A decade ago, the Navy's premier airplane-development program dissolved amid recriminations and lawsuits. The airplane in question, the a-12, should have provided heavy, stealthy, long-range strike capability well into the twenty-first century -- a capability that is very much in demand, as recent events have demonstrated. It ended up instead as a $5 billion plane that never dropped a bomb. The author, who has spent a lifetime around the military aviation industry, has produced a dense work that paints a dark portrait of the U.S. Navy's abilities and its integrity in the matter of acquisition. Stevenson writes that he began his study suspecting that two contractors -- General Dynamics and McDonnell Douglas -- had attempted to bilk the Navy. But he concluded that they were in fact the victims of a naval establishment eager to shift the blame that they deserved to the private sector. The author is also sharply critical of then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney and his aides, who he believes failed to exercise adequate control over the Department of the Navy. Neither easy nor cheerful reading, but an important tale.