Monday, February 1, 2016

Book Review: The Pentagon's Brain

The Pentagon's Brain
By Annie Jacobsen

Two different people gave me this book for Christmas, so I felt it was important to buckle down and read it. Basically it is a chronological history of ARPA/DARPA, the primary research arm of DoD with a mission to prevent technological surprise. I thought I knew DARPA. I was on the ARPANET in the earliest days with an IMP processor. When I worked for the Navy lab, I was called up multiple times to review proposals and status reports for information security projects. After reading the book, I realize I knew .000001% of what they did.

The author has done several of these. You get a sense that she worked for the agency for thirty years, but she does not mislead. She often cites the source of her information. She seems to have a gift for finding the right people and interviewing them to get the names and contact information of other right people; folks in the know. She also has an uncanny ability to put her hands on declassified documents and file freedom of information requests. And she breathes life into the stories, it isn't boring. The book opens with the scientists working at the site of the first hydrogen bomb and I thought my toes were going to curl. The word picture of John von Neumann is masterful. And she doesn't laud or pull punches. Some of the projects were incredibly effective others landed with a soft thud. If you want to understand military technology and how we got to where we are, this is a must read.

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