Annie Jacobsen writes and narrates Area 51 with the research skill of an investigative reporter and the persuasive voice of a news anchor.
This story begins as a kitty’s meow and ends with a lionesses’ roar. Jacobsen starts with a story almost every American citizen has heard; i.e. the story of flying saucers crashing in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. (See “1947 Crash Report Video” http://youtu.be/8iGHTtw-I84) This over told story almost kills a listener’s interest.
Then, Jacobsen begins building a story of the U.S. Government’s creation of Area 51, a legally unacknowledged but widely understood secret research facility 75 miles north of Las Vegas. Jacobsen interviews over 50 former employees of Area 51, including one of its earliest scientists. She slowly builds a credible story of what really happened at Roswell and how Area 51 became one of the most scientifically advanced flight and nuclear research facilities in the United States.
As a believer in the dictum that knowledge is power, Jacobsen’s research is a serious indictment of government secrecy. There are a number of revelations in “Area 51”, some of which may be exaggerated, but research and reporting of what did happen, and is undoubtedly still happening, astonishes and frightens an uniformed public.
There are some comments made by the author that challenge fact based reporting. One instance that stretches Jacobsen’s credibility is when Werner Von Braun (an ex Nazi Germany rocket scientist hired by the U.S. after WWII) chooses to leave a blast site of a nuclear test before it is completed. It is inferred that Von Braun left because he feared environmental catastrophe from the nuclear blast’s interaction with the atmosphere. Von Braun’s departure because of that kind of fear seems unfounded by the facts that are reported. This quibble is a drip of water in Jacobsen’s gathering storm of information.
To wet a listener’s appetite for the book, the flying-saucer’ story is argued to be true. Area 51 became the location for storing and reverse engineering crashed saucers to figure out how they could fly. They were manned, according to Jacobsen’s interviews, by genetically altered humans. The saucers are speculated to have been designed by Nazi scientists captured by Stalin at the end of WWII. Stalin’s intent is presumed to have been to embarrass President Truman by making him believe the United States is being attacked from outer space. Stalin’s plan is, implausibly, to create panic in the streets to destabilize the government. To complete the theory, Jacobsen suggests the government chooses to suppress the saucer discovery.
Flying saucers are a small part of the importance of Jacobsen’s research. The preeminent theme is disclosure of secret government programs that use human beings as guinea pigs. Top secret programs are financed by all governments (from the “free” and democratic to the “controlled” and totalitarian) that often experiment on human beings. In this nuclear age, these secret experiments are capable of destroying worlds. The conundrum is how to constrain any form of government that patriotically believes they are protecting their own country or mankind’s future by secretly experimenting with ideas that might destroy civilization. We are still here but destruction’s clock ticks with each new secret human experiment.
Human survival is a matter of open scientific discovery and faith; not man’s secret use of human guinea pigs to determine what is best for humankind. Jacobsen is either a Cassandra or Mary Shelley; maybe a little of both, which makes “Area 51” worth a reader or listener’s time.