From Garrett M. Graff, New York Times bestselling author of Raven Rock, The Only Plane in the Sky, and Pulitzer Prize finalist for history Watergate, comes the first comprehensive and eye-opening exploration of our government’s decades-long quest to solve one of humanity’s greatest mysteries: Are we alone in the universe?
For as long as we have looked to the skies, the question of whether life on Earth is the only life to exist has been at the core of the human experience, driving scientific debate and discovery, shaping spiritual belief, and prompting existential thought across borders and generations. And yet, the idea of extraterrestrial intelligence has been largely seen as a joke, banished to the realm of fantasy and conspiracy. Now, for the first time, the full story of our national obsession with UFOs—and the covert, decades-long search by scientists, the United States military, and the CIA for proof of alien life—is told by bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize finalist Garrett M. Graff in a deeply reported and researched history.
It begins in 1947, when two headline-making sightings of strange flying objects—the first near Mount Rainier, Washington, involving a pilot named Kenneth Arnold, and the second a ranch on the outskirts of a New Mexico town called Roswell—prompt the US Air Force’s newly formed Department of Defense to create a series of secret programs to determine how unidentified phenomena may pose a threat to national security. Over the next half-century, as the atomic age gives way to the space race and the Cold War, the search continues, bringing together an unexpected group of astronomers, military officials, civilian contactees, and true believers who bring us closer, then further, then closer again, to answering one of our most enduring questions: What exactly is out there?
Drawing from original archival research, declassified documents, and interviews with senior intelligence and military officials, Graff brings every moment of this extraordinary quest to life, transporting readers from secret military meetings and congressional hearings, where the validity of the search is debated, to the cluttered offices of UFOlogists and hoaxers determined to see the truth revealed, remote observatories where astronomers monitor the stars, and even the halls of the White House, where staffers and presidents alike eagerly await answers. Filled with twists and turns, and populated by an unforgettable cast of characters, UFO is a thrilling story of science, national security, the secrets of space, and the enduring mysteries of the universe.
This probing report by journalist Graff (Watergate) delves into the "incidents, sightings, and reported encounters that changed" how people think about UFOs. According to Graff, the legend that the government covered up the crash of an alien spaceship in Roswell, N.Mex., in 1947 started after a colonel with a reputation for being a "loose cannon" prematurely declared to the press that a pile of debris found there was the remains of a "flying saucer." A colorful cast of scientists, military officials, cranks, and true believers populate Graff's narrative, including conspiracy theorist Milton William Cooper, who exaggerated his stint in the Navy to make believable his claims that the government was hiding evidence of UFOs, and astronomer Carl Sagan, whose advocacy helped turn the search for extraterrestrial life into a respectable scientific endeavor. Graff contends that though many examples of so-called alien spacecraft can be easily debunked (a flying saucer photographed by an occultist in 1950s was actually a sombrero tossed in the air), "there is almost certainly not one single answer to the mystery" of UFO sightings, which might be of "little-understood meteorological and atmospheric phenomena," "military technologies," or "a secret that will only emerge as our knowledge of astronomy and physics itself evolves." The UFO history is loads of fun, and Graff's agnosticism has the potential to appeal to skeptics and believers alike. It's a fascinating dive down the rabbit hole.