The Imagineers of War: The Untold Story of DARPA, the Pentagon Agency That Changed the World

The Imagineers of War: The Untold Story of DARPA, the Pentagon Agency That Changed the World

by Sharon Weinberger


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The definitive history of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon agency that has quietly shaped war and technology for nearly sixty years.

Founded in 1958 in response to the launch of Sputnik, the agency’s original mission was to create “the unimagined weapons of the future.” Over the decades, DARPA has been responsible for countless inventions and technologies that extend well beyond military technology. Sharon Weinberger gives us a riveting account of DARPA’s successes and failures, its remarkable innovations, and its wild-eyed schemes. We see how the threat of nuclear Armageddon sparked investment in computer networking, leading to the Internet, as well as to a proposal to power a missile-destroying particle beam by draining the Great Lakes. We learn how DARPA was responsible during the Vietnam War for both Agent Orange and the development of the world’s first armed drones, and how after 9/11 the agency sparked a national controversy over surveillance with its data-mining research. And we see how DARPA’s success with self-driving cars was followed by disappointing contributions to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

Weinberger has interviewed more than one hundred former Pentagon officials and scientists involved in DARPA’s projects—many of whom have never spoken publicly about their work with the agency—and pored over countless declassified records from archives around the country, documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, and exclusive materials provided by sources. The Imagineers of War is a compelling and groundbreaking history in which science, technology, and politics collide.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385351799
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/14/2017
Pages: 496
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 8.80(h) x 1.80(d)

About the Author

SHARON WEINBERGER is Executive Editor at Foreign Policy and the author of Imaginary Weapons: A Journey Through the Pentagon's Scientific Underworld. She is currently a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. She has also held fellowships at MIT's Knight Science Journalism program, the International Reporting Program at Johns Hopkins Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, and Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She has written on military science and technology for Nature, BBC, Discover, Slate, Wired, and The Washington Post, among others.

Table of Contents

Prologue Guns and Money 3

Part I An Agency For Unimagined Weapons

Chapter 1 Scientia Potentia Est 15

Chapter 2 Mad Men 28

Chapter 3 Mad Scientists 40

Chapter 4 Society for the Correction of Soviet Excesses 53

Chapter 5 Welcome to the Jungle 68

Chapter 6 Ordinary Genius 86

Chapter 7 Extraordinary Genius 106

Chapter 8 Up in Flames 125

Chapter 9 A Worldwide Laboratory 143

Chapter 10 Blame It on the Sorcerers 168

Chapter 11 Monkey Business 186

Chapter 12 Bury It 202

Chapter 13 The Bunny, the Witch, and the War Room 219

Part II Servants of War

Chapter 14 Invisible War 239

Chapter 15 Top Secret Flying Machines 257

Chapter 16 Synthetic War 276

Chapter 17 Vanilla World 294

Chapter 18 Fantasy World 316

Chapter 19 Return of Voldemort 342

Epilogue Glorious Failure, Inglorious Success 363

Acknowledgments 373

Notes 377

Sources 429

Selected Bibliography 441

Index 453

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