Area 51, Dreamland, Groom Lake, Paradise Ranch, Watertown Strip, the Box: all refer to the top-secret research installation, located a hundred miles north of Las Vegas, which, for many, has come to stand for all that is shadowy and nefarious about the military-industrial-intelligence complex. Built under the direction of the CIA in the 1950s, the base served as the original test site for the U-2 spy plane and F-117 stealth fighter jet. In more recent years, Area 51 has spurred public interest from its role in the government's $30 billion "Black Budget," from legal claims of worker illness due to toxic burning, and from sensational charges about captured alien spacecraft. It has also given birth to a feisty guerrilla subculture bent on exploding the secrecy surrounding this mysterious spot. David Darlington unfolds the history, legs, and characters involved with Area 51, weaving a weird tale of intrigue and outrage and UFOs that speaks volumes about popular culture and American democracy at the of the twentieth century.
Area 51, the remote piece of Nevada desert real estate that serves as a top secret military installation, is the crossroads where the paranoid, the paranormal and a pop culture parable converge. In this entertaining study, Darlington (The Mojave) maps Area 51 with flair, explaining that some of the prominent theories surrounding it include beliefs that the facility is housing flying saucers that crashed at Roswell, that there are extraterrestrials on the site cooperating with government officials and that the site is run by a "shadow government" established by President Truman. Area 51's secretive existence, it seems, serves as focus for every conspiracy imaginable, all of them fascinating and some even grimly optimistic. After all, as Darlington makes clear, conspiracy is a more hopeful view of the world than chaos, as it operates on the assumption that at least someone is at the controls. In the best sections of the book, Darlington explains not only the history of Area 51 but the budgetary and political advantages of secrecy. Throughout, he brings a reporter's balanced eye to his material and to the people involved, so that believers and skeptics alike should take to his account. Photos not seen by PW. Foreign rights sold to Finland, Germany, the U.K.; rights (except first serial, translation, electronic): Frederick Hill.