- Hardcover: 560 pages
- Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; First Edition edition (September 22, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0316371769
- ISBN-13: 978-0316371766
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.8 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 219 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #190,743 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
The Pentagon's Brain: An Uncensored History of DARPA, America's Top-Secret Military Research Agency Hardcover – September 22, 2015
|New from||Used from|
See the Best Books of 2018 So Far
Looking for something great to read? Browse our editors' picks for the best books of the year so far in fiction, nonfiction, mysteries, children's books, and much more.
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
An Amazon Best Book of September 2015: If you’re searching for an obtuse, synapse-dulling book on DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and its mission to create breakthrough military technologies, look elsewhere. Jacobsen’s nimble account of the ultra-secret R&D arm of the Defense Department engagingly details the shrouded history of the organization, starting with its genesis during the nuclear arms race and covering its efforts up through today. In her final section, Jacobsen offers solid but chilling conjectures on what covert programs DARPA is focused on now. Jacobsen (a journalist and the author of Operation Paperclip and Area 51) strikes a balance between lauding the technology leaps driven by DARPA and pointing out that the ultimate goal is to create wartime tools to guarantee U.S. dominance. DARPA’s successes include lighter machine guns (developed for slighter-bodied soldiers during the Vietnamese war and now standard U.S. issue), the Internet, GPS, and drones. Says Jacobsen, “DARPA creates, DARPA dominates, and when sent to the battlefield, DARPA destroys.” But, Jacobsen also asks, “what if some of these ‘dramatic new capabilities’ are not such a great idea?”
Hawks will find plenty of meat in here to fuel their arguments for the value of top-secret U.S. military programs. At the same time, doves will be well bolstered to pose uncomfortable questions about the worthiness of such activities in a free country. Thoughtful and nuanced, The Pentagon’s Brain will ask you to use your brain as well.--Adrian Liang
Pulitzer Prize Finalist in History
One of The Washington Post's Notable Nonfiction Books of 2015
One of The Boston Globe's Best Books of 2015
One of Amazon's Top 100 Books of 2015
"A brilliantly researched account of a small but powerful secret government agency whose military research profoundly affects world affairs."―The Pulitzer Prize Committee
"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."―Kirkus Reviews
"A fascinating and unsettling portrait of the secretive U.S. government agency....Jacobsen walks a fine line in telling the story of the agency and its innovations without coming across as a cheerleader or a critic, or letting the narrative devolve into a salacious tell-all. Jacobsen's ability to objectively tell the story of DARPA, not to mention its murky past, is truly remarkable, making for a terrifically well-crafted treatise on the agency most Americans know next to nothing about."
―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Jacobsen offers a definitive history of the clandestine agency.... She explores the implications of DARPA work on technology that will not be widely known to the public for generations but will certainly impact national security and concepts of war."―Vanessa Bush, Booklist (starred review)
"Jacobsen's account will serve as the model for histories of military research and development and is likely to lead to more works and articles about DARPA.... Engrossing, conversation-starting read..."―Library Journal
"Annie Jacobsen's considerable talents as an investigative journalist prove indispensable in uncovering the remarkable history of one of America's most powerful and clandestine military research agencies. And she is a great storyteller, making the tantalizing tale of The Pentagon's Brain -- from the depths of the Cold War to present day -- come alive on every page."―Gerald Posner, author of God's Bankers
"A fascinating and sometimes uneasy exploration of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency...."―Dina Temple-Raston, The Washington Post
"In this fascinating and terrifying account, Annie Jacobsen regales us with the stories behind the agency's 'consequential and sometimes Orwellian' innovations, including autonomous weapons systems--killer robots that could decide, without human intervention, who lives and who dies."―Bryan Schatz, Mother Jones
"Annie Jacobsen has a gift for unearthing secret, long-buried information."―Mary Ann Gwinn, Seattle Times
"An exciting read that asks an important question: what is the risk of allowing lethal technologies to be developed in secret?"―Ann Finkbeiner, Nature
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Chances are that you don’t know that DARPA also invented drones both big and tiny, Agent Orange, the M16 Assault Rifle, sophisticated sensor technology, the F117A stealth fighter jet, MIRVs (Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicles) that carry nuclear weapons, the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System, robotic soldiers — and a slew of other military weapons systems, most of them still top secret.
Remember Total Information Awareness, the predecessor to the massive data collection programs of the NSA that Edward Snowden revealed? DARPA was responsible for that one, too. The agency’s work also gave birth to less lethal technologies, including “real-time video processing, noise reduction, image enhancement, and data compression.” It’s difficult to exaggerate the impact of this little-known agency.
All this comes to light in the pages of journalist Annie Jacobsen’s The Pentagon’s Brain, the first full-length study of America’s secretive military research agency.
DARPA was created by President Dwight D. Eisenhower over the strenuous objections of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and just about everyone else in the military establishment. “Its mission is to create revolutions in military science and to maintain technological dominance over the rest of the world.” No doubt there are many in the military and in conservative circles who are thrilled at how successful the agency has been in fulfilling its mission, their original unhappiness notwithstanding. The rest of us should be scared. Very scared.
With its origins in the debates over the use of the hydrogen bomb and the policy of Mutual Assured Destruction in the 1950s, DARPA’s R&D programs have consistently been found on the far frontiers of military science. Among its least savory efforts (among a great many) were a project in 1958 to shield the United States from Soviet attack by exploding nuclear weapons in the upper atmosphere and the use of the herbicide Agent Orange to defoliate the South Vietnamese forests sheltering Vietcong troops. DARPA scientists actually did detonate nuclear weapons in the atmosphere — and you know the story of Agent Orange.
The Pentagon’s Brain was the product of exhaustive research. Much of the book is based on formerly classified materials that have only lately come to light. Author Annie Jacobsen turned up startling new information in the course of her research. For example, she learned that the world came even closer to Armageddon during the Cuban Missile Crisis than anyone outside top government and military circles was aware: “four nuclear weapons were detonated in space” during those tense days, when the U.S. and the Soviet Union stood on the brink of total nuclear war. (Two of those were the aforementioned bombs sired by DARPA.)
Though born in the grimmest days of the Cold War, DARPA’s work for more than a decade focused on the war in Vietnam. (The agency was originally called just ARPA until Congress got into the act.) That conflict led to the development of the M16 rifle and many other, less celebrated weapons of war. But much of the work involved the social sciences, subcontracted to the RAND Corporation, a name that will be familiar to anyone who lived through those times. ARPA contractors working for RAND helped to justify the notorious Strategic Hamlets program in which South Vietnamese peasants were forcibly removed from their villages and their lands and moved into heavily guarded new settlements. In fairness, the first round of ARPA social scientists found that the Strategic Hamlets were alienating peasants, but their findings were simply rejected by Pentagon leaders and more amenable researchers hired. Similarly, “the agency did not want to hear that the Vietcong could not be defeated. [Administrators] took the position that [the social scientists] had gone off the rails.”
The electronic battlefield
The high profile of many DARPA inventions notwithstanding, what may be its most significant creation was a “system of systems” that is known today as the electronic battlefield. Jacobsen calls it “the most revolutionary piece of military technology of the twentieth century, after the hydrogen bomb.” This concept encompasses the use of remotely piloted attack drones and technology that enhances the ability of individual soldiers. Ultimately, DARPA research is expected to extend the concept into “transhumanism — the notion that man can and will alter the human condition fundamentally by augmenting humans with machines and other means.” One such effort is the DARPA exoskeleton, which bears an uncanny resemblance to The Terminator and Robocop. Another is an effort to “allow future ‘soldiers [to] communicate by thought alone.”
The Pentagon’s Brain is crammed with chilling examples of the brave new world envisioned by DARPA scientists. I would like to think that every member of Congress would read this book — and then take a much more careful look at funding for the Pentagon. Fat chance, eh?
About the author
Annie Jacobsen is the author of three previous nonfiction books about the Pentagon. One relates the story of Operation Paperclip that brought Werner von Braun and other Nazi scientists to the U.S. following World War II. Another is a history of Area 51, which may be the best known and most notorious American military base in existence.
The book gives you a history of the Pentagon, inception of alphabet agencies of the government and the origins of psychological warfare as well as past and some contemporary research into weaponry. The portion on the Vietnam war was very enlightening.
I recommend this book as well as her Area 51 book.