokinesis

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The definitive history of the military's decades-long investigation into mental powers and phenomena, from the author of Pulitzer Prize finalist The Pentagon's Brain and international bestseller Area 51

This is a book about a team of scientists and psychics with top secret clearances.

For more than forty years, the U.S. government has researched extrasensory perception, using it in attempts to locate hostages, fugitives, secret bases, and downed fighter jets, to divine other nations' secrets, and even to predict future threats to national security. The intelligence agencies and military services involved include CIA, DIA, NSA, DEA, the Navy, Air Force, and Army-and even the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Now, for the first time, New York Times bestselling author Annie Jacobsen tells the story of these radical, controversial programs, using never before seen declassified documents as well as exclusive interviews with, and unprecedented access to, more than fifty of the individuals involved. Speaking on the record, many for the first time, are former CIA and Defense Department scientists, analysts, and program managers, as well as the government psychics themselves.

Who did the U.S. government hire for these top secret programs, and how do they explain their military and intelligence work? How do scientists approach such enigmatic subject matter? What interested the government in these supposed powers and does the research continue? Phenomena is a riveting investigation into how far governments will go in the name of national security.

544 pages, Hardcover

First published March 28, 2017

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About the author

Annie Jacobsen

10 books1,175 followers
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, Annie lives in Los Angeles with her husband Kevin and their two sons.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 177 reviews
Profile Image for Louise.
482 reviews
February 9, 2017
This was a really informative book on ESP and Psychic Investigations within the Government and CIA throughout history. From Uri Gellar and his spoon bending to astronauts sending ESP from space to stations on the ground. This touch's on lots of different now declassified experiments and various Phenomena and is really fascinating. Really enjoyed this and if you like to dig deep into unexplained Phenomena and especially within government then this is the book to read.
Profile Image for Otis Chandler.
388 reviews113k followers
February 8, 2018
A fascinating history of ESP and psychic's in the military. I didn't know that the US Military for ~30 years had a secret ESP program, but this is a well researched book that apparently went through a lot of declassified documents and interviewed people directly too to tell the story. I hoped that it would shed new light on paranormal activity and how real it might be/not be, and it did... but just slightly.

The book does a decent amount of history of ESP and government programs. Did you know that mushrooms (the drug kind) was discovered the CIA and tested in government labs? Hilarious to imagine. The Nazis apparently had a whole ESP program too.

But of course, the US psychic program started the same way most government programs got started: we heard the Russians were doing it, and then we had to do it too in cold war era arms race style.

One of the more interesting characters mentioned in the book was Uri Geller, who is a Israeli psychic who can do things like bend spoons and read basic thoughts from other people (like what number am I thinking of). Now, in the modern era, if a person could really bend a spoon with their mind you would think that would be pretty notable, and people would have studied that in labs, and written about it. But basic google searches on Uri don't turn up anything conclusive (that I saw) other than controversy and lack of clarity. There are videos on YouTube of him bending spoons but it could be faked. So I must conclude this is not possible. Though the author claims to have spent time with Uri and observed him bending spoons (and reading minds) first hand.

The most interesting aspect of the book was the description of the CIA's remote viewing program. Remote viewing is where psychics use ESP to view remote locations in the world. The CIA tried to use it in military operations, to for instance view the inside of a Russian submarine factory, or locate a fugitive, or locate a kidnapped US general. The fascinating thing is that it kind of worked - there were a few individuals who - occasionally - produced "8 martini results" (aka results that blew your mind so you had to go consume 8 martinis after that). This is what kept the program going for so many years. But the issue was because it wasn't consistent, the signal to noise ratio made the intel not actionable for the military, so it was eventually closed. For example, they gave an example of a fugitive they were trying to catch, and they put 4 psychics on it, and one of the four it turned out correctly found him in a small town in the middle of the US - but the other 3 were nowhere close. This, if true, is fascinating. At the end the book theorizes a little about how such a thing might work - eg there could be a "energy" throughout the world you can tap into - or it could be related to quantum mechanics - specifically quantum entanglement. In the end, it seems like there is more to learn here - but not a lot of people at least in pop culture are talking about or researching these areas - so I remain largely a skeptic, but a little intrigued by some of this.
March 30, 2017
Annie Jacobsen’s Phenomena is far from being a “definitive history of the military’s decades-long investigation into mental powers and phenomena.” It is best read as book of personal anecdotes of some players in the Star Gate program – the well-known psi research program at SRI and SAIC (1973-1995), and an extensive write up on several persons unrelated to the program. SAIC is never mentioned in this book.

Jacobsen has given undue attention and space to Puharich and Mitchel (amongst others) who were never involved in the program; and Geller was a participant in only one series of experiments in 1973 at SRI. A glaring error is the focus on Puharich over J. B. Rhine (whom she calls “James”); Joseph B. Rhine is widely acknowledged as the founder of modern scientific psi research. The space given to Bob Monroe is also unfortunate, as he was involved in only one project (Codename Gondola Wish), in an effort that did not lead to scientific validity. She seems to have picked up “colorful” interpretations of people to narrate her story. Alternative facts, and alternative truths!

There are several inaccuracies in her writing, which are best left addressed by the person’s concerned. Some of the glaring omissions are: (1) ignoring the science behind the program—the successes, failures, and limitations of psi, (2) an account of the program at SRI and later at SAIC, (3) not taking into account, or even mentioning, Dr. Edwin C. May (SRI/SAIC 1976-1995, program director 1986-1995) and others, behind the bulk of the scientific research. Ironically, she consistently uses the term “anomalous mental phenomena”, but fails to mention those responsible for this terminology (Ed May, Jessica Utts, James Spottiswoode)! Moreover, May was one of three people interviewed on the Nightline program in 1995—Former CIA director, Robert Gates, and a CIA operative only identified as ‘Norm.’

These points are enough to disqualify Jacobsen’s work as a well researched, “definitive work” on a program that has led to several advances in understanding precognition/remote viewing and micro-PK. Briefly, the Star Gate program—applied and basic research—concluded that psi is an inherent ability and cannot be developed, remote viewing is real and can be applied, and the evidence for PK is statistically weak. The program gave rise to several testable theories, some of which have been and are being put to test, and is a science in progress.

Jacobsen perpetuates the myth of psi research as a fringe “woo-woo” science, and does great disservice to the science of psi, and the serious psi researchers from a variety of academic disciplines, who have made substantial progress in understanding the phenomenon.
Profile Image for 11811 (Eleven).
662 reviews138 followers
February 24, 2018
Most of what I knew about secret government investigations into the paranormal came from reading Stephen King’s Firestarter in the 80’s. I furthered my research into the subject while watching two seasons of Stranger Things on Netflix. This book delves a little deeper.

This is my fourth book by the author who is becoming a fast favorite for “new” history. In all four books, she takes the curtain off of the things we’ve been wondering about since the end of WWII and all the secret cold war stuff that lingered in the realm of myth until freedom of information unveiled all of the mystery within recent years. What makes these books stand out is the fact that recently declassified documents seem to make up the bulk of the author’s research. That means whatever we thought we knew isn’t entirely accurate. Our knowledge of post-WWII history needs to be updated. Jacobsen excels at that. She unpacks the information that is now available and delivers it in a nice package. She serves up a shit-ton of research and presents it in as an entertaining story. It’s a rare talent, but she is every bit as capable as Ron Chernow or Erik Larson when it comes to user friendly presentation of historical facts.

Area 51 is a must read for anyone who wants the no-bullshit version of what was going with all the alien stuff, and let’s face it, alien stuff is awesome. Phenomena is a must for anyone interested in what lengths world leaders have gone to in order to stay one step ahead of their adversaries, including research into magical super powers. Tax dollars at work, ladies and gentlemen. I don’t personally believe in magical stuff, but there are recorded events in this book that I can’t explain and apparently science can’t explain them either. Not yet, anyway.

I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. If the author’s next book is similar in topic to the four I’ve read so far, I hope they send me a copy of that one too. I’d be happy to review it.
Profile Image for Jean.
1,707 reviews742 followers
February 16, 2018
I received a complimentary book from Little Brown and Company for an unbiased review.

The book is well written and meticulously researched. The author interviewed many of the key people involved as well as had access to newly released declassified documents. Jacobsen examined the Department of Defense’s research into the paranormal. The main thrust was examining ESP and telepathy for use by the intelligence agencies. As well as the hunt for an ESP-enhancing drugs.
The author included many photographs to enhance the story. Jacobsen also provided a good overview of the history of the paranormal. My only problem with the book was with the footnotes/endnotes. Apparently, Jacobsen used a new style that I am not familiar with. I am aware that over the years a number of different styles have been developed. I guess I just got use to one particular style. I just found it a bit difficult to use to look up information.

I read this in softcover format. The book is 527 pages.
Profile Image for Kate.
476 reviews
June 11, 2017

The morning after I finished Phenomena, I'm asking myself questions like: why did I read this book? Why did I FINISH this book? What on earth was I thinking when I checked it out of the library? (I had to request this through ILL, you know!)

Annie Jacobsen comes off as a very credulous person who either already believed in ESP and PK (psychokinesis) before she began the book, or was easily convinced. She presents the little bits of evidence she finds in government records (or in interviews with those involved) that support these phenomena, but only mentions in passing that skeptics debunked them, or found non-paranormal ways they could have been done. (Towards the end of the book, Jacobsen starts noting these alternatives herself, but only occasionally.) Not even the footnotes contain specifics of what these skeptics had in mind, which is a grave omission for a book like this.

It pains me to say this, because it may not have been entirely her fault, but Jacobsen does not seem to understand what science, GOOD science, is. I say it may not have been entirely her fault because the government programs she discusses are also decidedly unclear on How To Do A Science. The tests done with remote viewers, etc., are often easy to cheat on, and there is never a discussion of statistical significance, etc. (A stopped clock is right twice a day, and so apparently is orders of magnitude more useful than any "sensitive" the US government ever worked with.) If you already believe ESP, PK, etc. are real phenomena, your beliefs will be confirmed. If you are on the fence (and are scientifically literate) or are skeptical, you'll be as frustrated as I was. There is no THERE there, but Jacobsen somehow reaches the opposite conclusion.

Also unconsidered: the possibility that project employees may have lied or falsified reports. Jacobsen takes these reports, and (for the most part) people she interviews, at their word. Given the bizarre and--to put it mildly--troubled history of these programs, that seems like an odd choice. Uri Geller also plays a big role in this book, and he comes off as The Real Deal--the Tonight Show incident is mentioned only in passing. (James Randi comes off as a revenge-crazed nut who hates Uri Geller for the sake of hating Uri Geller.) Again, Jacobsen is rather credulous.

tl;dr If you already believe ESP & PK are real, you'll love this! If you don't, skip this. Jacobsen is a talented writer who wrote a well-organized, well-researched book that is Tragically Bad. She lacks a certain journalistic distance, and scientific background, to tell this story WELL and MEANINGFULLY. Good hustle good effort but NOPE.
Profile Image for Grumpus.
498 reviews245 followers
March 14, 2018
Full disclosure: I received a free copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Well, in my case, my thoughts as I don’t do formal reviews.

The first thing that comes to mind after reading this is simply amazement in terms of the amount time it must have taken to research this so thoroughly. It is essentially a history book. The topic just happens to be that of the U.S. government’s investigations into extrasensory perception and psychokinesis.

I’m not sure where remote viewing fits in with the title, but this is something I have been interested in since reading Cosmic Voyage: 8a Scientific Discovery of Extraterrestrials Visiting Earth back in 1997. This is what I was most excited to read about. Remote viewing is a mental faculty that allows a perceiver (a "viewer") to describe or give details about a target that is inaccessible to normal senses due to distance, time, or shielding. For example, a viewer might be asked to describe a location on the other side of the world, which he or she has never visited; or a viewer might describe an event that happened long ago; or describe an object sealed in a container or locked in a room; or perhaps even describe a person or an activity; all without being told anything about the target -- not even its name or designation.

Before judging, think about this, all “technology is the product of the human brain. We live in an age totally transformed by the human brain, and yet humans and their brains are still relatively the same. Outer space is now known to humans in ways unimaginable in the 1950s. Inner space is still lodged in the dark ages. What consciousness is, and how it works in the brain, remain as puzzling to scientists today as chemistry was to early man.” I believe everyone has intuition, premonition, or precognition to some degree.

Understanding and discovering brain capabilities continues to grow every year. In 2014, direct brain-to-brain communication was achieved on an international scale. Over a distance of 5,000 miles a coded message was successfully transferred between human brains. Using advanced neuro-technologies, scientists were able to directly transmit a thought from one person to another as a sequence of tiny jolts to their brain, which caused sensations and showed up as flashed of light in the corner of their vision. I know, it doesn’t sound like much but as one of the scientists said, “It is a remarkable step in human communication”. If you’ve read anything about the grays (aliens), you’ll know that they communicate via telepathy. Maybe this is the first step humans are taking to achieve that as well.

While the history of the government’s efforts on the topic are interesting, it is the future possibilities that most excite me and if it’s true that we only use 10% of our brain, these new discoveries must account for some of the remainder. Exciting times.
Profile Image for Holly.
1,007 reviews220 followers
May 17, 2017
As a kid I desperately wanted to be psychic. I was fascinated by all things paranormal: telekinesis, extrasensory perception, clairvoyance - and I think the paranormal was part of the 1970s Zeitgeist. Today, maybe it has been absorbed into the culture so much it doesn't stand out like it did in that era - i.e., it's still fringe, but it's been assimilated, or else we're bombarded with so much nonsense that we're blasé. I did learn from this book that the US, Chinese, Russian, and Israeli militaries still use "psyops" today but it give it other names that disguise it or convey less "woowoo" and kookiness. Because there is still a bias. As there certainly should be.

Today I'm a hardened skeptic, a goat (vs. sheep), a more-or-less atheist or philosophical theist (à la Martin Gardner), but I am also interested in belief. I enjoyed Jacobsen's previous book, The Pentagon's Brain, and thought this would be an interesting read - it was. The book is long and historical, which I found satisfying and fulfilling, but I also got a small thrill out of the wacky subject matter, with scenes that brought to mind images and storylines from contemporary television: X-Files conspiracy episodes (not the monster episodes), Lost's Dharma Initiative, and the background story behind Fringe's mad scientist.

"Remote viewing" is discussed quite a bit. I still don't actually understand how one does it and how the military "trained" people in it. It sounds as if the trained practitioners still only had about 47% accuracy, and the CIA came to rely on a core group of people who actually had "psychic" abilities.

I think there is a scientific explanation for psychic abilities that we just don't understand yet.

A word about the audiobook: Annie Jacobsen reads this herself and while she reads too slowly (necessitating kicking up the speed a notch), she has an expressive voice and crisp, clear enunciation and she could have a side-career as an audiobook narrator.
Profile Image for Sharon A..
Author 1 book23 followers
May 9, 2017
From the first page, we are provided with the framing that will follow throughout: psychics exist and science "rejects" them. Jacobsen provides a false choice - the psychics are truly gifted or they were skilled magicians (p. 7). The critical evaluation of the various military psi ops projects is given short shrift. The majority of the book content is derived from interviews. The reader has no means to judge the veracity of these claims. The psychics and officers involved say the tests were remarkably accurate, but no records were kept to cross-check these statements. I can't recommend this piecey, unpolished, and skewed volume. There is too much missing even in such a lengthy book.

See full review here: http://sharonahill.com/un-phenomenal-...
Profile Image for Erik Graff.
5,005 reviews1,116 followers
February 13, 2018
I've had only one apparent ESP experience. It was during elementary school. My family was visiting the Lake Forest, Illinois family who had been living nextdoor to them in Chicago when I and their first child were born, only days apart. These family affairs were generally boring so their son, Bruce, and I went out to play amidst the mansions and ravines near their home. One of them, an enormous, white-framed structure with outbuildings, appeared long deserted so we proceeded to check windows until we found one unlatched. The interior, while impressively expansive, was pretty much empty. We proceeded to the outbuildings, one of which appeared to be an old coach house, the place where one would store a horse-drawn carriage or two. There were two wooden doors, both with windows too high for us to see through. Thinking of 'the old days', I exclaimed that maybe we'd see Model-T Fords inside. Locking his fingers, Bruce gave me a leg up. Inside were two such antiques, one exposed, the other under canvas. Many years later, Bruce and I both being adults now, I checked my suspect memory against his and had the story confirmed.

Annie Jacobsen has had a career as, first, a science journalist and, second, as an author of books about shadowy subjects. They have included one about Operation Paperclip, the illegal importation of Nazi scientists into the States by the U.S. government; another about the Nevada Test Site, home of Area 51; a third about DARPA and now this one about governmental sponsorship of ESP and PK research since WWII. I have enjoyed reading all but the first one, so far unencountered at bookstores, their topics having the frisson accompanying gossip and forbidden knowledge, her style being engaging and undemanding. Indeed I finished "Phenomena", including its endnotes, in two days.

I've read quite a number of books already about what, in modern parlance, might be termed 'parapsychology', many of which she cites, some of which date back to the 18th century. There was little, therefore, totally new to me in her account. What was new, however, was much of the detail, the backstory, and the overarching, well documented, theme.

The narrative is about the engagement of various branches of the U.S. government in paranormal research and exploration, usually for intelligence or military purposes, since the war. The evidence strongly indicates that there's something to ESP and PK. It occurs, but without the dependable repeatability required by the hard sciences. Consequently, embarrassingly, parapsychology remains on the fringes of science and of governmental sponsorship. This tension between the promise of such work, fulfilled dramatically in some cases, and the disappointments in trying to harness it runs throughout the text.

Jacobsen does not much insert herself in the text prior to its final part wherein she gives accounts of many of her meetings with the principals. And indeed, as revealed in the endnotes, much of the book is based on personal interviews. This, sadly, weakens the argument. There's a difference between a publicly accessible document, especially ones sanctioned by agencies or officers of government or the military, and a personal recollection of a long-ago event. The use of endnotes facilitates ease of reading but the failure to clearly emphasize the paper trail weakens the power of claims for the existence of ESP and PK. There are other weaknesses as well, one conceptual, the rest of those immediately apparent to me being errors of fact.

The conceptual weakness that I noticed was as regards C.G. Jung's theoretical apprehension of parapsychology. While Jacobsen mentions him, and physicist Wolfgang Pauli, his occasional collaborator, repeatedly, it is only glancingly and without much followthrough. In fact, Jung had quite a bit to say about parapsychology, the most relevant portions of which pertain to his theory of the 'psychoid' dimension underlying the psyche/physis (mind/body) problem. That's not to claim that this or his synchronic theories are correct, or even fruitful. It's simply to suggest that Jacobsen might want to read his collected works. As it is, her only attempts to 'explain' ESP and PK at any length arise from her very simplistic representations of hypotheses arising from research in particle physics--an area almost entirely beyond my ken as well.

The errors of fact that I caught may indicate some slipshod research on her part. I suspect others will catch more of them. They include such things as her description of Aldous Huxley's eyesight (p. 57)--he was legally blind in both eyes; Rasputin's murder (p. 72)--not such a mystery; the formation of the American Society for Psychical Research (p. 125)--it wasn't just James; the advent of anwering machines (p. 167)--more popular earlier; and the inscriptions in the Great Pyramid (pp. 321f.)--there aren't any.

These minor complaints aside, this is a highly readable, eye-opening account of an important, albeit highly controversial, subject. I recommend it as a good introduction to the field of parapsychology for beginners and as an entertaining overview for students of the discipline.
Profile Image for George Ilsley.
Author 12 books229 followers
September 22, 2021
Jacobsen's intention was to present both sides of a disagreement — that of believers and the skeptics. In fact, the situation is a little more nuanced.

When events occur that are "unexplained" it seems worthwhile to search for the explanation. One cannot just deny the event, as many skeptics try to do. The process of scientific investigation is how knowledge advances, often one tiny step at a time.

After I finished this book, I happened to see news of prosthetic devices worn by people and controlled by their minds. The mind-machine interface of these devices is one of the fruits of investigation into matters we do not yet completely understand.

In other news, governments around the world have spent tons of money investigating the unexplained. Research continues, and denials continue to flourish.
Profile Image for Allen Adams.
517 reviews29 followers
April 7, 2017

Do you believe in ESP?

Few subjects are as universally divisive as the idea of mental powers beyond the norm. Those who believe in things like extrasensory perception or telekinesis or clairvoyance or what have you tend to be fairly fervent in that belief. Meanwhile, the skeptical are adamantly, almost militantly so – they consider such notions to be nonsense.

But did you know that for many years, numerous agencies connected to the United States government – military and intelligence services alike – conducted research that placed them firmly in the former camp?

That’s the story being relayed by journalist Annie Jacobsen’s new book “Phenomena.” Subtitled “The Secret History of the U.S. Government’s Investigations into Extrasensory Perception and Psychokinesis,” the book promises a deep dive into the longstanding relationship between psychic research and the American government.

Ever since the CIA spent time in the 1950s searching for drugs that, while intended to aid in interrogation practices, were also alleged to enhance ESP and similar psychic phenomena in some users, there has been an ebbing and flowing relationship between the U.S. government and the metaphysical fringes.

This dynamic was rendered even more complicated by the Cold War; rumors of Soviet investigation into the psychic realm led to American officials insisting that our side keep pace in what was perceived as a sort of paranormal arms race. Instead of a missile gap, a psychic gap.

From the early days of the Round Table Foundation and Dr. Andrija Puharich – considered by many to be the father of the New Age movement – to the experiments of the Stanford Research Institute, from the CIA to the NSA to the DoD – “Phenomena” explores the complicated and tenuous relationship between clandestine government forces and the research into the powers of the mind.

Noted names of varying familiarity slide in and out of the story. Perhaps the most famous is Uri Geller, who is one of the more polarizing figures in the history of parapsychology – some were steadfast in hailing his powers, others deemed him a fraud and a charlatan – but other noted figures make appearances; Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell (a noted advocate for psychic phenomena), for example.

Jacobsen traces the ever-shifting state of governmental psychic research over the years by following some of the major players. She does so by swimming through reams of recently declassified documentation and assembling an impressive selection of interviews with dozens of prominent figures from that world – some of whom have never before spoken on the record about their involvement with these programs.

Now, if you’re a skeptic that doesn’t believe in ESP or related mental abilities, then it isn’t likely that “Phenomena” is going to change your mind. If you’re a believer, then it’s probably just going to confirm what you already thought. One suspects that the author’s perspective – one that seems fairly clearly oriented toward the belief side of things – might bias the story in that direction, though not so much as to force the door closed on skepticism.

However, there’s no question that it is a narratively engaging and well-written book. Jacobsen has definitely left room to wonder – there’s far more conjecture than conclusion to be had here. As to actual historical veracity, well … that’s a tougher one. Despite the complete and thorough divide between the believers and the skeptics, it may well be that there’s considerably more grey area here than either side would care to admit.

“Phenomena” is a fascinating peek at worlds colliding, an engaging and enlightening look at the decades-long intersection of psychic powers and government bureaucracy. Anyone with interest in the idea of psychic phenomena and its history in this country will almost surely be swept up by this weird and compelling tale.
Profile Image for Zy Marquiez.
131 reviews73 followers
April 26, 2017
Phenomena -The Secret History Of The U.S. Government’s Investigation’s Into Extrasensory Perception & Psychokinesis by Annie Jacobsen is an attempt to catalogue the “definitive history” of the Government’s research into a lot of the paranormal.

Despite the book giving many facts, the information itself isn’t as interesting, nor as incisive as they could be. There are other books that take a much more fascinating and detailed approach than this one.

If you haven’t delved into this topic at all, this book does have some starting points. But if you have reasonable experience researching this abstruse subject, then this is going to fall way below expectations.

For starters, the book could have been written in half the pages without Jacobson being so garrulous. A sizeable amount of the additional information covered just wasn’t necessar. Even if you grant that, the book still doesn’t cover many of the most important historical individuals nor events within this discipline. A few glaring issues are the author merely a cursory glance at the work of Robert Monroe, Ingo Swann and Russell Targ’s work. Also, highly suspicious is the fact that Edwin May, who is a crucial individual in this, is missing as well. If that were it, that would be regrettable enough, but there’s more.

Despite Jacobson using a few hundred sources detailed in the “notes” section, she fails to use proper notation – using none at all! – within the book. It is quite laborious trying to ascertain which footnotes in the back couple to the missing notation in the front. It’s like trying to find a treasure with the entire treasure map having hundreds of x’s all over the place, and all you need is one. If you WANT to delve into this book thoroughly and use this information for research, you would have to expend many hours trying to do what the author failed to do before. Seeing as a plethora of sources were used by the author, why not be a professional and note where each one applies?

Apparently, the author’s other books were great, and I am willing to give this author another chance, but this book fails considerably. It even recently became known to me that this book is being used for a TV series as well, which may or may not have influenced the author’s take on the phenomena.

Taking all into consideration, the inquisitive individual is far better off starting elsewhere on this subject. There are quite a few books out there, one notable being Jim Marr’s Psi Spies, that should be a great starting point for anyone venturing into this subject. Another researcher that’s been doing yeomen’s work into the field of consciousness and paranormal is Tom Campbell. Campbell, who is a former physicist, worked with Robert Monroe in his nascent stages, and has been doing research into much of this for over 30 years. Campbell has a few hundred youtube videos as well, some of which cover this very phenomenal as well.

For what it’s worth, while the author collates much curious data, the book just isn’t as keen as it could be, it’s not the “definitive history” that it was claimed to have and promoted to be, it’s far too garrulous for its own good, and doesn’t even do a decent job at undertaking proper footnotes. Recommend readers to give this book a pass and begin elsewhere.

Make sure to do ample research because there are a LOT of avenues to follow within this entire topic, so be warned.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
778 reviews39 followers
July 7, 2017
People tend to have strong opinions about paranormal phenomena, Annie Jacobsen points out early on in Phenomena. There are what one military commentator called the sheep, who believe such things are possible, and the goats, who take a skeptical view. Jacobsen takes the middle road with her book, dealing more with events and personalities than any attempt to prove or disprove the reality of 'psi' abilities. (Gut instinct tells me she preferred the sheep she met in the course of writing the book, but that may be a function of the book spending more time with them.)

I suspect that tendency toward the middle ground will irritate many readers who come to the book with their feet in the 'sheep' or 'goat' camps. If you're looking for a definitive declaration of belief or disbelief from Jacobsen, you'll probably be disappointed. But you'll see some weird stuff, meet some odd and interesting people, and get a glimpse at one of the more hidden aspects of U. S. military history.

For myself, I do wish Jacobsen had delved a little more into the impact of psi-ops on the military. The effort at even-handedness is not a bad thing, yet I wish she'd offered some thoughts on the impact of paranormal research on twentieth-century military history. But maybe that's an analysis that must wait for more declassification of documents.

Profile Image for Chris Dietzel.
Author 27 books401 followers
March 4, 2018
Jacobsen is the master of conspiracy nonfiction. After reading this and also her 'Area 51' book, I'm hooked. Each book is basically a 400-page version of an intensively researched episode of 'Unsolved Mysteries.' However, Jacobsen's books have the added benefit of solving most of the 'mysteries' she discusses due to formerly classified documents being unclassified over the years. It's easy with books like this to feel like you're getting half of the story or getting opinion instead of fact. One of the things I like so much about her journalistic approach is that she makes clear what is proven, what is likely, and what can only be confirmed via personal interviews with people she spoke to during her research. Added to that, there is an expansive series of footnotes to back up everything she claims with resources for further reading. The result is having a book filled with fantastic and unbelievable stories that you can settle into and simply enjoy and accept as 'the-truth-being-stranger-than-fiction'.
63 reviews
April 21, 2017
Unlike some of the reviewers, I found nothing missing.
This is an insightful look at the way government money is wasted.
The people, places and happenings in this book open the door to much more progressive thinking, but the "powers that are" decided to not follow up on most of it.
Scary, daring, downright hair raising in parts, this book lets us know that there is something "out there", even if it is housed in the minds and souls of the people around us.
Good material, good research, and a very good author.

I bought this book from amazon because I saw it offered here and didn't win it.
Profile Image for Jamie.
1,173 reviews421 followers
October 18, 2022
In this one, as Jacobsen says herself in the afterword, the point is not to argue for the so-called paranormal nor against it, like most other books of its stripe. Instead, she reports on the people involved and the attempts at explanations that come to grief on the facts. Interesting stuff here, and the last chapter with Ed Mitchell, he of the Apollo 14 walk on the moon, takes an unexpectedly poignant turn.
Profile Image for ?0?0?0.
727 reviews38 followers
June 17, 2017
True score: 3.5/5

There's been a slew of books lately written by respected journalists covering topics that have been mostly covered by small presses and written by authors of dubious credibility, and Annie Jacobsen's "Phenomena" is one of the better ones. If you want the history of the events that make up this book's title, this book is going to please you, but at the same time, if you're reading this and already aware of some of what's inside, this collection may come off as a nicely packaged history with a rather hopeful personal voice relating the stories and not much more. Annie Jacobsen is not looking to turn her subject or subjects into jokes and this goes a long way in a book that involves such topics as government sanctioned remote viewing. What got me about this book and the way it was structured is that it accidentally told a comic-tragic story of the progression of ESP: that it went from being involved with the occult, new-age nonsense while skeptics called it bullshit and so some otherwise intelligent folks started experimenting, trying to figure out if humans do possess such powers, and in so doing introduce new hope to the new-agers looking for a verification of their wild claims: science is coming around to "proving" some of the nonsense. And if science is not around now as further evidence, or the only evidence, it will be soon. What's sad here, or tragic, or both, is that the science that these people expect to help give them answers about ESP are as equally rooted in nonsensical, non-scientific posing, chiefly, Quantum Theory. Yes, science without the science and in a science as precise as (an infinite chain of monkeys will produce all the works of Shakespeare, or "the candle is burning JUST as fast as that Apollo space flight, it's all the same", or to paraphrase the always wise Einstein, "spooky stuff happening").

I sidetracked myself. So, ultimately, this book is worth reading if this is something that interests you (these being: ESP, NDE's, PK, military spending, military intelligence, death, and so on) but don't expect to come away with a new answer to what you already know about ESP and the like: they don't seem to exist and even if they did would likely be able to be understood in a far less sexy way than a man in a black cape with a propensity for dual rabbit/child suffering.
Profile Image for Mark Mortensen.
Author 2 books72 followers
April 17, 2018
Annie Jacobsen has once again released a well-researched thought provoking book. Jacobsen covers the history of ESP and PK from past to present. It’s not an arms race however if you have extraordinary sixth sense abilities the United States government DOD, CIA and DIA would like to test your skills to offset our secretive world rivals.
Profile Image for Tom.
198 reviews41 followers
April 21, 2021
As someone who loved Annie Jacobsen's other book Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base, it pains me to say that "Phenomena" is a work of pseudoscience advocacy masquerading as an objective history, steadfast in its unwillingness to ask difficult questions about its subject matter and frankly embarrassing in its chapters about the fraudster Uri Geller.

At first I assumed that Jacobsen was simply writing in mortal terror of the famously litigious Geller, but the omissions she engages in soon corrected that hopeful impression. In her telling, a tired Geller was simply unable to perform during his appearance on Johnny Carson. That this failure to perform his magic tricks came in the wake of Carson following James Randi's advice to keep the relevant props away from Geller and his handlers prior to the show is apparently not worth mentioning. Nor is the fact that Randi repeatedly performed the same tricks as Geller throughout the years -- insisting all along that he did so without the aid of any psychic powers -- enough to blunt Jacobsen's enthusiasm when Geller performs the same parlor tricks for her. No, Geller isn't a charlatan rinsing rubes of their money for decades... he's a very interesting man who deserves credit for the pivotal role he played in governmental investigation of psychic phenomena. He may even be a cunning Mossad spy, spoonbending his way into the US intelligence apparatus like some sort of comic book villain. Either way he's just dazzling. Bore off, Annie.

Of course, there's much more to the book than the Geller apologism, but it's also coloured by the author's credulousness in the face of highly dubious "evidence." Declassified documents reveal that remote viewers were able to offer descriptions of distant, unseen locations based on coordinates provided to them by investigators. Jacobsen begrudgingly points out it would have been possible for the remote viewers to memorize coordinates to certain landmarks ahead of time, but that sure sounds like a lot of hard work, doesn't it? As for the remote viewer who gave a vague description of one such landmark, then went home and managed to craft a much more detailed picture for investigators to marvel over later... It doesn't take a genius to figure that one out. Jacobsen hedges her bets, however.

This book, like its subject matter, has some tantalizing, intriguing anecdotes to offer but ultimately goes nowhere, undone by the bias of an author unable (or unwilling) to differentiate between conjecture and fact.
Profile Image for Me.
133 reviews4 followers
July 31, 2019
This book is well researched and I found it very interesting. Ms. Jacobsen relays the evidence she has uncovered in many interviews and document reviews.

I was familiar with many names in the book and she has done a brilliant bit of writing discussing the history. It tied much together in my mind.

I have read a few reviews attacking her for some stories and people she left out. Did she do it because she is on a three letter payroll? Did she do did it because time and resources are limited? To me it adds to the fun of the book.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed the book.
Profile Image for Justin Gatt.
24 reviews1 follower
July 20, 2022
Definitely my least favorite of the five books by Annie Jacobsen I have read. Much less compelling and filled with a ton of speculation which is fitting given the subject matter.
Profile Image for Patriciafoltz.
270 reviews2 followers
April 3, 2017
I am usually a fiction fan. I picked this book because it was about the governments investigation of "paranormal" phenomena. This was an excellent read. Very well researched and incredibly well written. It read like a novel. I was always moving on to the next chapter because I wanted to know what happened. The discussion at the end of guantum phenomena was the most accessible I have read. The author has written other books which I plan to read as this was so good.
Profile Image for Nick Jones.
279 reviews12 followers
June 6, 2017
Interesting, though a bit rambling and much, much too credulous.
Profile Image for Cara.
18 reviews55 followers
September 20, 2017
DNF at 60%. The author is very obviously biased and doesn't present any compelling evidence to support her belief in psychic phenomenon.
Profile Image for Michael Burnam-Fink.
1,487 reviews221 followers
February 26, 2018
Jacobsen is a serious defense historian, so a journey into the realm of parapsychology may seem out of field. She treats the topic with due seriousness, relying on FOIA'ed archives and interviews with participants to trace the history of the US military's relationship with remote viewing, with brief forays into telepathy and telekinetic weapons.

Jacobsen begins immediately after World War II with Dr. Henry Karel "Andrija" Puharich, a medical doctor and army officer. While investigating mystic experiences with the support of wealthy East Coast socialites, Dr. Puharich became entangled with the CIA's infamous MKULTRA program, and an effort to scientifically study Mexican psychedelic mushrooms, with an aim towards weaponizing their human effects. Puharich research projects eventually focused on a Brazilian faith healer, and his funding dried up in the latter 60s, but he identified some key figures, Ingo Swann and Uri Geller (yes, that Uri Geller), who would become the focus of the next round of major efforts.

Under the aegis of the Stanford Research Institute, and with funding from the CIA and DOD, scientists attempted without success to find the source of ESP, and to make it reliable, focusing on "anchored remote viewing", where a psychic at an SRI facility would attempt to locate collaborators who were at a randomly chosen external location.

SRI's research laid the groundwork for the final and most ambitious psychic project, a highly compartmentalized Army lead effort eventually code-named Project Star Gate to train ordinary soldiers in remote viewing techniques, rather than seeking psychics from the general population. The final project worked through 1980s and the Gulf War, before being disbanded in a flurry of media attention as one of the participants blamed the project for destroying his marriage and subjecting him to demonic messages.

In between the major thrusts, we're treated to Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell's ESP tests in space, Soviet microwave weapons targeted at the US Embassy in Moscow, Chinese rocket pioneer H. C. Tsien's interest in paranormal phenomena, and Uri Geller's celebrity.

Jacobsen holds the pose of a neutral observer. These projects happened, some of the participants claimed at times they could perceive the world through uncanny means, and while the predictions of Project Star Gate seemed accurate in retrospect, it's difficult to say an "actionable" intelligence came out of it. Even today, the military funds research into the paranormal, with transcendental meditation workshops for veterans with PTSD, and a 2014 Office of Naval Research study into combat danger sense, the subconscious intuition that helps some lucky soldiers avoid death on the battlefield. For her pose of neutrality, Jacobsen is ultimately a believer. Uri Geller has powers, unexplained though they may be. Paranormal phenomena are real, not just some fluke of pattern recognition. James Randi and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry are close-minded dogmatists who go beyond ethical standards to debunk the paranormal, rather than honest brokers of truth. Jacobsen lacks the mocking edge of Jon Ronson's The Men Who Stare At Goats, and her book is better for it. Though the paranormal is a rounding error in defense R&D budgets, we deserve to have a clear look at why people hope for some impossible military edge.

And disclosure, I got a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review. I received no other compensation.
Profile Image for Linda Brunner.
446 reviews53 followers
November 10, 2021
Another extensive investigative effort by the author, having read her book on Operation Paperclip which was amazing. I truthfully have little interest in the military and their typically brutal goings on but consciousness, extrasensory perception and psychokinesis...now there lies my fascination having experienced many unexplainable events over the course of my life. And much like many of the individuals in this book, thrown in the woo woo corner because of them. Anymore, as I've gotten older, I've become careful who I share those events with given the stigma that still colors most such happenings.

From the book: The Cold War spawned more scientific inquiry than anyone on Earth could have dreamed of at the time. Carl Jung was right. What is possible, what becomes reality, emerges from the rational assumptions of the age.
Profile Image for Joyce Yarrow.
Author 9 books127 followers
June 12, 2019
An extraordinarily well-researched exploration of the US Military’s ESP “eyeless sight” programs that sought to harness the paranormal as a source of military intelligence. Jacobsen maintains neutrality throughout, presenting the most surprising anomalies with clarity and objectivity so the reader can judge for herself. Her portrayals of the main players in this story provide an inside view of a fascinating world, where ‘remote viewers’ search for kidnapping victims and psychics are actually deployed in the field by intelligence services. The final chapter looks into the current search for a ‘gene for paranormality’ and leaves no doubt that the quest continues. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Audrey.
345 reviews6 followers
March 23, 2020
I was torn about whether or not I should continue this book when I realized it had more mystical accounts than scientific. Ultimately, I’m glad I stuck with it as I very much enjoy Annie Jacobsen’s writing. Though I can’t say I believe every account written in these pages it was an interesting read nonetheless. Despite my personal disbeliefs or contradictions with my faith, the author remains objective, not trying to influence the reader to believe one thing or another. She states the declassified facts as they were recorded as well as her observations upon meeting some of the subjects.
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