From Publishers Weekly
If necessity is the mother of invention, then the U.S. government's midwife for much of the Cold War was a small, brilliant and fiercely independent cadre of physicists who assembled each summer to make scientific reality out of pie-in-the-sky ideas. Ingenious problem-solvers to a man (they were, for decades, an all-boys club), "the Jasons" (a nickname of uncertain origin; it's either taken from the Greek myth, Jason and the Argonauts, or an acronym for the months of July through November) agreed to help the government-and cash its checks-on the condition that their work be free from political influence; if the Pentagon or White House proposed a project the group found absurd or ethically reprehensive, they would say so in their typically blunt, intellectually arrogant manner. However, the smartest people in the room weren't always the savviest, and the Jasons found their work manipulated by the military to suit its own purposes. At least that's the story as told by Finkbeiner, who spent two years interviewing dozens of Jasons past and present and doesn't hesitate to give them the benefit of every doubt that's arisen in the group's shadowy, five-decade history, particularly those dealing with the Jasons' involvement in Vietnam. Nonetheless, Finkbeiner offers a rare and valuable look at the intersection of world politics, military strategy and scientific discovery.
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At a dinner honoring Freeman Dyson, Finkbeiner heard the physicist allude to government advisors called "the Jasons," a group little known except to Pentagon insiders. The first author to devote a book to the Jasons, Finkbeiner explains that they are a self-selecting cadre of scientists independent of the government who evaluate military technologies at the frontier of physical feasibility. Intrigued, Finkbeiner sought interviews with Jasons. Some jovially consented, others refused, and two guardedly agreed if identified as "Dr. X" and "Dr. Y." The reasons for anonymity are emblematic themes in Finkbeiner's fascinating account: Dr. X didn't want to reveal too much about the Jasons' secret work; Dr. Y didn't want to be hassled by antimilitary zealots at her university. So the dilemma between the "technically sweet," as Finkbeiner aptly quotes Robert Oppenheimer, and the morally objectionable courses through her account of the Jasons' brainstorming about weaponry at annual summer retreats since their founding in 1960. Readers interested in the politics of science will become deeply absorbed in Finkbeiner's original organizational history. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved