PHENOMENA by Annie Jacobsen


The Secret History of the U.S. Government's Investigations into Extrasensory Perception and Psychokinesis
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Jacobsen (The Pentagon's Brain: An Uncensored History of DARPA, America's Top-Secret Military Research Agency, 2015, etc.) journeys into the realm where the paranormal and the bureaucratic meet.

By the author’s account, places like Area 51 and Roswell are the real deal, landing sites and contact points for ETs and those who love them. In her latest book, she looks into the men-who-stare-at-goats investigations of the government, programs born of the Cold War and the need to combat the Red Menace on all fronts, including the extrasensory. So it is that, she writes, during the 1950s, the CIA was swept up in a “quest to locate an ESP-enhancing drug,” which included plenty of trial runs and a budget line for, as an official memo put it, “studying and collecting hallucinogenic species of mushrooms of interest.” Other projects, chemically assisted or not, fell under the aegis of various branches of the government, mostly military, with experiments taking place at venues like Fort Meade—home, of course, of the National Security Agency. Some venues were farther-flung. In an odd moment during the Apollo 14 moon landing, an astronaut conducted “mind-to-mind telepathy tests” with a couple of earthbound psychics. Later in the book, the Israeli phenomenalist Uri Geller enters the picture, which may set off the BS detectors of those who remember the controversies surrounding his heyday. Jacobsen’s narrative, punctuated by Zener cards and secret government outposts, makes for entertaining reading, but as with her book Area 51 (2011), either you’re disposed to believe it or not from the outset; there’s not much in the way of compelling evidence here despite all the players from various agencies and the large amounts of money spent on keeping them busy. And speaking of agencies, there’s the obligatory throwback to the paranormal researches of the Third Reich, the stuff of The Morning of the Magicians.

The occultly inclined will be duly enchanted. The materialists—well, not so much.

Pub Date: March 28th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-316-34936-9
Page count: 528pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2017


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