Reviews of Annie Jacobsen's Area 51
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Reviews of Annie Jacobsen's Area 51

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Area 51Annie Jacobsen’s book Area 51 purports to tell the story of the most secret—and, paradoxically, most famous—military base in the United States. It was released in May amidst a frenzy of interest and controversy which has placed the work as high as 7th on the New York Times Best Seller List. Much of the debate has focused on Jacobsen’s main thesis about the 1947 Roswell UFO incident. She claims that Roswell was the result of an experiment by Joseph Stalin, who recruited Nazi physician Josef Mengele to spread panic among Americans, as fictional radio broadcast War of the Worlds had done in 1938, by sending an “alien spacecraft” crewed by deformed children to crash-land in the New Mexico desert.

This account has been called “sensational,” and its author “at a minimum extraordinarily gullible or journalistically incompetent,” by Richard Rhodes in his Washington Post review of Area 51. Yet beyond this disputed retelling of the Roswell story, Jacobsen’s book presents several worrying inaccuracies about nuclear history identified by Robert S. Norris and Jeffrey T. Richelson in their Area 51 review “Dreamland Fantasies” on the blog Washington Decoded.

“There are so many mistakes that it is hard to know where to begin,” write Norris and Richelson. One of the most glaring is Jacobsen’s identification of Franklin Roosevelt’s science adviser Vannevar Bush as the head of the Manhattan Project. Bush chaired the Military Policy Committee, which held ultimate oversight over the Manhattan Project but usually did not make crucial decisions about the project’s direction, which were left to its military head General Leslie R. Groves and scientific director J. Robert Oppenheimer.

Another major blunder involves Jacobsen’s account of the January 1968 accident in Greenland, where a U.S. bomber carrying four nuclear weapons crashed near the Thule Air Force base. Jacobsen repeats the inaccurate assertion, first made in 2008 by a BBC News investigation but refuted the next year by a Danish study, that one of the bombs was lost beneath the ocean waves.

Due to the book’s numerous errors, the AHF encourages potential readers to examine Jacobsen’s claims with a healthy dose of skepticism and to look elsewhere for authority on matters of nuclear and military history. Please see Norris and Richelson’s and Rhodes’ reviews of Area 51 to learn more.

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