Briefly Noted: Alien Nation


Annie Jacobsen's new book on Area 51, a secret government testing facility in Nevada, details the development of the ultra-high-flying U2 spy plane program and various nuclear warhead tests. The bulk of Area 51 (Little, Brown) is plausible and well sourced, but one element of the story is not.

Jacobsen interviewed a former Area 51 employee who claims that in 1947 government forces discovered flying saucers developed by the Russians for the express purpose of causing War of the Worlds–style mass hysteria across America. Another source tells Jacobsen that inside the flying saucers were tiny pilots who had been created by Soviet scientists to resemble aliens, using genetic engineering and organ transplants.

One problem with the story, first noted by Ars Technica's Jonathan Gitlin: Organ transplants were impossible until the development of immunosuppressant drugs in the 1960s, and the best scientists in the world didn't begin fiddling with genetic engineering until the 1970s. —Mike Riggs