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May 30: Los Angeles Times Book Review: "Highly readable…deeply researched…chilling depictions…a dream for aviation and military buffs."

Book review: “Area 51” by Scott Martelle.

“Annie Jacobsen’s history of the top secret Nevada base is highly readable. And about those UFO and alien rumors, well, she contends that Stalin may have played a part.

It’s ironic that a book that looks to pull back the curtain on decades of conspiracy theories about UFOs and Nevada’s infamous Area 51 may, in the end, become best remembered for launching yet another conspiracy theory.

The book is “Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base” by journalist Annie Jacobsen (a book that began as a two-part series in the Los Angeles Times Magazine in spring 2009). Jacobsen does as advertised. She had unprecedented access to former workers at the site, who filled her notebooks with details about secret doings (some now unclassified) surrounding everything from atomic bomb blasts to the quest for high-altitude surveillance planes to contemporary stealth technology.

The work is deeply researched and documented through a patchwork of declassified reports that must have been numbing to navigate. Jacobsen converts all that material into a highly readable history that is a dream for aviation and military buffs, packed with anecdotes and characters who built their careers largely among U.S. government “black” operations so secret that even the wives of the participants didn’t know what they did for a living.

There also are chilling depictions of the early atomic blasts, which in the years after World War II became something of a Las Vegas tourist attraction as people flocked to watch the mushroom cloud grow above the horizon. Jacobsen writes compellingly about U.S. government tests on everything from the power of the blasts to the effects on living creatures (humans and animals alike) to the radiation left behind. But the juiciest — and most problematic — bit in the book comes at the end….