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Blank Spots on the Map: The Dark Geography of the Pentagon's Secret World

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  384 ratings  ·  67 reviews
Welcome to a top-level clearance world that doesn't exist...Now with updated material for the paperback edition.

This is the adventurous, insightful, and often chilling story of a road trip through a shadow nation of state secrets, clandestine military bases, black sites, hidden laboratories, and top-secret agencies that make up what insiders call the "black world."

Hardcover, 336 pages
Published February 5th 2009 by Dutton Adult (first published 2009)
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Average rating 3.70  · 
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May 22, 2012 rated it it was ok

Poorly written, the book meanders about looking for a central theme, which is never realized.
As for new information the authors promises, there isn't any - - he covers the same old material, to which previous researchers laid claim. So, the same question pops up: How did this second-rate book get published?

The niche he's carved out for himself is one that's destined to scare up dissatisfaction from both sides of this particular fence. The conspiracy theorists are going to hate Paglen's meth
Andrew Blok
Jan 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book was enjoyable at the level of 3 stars, but I learned a lot from it. It gets a knowledge-added star.

In a recent course on visual journalism, we spent a few weeks talking about photojournalism and American foreign policy. In that class, I learned a little bit about a lot of armed conflicts from recent history. Iran/Contra (and the Sandinista uprising before it), the Iranian Revolution, Bay of Pigs, Desert Storm, and the War on Terror. I kept getting surprised by how many conflicts involv
Apr 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
So far Paglen's research into the "secret" but yet, clearly outlined, areas of operations that undermine democracy is kicking my butt in a good way. I am obsessed with maps and military mapping strategies and the nature of produced and available knowledge as mechanisms of control, so...get on it! Paglen is both a pH.D in Geography, and a practicing artist-a photographer. The book "invisible" is a pendant piece to this--lots of important photos. ...more
McGrouchpants. McGrouchpants!
Trevor Paglen's latest was a funny (not "ha ha") trip to take, alongside reading Pynchon's Mason & Dixon: here, too, the World We Know is "illuminated" to be the World As Mapped — and what an eye-opener this slim tome is!

(To reiterate: we can't see it, we don't know it, okay? Welcome to America!)
If you can't get the 1.8 million/4.0 million ratio out of your head, you're like me, and sane! (The former? Number of employees in the Federal Government, as known — the "white world." The latter's the "
Feb 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ares, non-fiction
Depressed? Here - read THIS...
Feb 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
What they're doing that you aren't allowed to know about, or what they're doing, or how much money they're spending, or where it is. ...more
Ra Fe
Apr 29, 2018 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Valiant Thor
Jun 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Trevor Paglen's "Blank Spots on the Map" is a compelling overview of the Black World, or at least what little is known about it, and the historical turning points that led to its creation and unchecked growth.

Paglen offers a unique perspective by viewing the black world through a lense of geography, and results in a remarkably cogent analysis. This book does not contain much in the way of "revelations", but it nevertheless contains some pretty eye-opening information, such as showing how fundam
Jason Morrison
Mar 20, 2018 rated it liked it
Paglen takes the reader into a well researched book about the "black world", which is the world behind the government curtain that few people ever see.

I really feel that each chapter of this book could be its own book in and of itself. There were a few chapters that got so detailed that I had a tough time keeping up. Then there were a few chapters that were about topics that just seemed so wrong that it makes you upset thinking that the government would do what it had done to people.

I spent most
Bryan Whitehead
Apr 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
Geographer Trevor Paglen shares what he’s learned from staring long and hard at the spots the United States government doesn’t want to talk about, places such as Groom Lake, detention centers in Afghanistan and former Contra bases in Central America. Overall the book reads as a series of essays rather than a comprehensive whole. But the subject is fascinating, and Paglen does an excellent job of sharing what he and other researchers have learned about things the government doesn’t want its citiz ...more
John Becker
Jul 08, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: cia-nsa, non-fiction
I had extremely high expectations for this book, hoping to learn something new to the Black World. The only good thing I can say that I learned about reading this book was the directions to Area 51. The rest of the book was a huge let down. As far as the black satellites in the sky, those are nothing new.
What a waste of time.
Tom Elliott
Jan 27, 2019 rated it liked it
Didn’t really shine new light on much for me, I found the specific encounters with satellite followers and ex-mercenaries in Central America and Afghanistan most interesting. This was a good supplement to the movie “Vice”!
Kent Blowers
May 15, 2021 rated it liked it
I'd give it 3.6 stars if I could. Some parts are phenomenally interesting and provide depth and scale to completely unknown parts of our world. Some parts drag and don't really progress the narrative. But 10/10 for facts and stats. ...more
Jun 17, 2017 rated it did not like it
poorly written what a waste of time
Jeffrey Martin
Jun 27, 2017 rated it liked it
Strong writing, interesting facts and ideas. He very clearly cared for the project. Unfortunately was not exactly my cup of tea though I did learn a lot, and for that I am thankful.
Nick Jordan
Dec 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Totally emotionally overwhelming book by a 2017 MacArthur Genius Grant winner.
L. Farmer
Feb 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great read.
Philip S
Dec 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
A great view of military's secret world ...more
Robert Beveridge
Trevor Paglen, Blank Spots on the Map: The Dark Geography of the Pentagon's Secret World (Dutton, 2009)

The more I think about this book, especially in conjunction with Paglen's previous effort, Torture Taxi (which made my favorite reads of 2008 list), the more I think the guy just can't win. The niche he's carved out for himself is one that's destined to scare up dissatisfaction from both sides of this particular fence. The conspiracy theorists are going to hate Paglen's methods of research (whi
Oct 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book is more than a little bit depressing.

For a start, geography as a field of study is an interesting lens to try and view the "black world" through. After all, even if they are "off-the-books", secret projects and groups still have to be somewhere. The idea of learning about secrets by marking out the boundaries that they declared off-limits is definitely interesting. However, this book doesn't stay in this old-school geography mean for long, quickly getting into more historical and polit
Feb 23, 2009 rated it liked it
This was an interesting book. I enjoyed reading it; it was passably well written and it contained some good info. Among the book's drawbacks were the author's 'geography' angle on the 'black world', which he returns to again and again, yet never really delivers on. (It's basically a sort of "Nobody understand geography, they think it's about maps, geography is a much more interesting discipline and if you're trained in it you see things differently, now here's a bunch of geography metaphors abou ...more
Feb 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Trevor Paglen is a geographer and photographer whose work concentrates on making the invisible infrastructure of surveillance and military intelligence visible.

Over the past decade, he has taken thousands of photographs of places connected to the so-called “black world” of classified defense activity. […] He has aimed his lens at a National Security Agency eavesdropping complex in Sugar Grove, West Virginia; a space-surveillance transmitter in Lake Kickapoo, Texas; and a secret C.I.A. prison out
"More than fifty years of black spacecraft design has also meant creating a vast bureaucratic, cultural, and social architecture of secrecy and deception. Building secret satellites means creating enormous black budgets, hidden factories and obscure contracts to task their development, ultra classified security compartments to protect the 'product,' and a history of disinformation and outright lying to protect their secrets. 'Overhead assets,' as the National Reconnaissance Office and Pentagon c ...more
Ryan Wyatt
Feb 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Scary stuff, well researched.
Jul 11, 2012 rated it liked it
I found a few decent bits of information in this book and genuinely loved the early parts involving surveillance satellites and the mysterious "Janet" planes taking off for Area 51. To me, it goes off the rails a bit in delving so deeply into the CIA's handling of Guantanamo and the Salt Pits and all the other top secret extraordinary rendition sites. It was just, I don't know, not quite as dashing and crazy as I was hoping it would be. I think he wrapped it up incredibly though (so this is sort ...more
April (The Steadfast Reader)
I've been completely spoiled by Gordon Thomas. His books ("Journey into Madness: The Story of Secret CIA Mind Control and Medical Abuse"; "Secret Wars: One Hundred Years of British Intelligence Inside MI-5 and MI-6"; and "Gideon's Spies: The Secret History of Mossad") that I've read are all much more meticulously researched and cited than this one.

To me, unless you're a conspiracy theory nut, you need to cite your sources. Every single fact that makes you raise your eyebrows needs SOMETHING akin
David Gallin-Parisi
Mar 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Added greatly to my understanding of "experimental geography," a term coined by Trevor Paglen. Paglen is also an artist and collector of many items: black ops patches, an information gatherer, etc. For anybody wondering more about Paglen's exploration of geographical ideas, the very nature of black op sites are places full of unknown activities and classified data. The places really do become blank spots as far as common geographical characteristics. That is the challenge of this book and what c ...more
Mar 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
A well thought out look at the ethical issues surrounding the black world of covert ops, CIA renditions and skunkworks technology. Unusual for its hands-on approach, the book balances anecdotal stories with a theoretical framework for penetrating the black world's veil of secrecy. The application of ideas from experimental geography presents a new angle on understanding geopolitics.

Paglen's personal knowledge of the military gives him an interesting starting point that is not altogether unsympat
Aug 02, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: usa
The author, a geographer, became intrigued by the bits left off US government maps, and discovered that they represented secret military and intelligence facilities. Applying the same logic "what are they keeping out of published information?" he goes on to examine secret weapons programmes, how secret satellites are being monitored by amateur observers, how secret laws have come about, and how all this secrecy is in direct contradiction of the US Constitution.
And all this secrecy is being incr
Aug 04, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, politics
Full disclosure: I have a geography degree so I likely have a different perspective on what he's talking about and perhaps greater familiarity with certain topics the author refers to.

As such, I genuinely enjoyed the book, which, is true to the field, is interdisciplinary: history, political and economic policy and the study of the spatial components that bind these together were interwoven. I'm not sure that's quite what readers were expecting, given people equate geography with memorizing maps
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Trevor Paglen is an artist, writer, and experimental geographer whose work deliberately blurs lines between social science, contemporary art, journalism, and other disciplines to construct unfamiliar, yet meticulously researched ways to see and interpret the world around us.

Paglen's visual work has been exhibited at Transmediale Festival, Berlin; The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Institute of Co

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“The private security industry feeds on itself, creating the conditions for its own growth. As unemployment rises, there's more work to be done protecting the increasingly conglomerated wealth. As guns in private hands proliferate, things happen. Blame it on gangs, and there's an argument for even more private security.” 1 likes
“The CIA, an agency designed to operate outside the law, was now free to pursue its vision of a new world, to create new geographies, and to keep that world's details far from the public record. The black world was supercharged with newfound life and purpose.” 1 likes
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