The Jasons are a well-guarded group of world-class scientists, briefly outed in the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War, who have been meeting every summer since 1960 to tackle classified problems that the Defense Department cannot solve. Among many stunning innovations, they helped invent our electronic battlefield and Star Wars missile defense technology, and are now looking into ways to improve our intelligence gathering. Recounting the unknown story of these brilliant, stubbornly independent thinkers, Ann Finkbeiner takes advantage of her unprecedented access to this elite group to explore the uncertain bargains between science and politics. It is a story older than Faust and as timely as tomorrow’s headlines.
If necessity is the mother of invention, then the U.S. government's midwife for much of the Cold War was a small, brilliant and fiercely independent cadre of physicists who assembled each summer to make scientific reality out of pie-in-the-sky ideas. Ingenious problem-solvers to a man (they were, for decades, an all-boys club), "the Jasons" (a nickname of uncertain origin; it's either taken from the Greek myth, Jason and the Argonauts, or an acronym for the months of July through November) agreed to help the government-and cash its checks-on the condition that their work be free from political influence; if the Pentagon or White House proposed a project the group found absurd or ethically reprehensive, they would say so in their typically blunt, intellectually arrogant manner. However, the smartest people in the room weren't always the savviest, and the Jasons found their work manipulated by the military to suit its own purposes. At least that's the story as told by Finkbeiner, who spent two years interviewing dozens of Jasons past and present and doesn't hesitate to give them the benefit of every doubt that's arisen in the group's shadowy, five-decade history, particularly those dealing with the Jasons' involvement in Vietnam. Nonetheless, Finkbeiner offers a rare and valuable look at the intersection of world politics, military strategy and scientific discovery.