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The Men Who Stare at Goats Hardcover – April 5, 2005

3.8 out of 5 stars 172 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Just when you thought every possible conspiracy theory had been exhausted by The X-Files or The Da Vinci Code, along comes The Men Who Stare at Goats. The first line of the book is, "This is a true story." True or not, it is quite astonishing. Author Jon Ronson writes a column about family life for London's Guardian newspaper and has made several acclaimed documentaries. The Men Who Stare at Goats is his bizarre quest into "the most whacked-out corners of George W. Bush's War on Terror," as he puts it. Ronson is inspired when a man who claims to be a former U.S. military psychic spy tells the journalist he has been reactivated following the 9-11 attack. Ronson decides to investigate. His research leads him to the U.S. Army's strange forays into extra-sensory perception and telepathy, which apparently included efforts to kill barnyard animals with nothing more than thought. Ronson meets one ex-Army employee who claims to have killed a goat and his pet hamster by staring at them for prolonged periods of time. Like Ronson's original source, this man also says he has been reactivated for deployment to the Middle East.

Ronson's finely written book strikes a perfect balance between curiosity, incredulity, and humor. His characters are each more bizarre than the last, and Ronson does a wonderful job of depicting the colorful quirks they reveal in their often-comical meetings. Through a charming guile, he manages to elicit many strange and amazing revelations. Ronson meets a general who is frustrated in his frequent attempts to walk through walls. One source says the U.S. military has deployed psychic assassins to the Middle East to hunt down Al Qaeda suspects. Entertaining and disturbing. --Alex Roslin

From Publishers Weekly

This exploration of the U.S. military's flirtation with the supernatural is at once funny and tragic. It reads like fiction, with plenty of dialogue and descriptive detail, but as Ronson's investigation into the government's peculiar past doings creeps into the present-and into Iraq-it will raise goose bumps. As Ronson reveals, a secret wing of the U.S. military called First Earth Battalion was created in 1979 with the purpose of creating "Warrior Monks," soldiers capable of walking through walls, becoming invisible, reading minds and even killing a goat simply by staring at it. Some of the characters involved seem well-meaning enough, such as the hapless General Stubblebine, who is "confounded by his continual failure to walk through his wall." But Ronson (Them: Adventures with Extremists) soon learns that the Battalion's bizarre ideas inspired some alarming torture techniques being used in the present-day War on Terror. One technique involves subjecting prisoners to 24 hours of Barney the Purple Dinosaur's song, "I Love You," and another makes use of the Predator, a small, toy-like object designed by military martial arts master Pete Brusso that can inflict a large amount of pain in many different ways ("You can take eyeballs right out... with this bit," Brusso tells Ronson). Ronson approaches the material with an open mind and a delightfully dry sense of humor, which makes this an entertaining, if unsettling, read. Indeed, as the events recounted here grow ever more curious-and the individuals Ronson meets more disturbing-it's necessary to remind oneself of Ronson's opening words: "This is a true story."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (April 5, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743241924
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743241922
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (172 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #581,387 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Patrick Roberts on October 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Some reviewers have completely missed the point. This is the author's journey researching an inane army experiment, and what manifestations may remain. This book is no more an investigative proof than Ronson's last novel was an argument for joining extremists. This book is Errol Morris, not Art Bell.

Wholly enjoyable and entertaining, it's hard to remember at times this is non-fiction, as some of the interviews seem insane. The presentation base comes from declassified goverment documents. However, they are not included, nor are there any footnotes, because Ronson is not trying to convince the reader of anything. He is writing about his interviews and conversations investigating the chronology of the "First Earth Battalion" manual. I believe Ronson started this project intending it to be much funnier (he is a comedian after all), but some of the subject matter and personas he found, though entertaining, aren't laughable: staring at a goat trying to kill sounds funny, but imagine the views of a person who wishes they had the ability to kill people with their mind. So it is a perspective on the legacy of a few persons relieved of common sense, that were given a little power and a budget.

You might enjoy this book if you:

- Find Jon Stewart (The Daily Show) funny.

- Like character documentaries, like those by Errol Morris.

- Enjoy psychology.

- Want a light introduction to a bizzare goverment-funded experiment.

You probably won't enjoy this book if you:

- Are looking for hard documentation on goverment conspiracy

- Believe our goverment would never do bad things to people

- Are uncomfortable with light critisism of George W. Bush
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Format: Paperback
I had the hardest time deciding whether or not to read this book based on the various Amazon reviews. While I love a good conspiracy theory or two, I try to avoid books either written by conspiracy fanatics who have no objectivity, or conspiracy comics who treat the subject from a distance and use it to poke fun. As you can imagine, it's tough to find middle ground.

Goats ends up being worth reading for fitting somewhere into my realm of acceptibility, but sadly not enough to merit more than 3 stars. Ronson definitely keeps his distance during the first half of the book - as military men, some of whom are clearly unhinged to some extent, talk about crazy programs, Ronson makes it clear that he's not confirming or denying the allegations, merely quoting. And here, the book takes a comic tone and allows the reader to decide who to believe. On top of this, the book feels light, as if little research beyond interviews was done. Perhaps there's no other way to get this kind of information. Regardless, every chapter was more of a series of anecdotes than anything.

For the second half, the tone turns more serious as it becomes clear that there is a spider web connecting many of the participants of various army plots, and here Ronson suddenly suddenly gets too serious without enough evidence. I was fine with the tone change, and the book does lead you on the same inner feeling: at first, "this is nuts" to "hey, maybe there's something seriously wrong going on." The problem is that this is where we needed a lot more hardcore research. And yet the book still felt light and airy. I mean, Ronson didn't even bother to look up the name of the song or band that features the words "Burn Mother*ucker, Burn!
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Format: Hardcover
This is a fascinating tale about people who are completely nuts. Unfortunately, many of these people who are completely nuts hold or have held senior positions in the United States military. Ronson rarely writes a judgmental word, but allows his subject to speak for themselves--and hang themselves with their own words. (At least, that's the impression--obviously Ronson has selected which of their words to present.)

Ronson looks at ideas for a "First Earth Battallion" by soldier-turned-newage-marketing-guru Jim Channon, who proposed in 1979 that the military put greater emphasis on influencing people with alternative weapons such as paranormal abilities and music. Ronson traces the use of music in warfare to the use of loud music by the FBI at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas and as a torture technique used by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay and in Iraq.

The book covers a wide-ranging territory of nuttiness, including Uri Geller (who is quoted in the book suggesting that he has been re-activated for use by the U.S. military), the remote viewers at Ft. Meade (Joe McMoneagle, Ingo Swann, Pat Price, Ed Dames, etc.), the non-lethal weaponry of UFO and paranormal investigator Col. John Alexander, the connections between the remote viewers and Courtney Brown--and then to Art Bell and Heaven's Gate, and the CIA's MKULTRA experiments and the death-by-LSD of Frank Olson and his son Eric's search for the facts about his death.

The book is alternately amusing and horrifying. It would be funny if this craziness wasn't taken so seriously by high-ranking officials who have put it into practice, wasting tax dollars and occasionally producing horribly unethical outcomes.

I highly recommend this book.
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