A review of The Pentagon’s Brain by Annie Jacobsen

Narrated by: Annie Jacobsen
Length: 18 hrs and 22 mins
Release date: 09-22-15

This book honestly took me 6 months to finish.

Its not that its that long or that boring… its just that it’s a very dense book.  There’s so much information in there that’s very interesting that you want to pay attention and really give it the time it deserves.  Because let’s face it, you’re probably not going to be listening to it a 2nd time.

I finished around 25 books in the meantime…whilst this book was still on my device in various stages of completion.

What’s it about?

Well… it’s incredibly interesting, filled with lots of history about the formation of ARPA (Advanced Research Project Agency)  which would eventually become DARPA (Defence) , and also giving the context of the history surrounding certain events explaining the WHY as well as the thinking at the time.

I have taken a lot of notes. Which I will leave a link to once I put them up.  A lot of the information though is just fascinating to talk about with others.

There was even description of DARPA training bees to sniff out explosives which was funny as I had just finished listening to The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson, and one of the supposedly insane people had stated as much after reading a science magazine, and they took it to be him making stuff up and took as evidence of his insanity.

Particularity interesting topics were:
-the Vietnam War, and the ginormous jump in technology that DARPA made in sensory technology which would then affect wars and skirmishes decades to come, and promote a whole new field of thinking for how to be superior on the battlefield.
-Non-lethal weapons for crowd control.
-Drone warfare and where DARPA is pushing development for that.
-The “Ethics” in war, and as it seems that apparently the Defence department doesn’t see it as killing multiple people, but just as staying ahead of the technology curve.
-The move from an objective advisory committee to an unobjective one for directional force on DARPA, and confirmation of The Military Industrial Complex.

Style of writing & performance

The writing was good, it was read by the author, and it’s honestly not so bad
There are some negative reviews on audible.com but it’s just that some people didn’t get past the 1st couple of chapters.
Yes, she sounds slightly jaded at the start. But the rest of the book tries to remain objective.
That being said, there’s a part where she’s talking about chemical and biological weapons where the USA is going against international agreements… and she just passes over it.
I understand the need to stay objective, but it would be nice to have some extra input for the way more controversial / properly illegal aspects of things.
-There’s also a part where she explains that Donald Rumsfeld made the decision to go to war with Iraq after 9/11 despite no evidence.. and I thought that could have gone into more detail as well. Instead she kind of just stated it.
With the aftermath that terrorists then came to Iraq because that’s where the US military was… it seems like this would have at least been covered in the “ethics” section at the end.

Yes, there was an ethics section at the end.

Also it briefly delved into how science fiction sometimes inspires actual development of defence technologies.  For example Charles Townes was inspired to invent the Laser after reading a science fiction book by Tolstoy called The Garin Death Ray.

Recommendation

This is a dense book, filled with a lot and I mean a lot of information.  If you only have a passing interest in this kind of thing….This book is NOT for you.

If you would rather discuss it.. then find someone that has read the book and talk to them.. because this covers the history of ‘staying ahead of the enemy’ and the technological developments that come because of it.

While all of this is fascinating, and I’m glad I’ve read it… it seriously is an effort to listen to.. and then finish.

If you like military, strategy and the history that gives context for all of this… then this is a great book and I think you’d enjoy it.  For those that are in the military, or work for a defence company or just interested in inventions, or interested in ‘how things came to be?’… then this book is for you.

For topics that people could be interested in… the book covers: why NASA was formed, weather satellites, the birth of the internet, network warfare, sensor development, the development of the laser, drone development, biological weapons development, social science -understanding the enemy, examples of weapons system deployed in Desert Storm, brainwashing, creation of some of the most famous guns like the AR15, the creation of SWAT police division, current capabilities of the US army.

Other books I’d recommend would be: Strategy-A history; History’s Great Military Blunders; Inside Delta Force

However The Pentagon’s brain covers more recent events, Delta Force is very good but it’s the view point from just 1 person in Delta Force not about the whole organisation and the context at the time.