The Pentagon's Brain

The Pentagon's Brain

[an Uncensored History of DARPA, America's Top-secret Military Research Agency]

Audiobook CD - 2015
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Since its inception in 1958, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, has grown to become the Defense Department's most secret, most powerful, and most controversial military science research and development agency. Created by President Eisenhower to prevent another Sputnik, and to focus primarily on defensive programs against nuclear weapons, the agency--and its imagination and scope--has expanded enormously with each passing year. From Agent Orange in Vietnam to insect-sized drones in use today, from the earliest networked computers and the Internet to smart rockets and war zones under 24-hour video surveillance, DARPA is responsible for innovations that have changed the course of war, national security, and strategic planning at the highest levels. To uncover the secret history of DARPA in action, journalist Annie Jacobsen tracked down key players in DARPA's Smart Weapons Program, past and present; neuroscientists building an artificial brain, cell biologists working on limb regeneration, the Nobel laureate who invented the laser. From DARPA's earliest defensive advances to hundreds of ongoing programs, Jacobsen exposes both sides of the DARPA coin: the fantastic technological advances from which we all benefit, and the darker side drawn up in a race for military supremacy. Based on information from inside sources, exclusive interviews, private documents, and declassified memos, The Pentagon's Brain reads like science fiction but is absolutely true, a groundbreaking look behind the scenes at the clandestine intersection of science and the American military. --Adapted from book jacket.
Publisher: [New York] : Hachette Audio, [2015]
Edition: Unabridged Retail edition
ISBN: 9781478900306
Characteristics: 15 sound discs (1110 min.) : digital ; 4 3/4 in
Call Number: CD 335.070973 JAC


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May 10, 2017

This is primarily the story of ARPA/DARPA. The author frequently goes off on related historical narratives, but then returns to the story. In a written book, you could skip ahead if you chose to, but I was listening to this book on CD, as read by the author, Annie Jacobsen.

I have listened to literally hundreds of books on CD, and never have I encountered one with as many mispronunciations. In the chapter about the Vietnam war, Ms. Jacobsen kept pronouncing the ‘h’ in herbicide, the British pronunciation. And yet she spoke with no discernable accent. (She is an American and is American-educated.) I dismissed it as perhaps a regional (New England) thing.

But then things got stranger. I spent my career in the Defense industry, and know people who worked at NORAD and Mitre Corporation. Half way through the book on CD, I got tired of hearing them pronounced NO-RAD and “Meter”, and I decided to write down some of these gaffes. Here are some of the worst ones:

ensign -- N-zyne
lanyard -- lan-YARD
chromatograph -- chrome-a-TOE-graph
Lake Pend Oreille -- Pand-or-eye
myelitis -- my-a-LEET-us
etc. -- ec cetera
automaton -- AUTO-muh-tawn

Lastly, there was one major error which made me question whether the author knew what she was talking about. In Chapter 14, when referring to Moore’s Law, she says: “Doubling is a powerful concept: 10 x 10 = 100; 100 x 100 = 10,000; 10,000 x 10,000 = 100 million.” The problem with this of course, is that these are examples of squaring, not doubling!

I still liked the work enough to give it three stars if it were in book form, but the frequent mispronunciations were extremely distracting, and just plain inexcusable, in an audio book. The author should have set aside her ago and let someone else record her book. I cannot recommend this audio book, or by extension, any audio book read by Annie Jacobsen.

Nov 12, 2015

I know that Mark Twain said, "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story." However, I cannot find who first said, "Never let the details ruin a good story." There is not a word in the English language to describe how overly verbose this lady is. The DARPA technology really started getting interesting post 9/11 but she absolutely ruined it with unnecessary details about uninteresting people, places and things. Reading this book was like writing a paper in college. I would find housework to do or I'd space off and start planning my own funeral while reading this boring drivel. She could easily have said twice as much and I would have retained thrice as much with a good editor. And come on, even Forrest Gump knows that two planes can't cause three buildings to collapse at free fall speed. I saw it on meme and Lord knows you can't argue with meme science.


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