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

In This Review

The Imagineers of War: The Untold Story of DARPA, the Pentagon Agency That Changed the World
by Sharon Weinberger
Knopf, 2017
496 pp.
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The title of Weinberger’s book might lead one to expect revelations about hidden geniuses responsible for great military innovations. But the impression left by this history of the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, set up in 1958 largely to get a grip on the U.S. military’s space programs, is that many of its projects were delusional, wasteful, and at times downright dangerous. DARPA did play a role in some important developments, notably early research that led to the Internet, drones, and stealth bombers. But from the Vietnam War until the present, its leaders have tended to look for technical fixes to essentially political problems; the results have sometimes been disastrous, such as the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam. In a telling line, Weinberger notes that in recent years, DARPA’s “press releases tout devices that can help soldiers scale glass skyscrapers, while American forces fight in a country dominated by mud houses.” Her account is critical but not mocking; it is a well-researched contribution to the history of U.S. military technology.