Weird doings are afoot, aliens are among us and so is Raytheon—all stories that figure in Los Angeles Times Magazine contributing editor Jacobsen’s supremely odd book on that most classified of American military installations.
Acting on tips and leads by those who were there, the same kinds of fighter jocks and spam-in-a-can aeronauts that figure in Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, Jacobsen set out a few years ago to uncover what could be uncovered about Area 51, the huge military/intelligence base in the desert of southern Nevada. Huge is right—it’s “just a little smaller than the state of Connecticut”—and it’s carved into subdomains so secret that one agency, whether the CIA or the Air Force or the Atomic Energy Commission, often doesn’t know what the next one is doing. Indeed, Vice President Johnson didn’t know about Area 51 until after he became president—and we can guess that Joe Biden hasn’t been briefed on the odd things that happen there. Famously, as Jacobsen notes, Area 51 has been associated with UFOs, and some of the earliest sightings thereof, beginning in 1947, have taken place in or near the facility. As for the spooky-faced aliens so beloved of X-Files fans and so feared by the Whitley Strieber fans in the audience? Well, the big news in Jacobsen’s book is…no, it’d be stealing her thunder, and perhaps inviting a probe, to say much in specific, except to say that the grays are real, if tinged red. Jacobsen’s expansive, well-written narrative takes in the sweep of Cold War history, from the Bay of Pigs to Francis Gary Powers to Joe Stalin to Vietnam to the Nazi doctors pressed into service by U.S. and USSR alike—and none of it is pretty.
As readers will see, it’ll be hard to double-check Jacobsen’s reporting, so leaps of faith are required. But Jacobsen provides an endlessly fascinating—and quite scary—book.