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Blank Spots on the Map: The Dark Geography of the Pentagon's Secret World Hardcover – February 5, 2009

44 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

As in his previous books, artist and geographer Paglen (Torture Taxi: On the Trail of the CIA's Rendition Flights) explores the clandestine activities of the U.S. military and the CIA, giving readers a thorough and provocative tour of places that officially do not exist. Paglen has a brisk reporting style and is an engaging storyteller. His journey into what he calls the "black world" of classified locations—from research facilities to secret prisons—this time takes him across the country and around the world. The classified region he describes is shockingly vast, well funded, and not accountable for its activities. At times, Paglen has a subtle touch, allowing the facts he describes gradually to convince the reader of how essentially undemocratic all this secrecy is. Unfortunately, his approach at other times seems unnecessarily theatrical. For example, his description of camping out in a hotel room in Las Vegas to watch planes come and go comes off as a bit gimmicky. Such narrative is likely meant to make the book more readable, but the story Paglen is telling is gripping enough without any stunts. Highly recommended.—Rachel Bridgewater, Reed Coll., OR
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“Trevor Paglen set out to map the darkest corners of the U. S. national security apparatus. He’s done that and more. The result is a fascinating, deeply troubling, and absolutely essential book.”
—Andrew J. Bacevich, professor in international relations at Boston University, retired colonel in the US Army, and author of The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism

“Trevor Paglen gets into the black heart of America’s black sites. There is no better guide to this great American mystery. What goes on inside these bases will determine the future of warfare—and who we are—for the rest of the century.”
—Robert Baer, former case officer at the CIA and author of See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA’s War on Terrorism

Blank Spots is an important, well-researched, and insightful expose that opens a window into the black world of secret operations. Paglen’s conclusion that ‘our own history, in large part, has become a state secret’ is both a warning and a call to arms. It is time to heed the warning and take up arms.”
—John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hitman

“A chillingly literal tour de force. Paglen doesn’t so much fill in the blanks as trace their outlines and give their shifting shapes a density that says as much about the future of democracy as it does about the dismal confines of the black world.”
—Derek Gregory, Professor of Geography, University of British Columbia

“Living among us is an entire shadow industry of secret careers, unmarked flights, and razor-wired compounds evoking stereotyped images of the Cold-War Soviet Union. In what is still the world's most open society, Paglen adroitly exposes this dark geography. His book is fascinating and necessary.”

—Laurence Smith, Professor of Geography, University of California Los Angeles

“Some of the worst crimes in the American landscape are hiding in plain sight, and nobody has ever pursued them more thoroughly or explained them more chillingly and engagingly than Trevor Paglen. What he is doing is important, fascinating, and groundbreaking.”
—Rebecca Solnit, National Book Critics Circle Award Winner and author of Wanderlust --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton Adult; First Edition edition (February 5, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525951016
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525951018
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #964,737 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Trevor Paglen's work blurs boundaries to construct unfamiliar ways to see and interpret the world around us.

His interests include future warfare, state secrecy, experimental geography, anthropogeomorphology, deep-time, and cave art. He spends more time thinking about modernist painting than he would like to admit.

Trevor Paglen lives and works in New York.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Retired Reader on March 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The U.S. National Security Act of 1947 established a national security structure which was felt to be necessary to protect the U.S. from what was perceived as serious threats from foreign and domestic enemies. Almost immediately a parallel structure, invisible to public, was created as a compliment to the public national security establishment. This parallel structure is what this absolutely fascinating book refers to as the "black world."

According to Trevor Paglen, a geographer by trade, this black world can bounded by adroit compilation of blank areas on official maps, deleted passages from official documents, and acute observations of restricted areas and activities. Well he has certainly done a very thorough job of it. He begins with the secret and unacknowledged government test sites scattered throughout the country, but especially in the South Western U.S. that actually employ an astonishingly large number military and civilian workers yet still are literarily off the map. He subsequently tackles such arcane topics as black operations, black funding, and a host of other unacknowledged, often denied, U.S. activities including questionable and even illegal programs and operations. Perhaps the most discouraging information he provides is how easily it is for officials of the black world to hoodwink congress and the media, both nominal guards against government excesses. Certainly the most astonishing thing he reveals is that the black world in total may employ as many as 4 million military and civilians who carry secret or higher clearances. The fact that this many people can be involved and yet so many black activities remain completely off the gird is pretty scary in itself.

This reviewer has tremendous respect for the academic discipline of geography.
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37 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Victor A. Vyssotsky on March 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This book espouses the viewpoint that the large amount of money expended on "black" programs and activities, because it is not detailed in the budget, undermines the foundations of American democracy. That viewpoint is worth considering, whether one agrees with it or not, and Mr. Paglen offers much information to support his case. However, he overstates his case in various ways, distorts the interpretation of certain facts, and pastes together a collection of unrelated information and anecdotes. This leaves the book less convincing to a knowledgeable reader than it should be. None the less, it's worth reading.

As an example of the problems of the book I'll touch on the work at Groom Lake (Area 51), on the Nevada Test Range, operated as part of Nellis Air Force Base. Mr. Paglen asserts that the work at Groom Lake is so secret that not even the name "Groom Lake" can be used in publio. That may have been true many years ago, but isn't now. Indeed, a large amount of information about what goes on at the Area 51 test site is available on the Web, some of it thoughtfully provided by the United States Air Force. I spent a couple of hours browsing this material, and finally I got bored, having learned as much as I cared to know from text, photos, maps, etc. And I note one minor misrepresentation of fact in Mr. Paglen's material on Groom Lake. In two places he asserts that the Soviet aircraft used in Red Flag exercises were "stolen" from the Russians, but that's not how they were acquired. The US gov't got those from countries which had acquired them from the Soviet Union and then decided to use US equipment instead, and happily let us have their unwanted Soviet-built fighter aircraft.

Indeed, there is one truly "black" area at the Nevada Test Range: "Area 19".
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39 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Robert C. Olson VINE VOICE on February 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Wheels within Wheels
An interesting historical review of the "Black" world of American intelligence operations. The title is a little misleading but considering the subject matter that seems rather appropriate. Mr. Paglen does an adequate job of historical documentation on all aspects of the secret and above secret "Black" world of alphabet soup intelligence agencies. At times he is rather pedantic in certain aspects of the intelligence world, like super secret intelligence satellites, while quickly glossing over more interesting operations like Iran-Contra and Groom Lake. His chapter on Federal Law and the evolution of today's massive intelligence gathering machine is very interesting and worthy of more examination. One of the most interesting little nuggets that Mr. Paglen highlighted was, "At this moment approximately four million (his italics) people in the United States hold security clearances to work on classified projects. By way of contrast, the federal government employs approximately 1.8 million civilians in the white world." Amazing. Since its very beginning as the "Black Chamber" in 1919, covert/clandestine/"Black" Operations has grown to such a monumental size that few in our government knows just how large the "organization" really is. Furthermore, money does not seem to be a problem as great amounts simply disappear into the secret black world of classified intelligence. To use the old cliché, "If I tell you then I'll have to kill you." How much? That's classified1
All in all a good, general, cursory examination of America's "Black" world of intelligence. Have your laptop ready so you can "Goggle" much of what Mr. Paglen writes for a more in-depth examination and see interesting pictures.
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