Filled with the intrigue and high stakes of a spy novel, Jacobsen’s history of DARPA is as much a fascinating testament to...

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THE PENTAGON'S BRAIN

AN UNCENSORED HISTORY OF DARPA, AMERICA'S TOP-SECRET MILITARY RESEARCH AGENCY

The history of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the military’s top-secret research and development agency.

During the Cold War, the arms race between the United States and Soviet Union was a result of the belief in mutually assured destruction. If one nation were to strike with nuclear weapons, it would precipitate its own downfall. This constant tension created a unique environment in which the American military needed to invest heavily in new arms and technology to stay one step ahead of their Soviet foes. Officially created in 1958 by President Dwight Eisenhower, DARPA was tasked with leading the military’s efforts to develop the means to prevent a Soviet nuclear strike or invasion. The department quickly evolved to encompass all manners of defense, including cutting-edge psychological and biological warfare. Jacobsen (Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program that Brought Nazi Scientists to America, 2014, etc.) is no stranger to secretive government projects, and she weaves a dramatic history of the agency that exposes, through newly declassified documents and firsthand interviews with former DARPA scientists, the astounding and often terrifying developments that emerged from the program. One of the greatest pleasures of Jacobsen’s thoroughly crafted narrative is the anachronisms of obsolete high-tech. For instance, the author details the development of ARPANET, the predecessor to today’s Internet, and the room-sized computers that it was designed to use. However, not all DARPA projects are as apolitical and quaint. There is the unavoidable truth that DARPA was created to develop sophisticated weaponry designed to annihilate populations. One of the most egregious examples is Agent Orange, the extremely toxic defoliant. Chronicling DARPA to the present day, Jacobsen also sketches portraits of the immensely brilliant, ambitious, and flawed scientists that dedicated themselves to science and country.

Filled with the intrigue and high stakes of a spy novel, Jacobsen’s history of DARPA is as much a fascinating testament to human ingenuity as it is a paean to endless industrial warfare and the bureaucracy of the military-industrial complex.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-37176-6

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

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EDISON

One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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