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The UFO Controversy in America


[Hardback]

by David M. Jacobs
(foreword by J. Allen Hynek)

In a field with more than its fair share of unsubstantiated claims and fantasists it is rare to find a sound, impartial and thorough academic work on the subject of UFOs which has stood the test of time.

"The Unidentified Flying Objects Controversy in America" was David Jacobs' doctoral thesis written in 1974-75 and later expanded for publication as this book by Indiana University Press. It is unusual to find a comprehensive examination of the UFO phenomenon written by an academic historian using the relevant methodology, which does not stray into speculation but sticks to facts: official reports, press reports, government actions, public advocacy, documents, records, testimony. As academic history it's hard to fault and has probably never been equalled as an examination of the UFO phenomenon and the way it was managed by the government, military, intelligence services and mass media in the USA up to 1975.

 
 

Critical Reviews:

Starting with the still unexplained and anomalous "airship" sightings in 1896 and 1897, widely reported in the press at that time, Dr. Jacobs moves on through the 20th century, examining in turn the various phases the phenomenon went through - often defined as much by the strategy of the government and their agencies in managing the problem as by the manifestation of sightings and reports. Above all, there has always been a controversy, and considerable resources appear to have been devoted to managing it. The late 1940s, the 1952 wave, the Robertson Panel, the early contactees and their claims, the rise of NICAP and the battle for congressional hearings, the Hynek/McDonald/Menzel confrontations of the 1960s, Blue Book, the Condon Committee and its aftermath are all examined in enlightening and refreshingly non-partisan detail.

Dr. Jacobs' concluding chapter, "1973: Echoes of the Past" gives the reader a good contemporary view of the way the subject of unidentified flying objects was managed in the USA by the media including the national press, far more important then as an opinion-former than in our current internet age, and in the emerging mass media age of television. Although the Hill case had by then emerged into the public eye and was being examined on national TV by journalist/writer John Fuller (related in the book by Jacobs), there was at that time little knowledge about the alien abduction phenomenon and the level of public and academic discourse about the UFO issue in general had not really moved on since the mid-1950s.

Jacobs' detailed and impartial examination of all the main players in the controversy during this period is everything you might expect from top-level academia. He is as fair-minded as possible and betrays no bias, whether dealing with debunkers like Klass and Menzel or with the more outrageous claims of the "space brothers are coming to save us" contactees.

The book concludes with 36 pages of referenced notes, a bibliography of more than 200 other books and papers and a good index.

 
    -- The Guardian  
        April 25, 2010  
  Customer Reviews:    
     
  5.0 out of 5 stars! A scholarly, fair-minded history of the UFO phenomenon.  
     
  Most UFO books tend to be written by "pro-UFO" believers who focus on the wilder aspects of the phenomenon (alien abductions, government coverups, etc.), or by so-called "skeptics" who are often more interested in ridiculing obviously flawed UFO sightings and witnesses than in honestly trying to solve the more baffling cases. Furthermore, few UFO books try to focus on the phenomenon as an historical or social event in American history, and as a result, the UFO phenomenon often comes across as a disjointed and disconnected series of sightings, abductions, and bizarre events.

David Jacobs, currently a professor of history at Temple University, attempted to correct these mistakes in 1975 when he wrote "The UFO Controversy in America". This book, which has become a valuable research tool for both believers and skeptics alike, is by far one of the best books ever written on the UFO phenomenon. This is NOT a poorly researched, "wild-eyed" book done by a UFO "believer", nor is it a "hatchet job" done by an obvious debunker. Instead, it is a well-written, well-researched, and largely fair-minded look at UFOs as an historical phenomenon.

Dr. Jacobs begins by looking at how the UFO phenomenon started in June 1947 with the well-publicized sighting by Kenneth Arnold of nine "flying saucers" flying in formation near Mt. Rainier in Washington State. He goes on to describe how the US Air Force and military became interested in UFOs and he gives a detailed account of the Air Force's top-secret investigations into the UFO "problem", which began with Project Sign in 1947, and then went through Project Grudge from 1949-1952 and Project Blue Book from 1952-1969.

He gives an excellent account of the controversial "Condon Committee", which was a government-funded UFO research project at the University of Colorado in the late sixties. Although both UFO believers and skeptics started out with high hopes that the project would provide a "solution" to the UFO mystery, it quickly became bogged down in a nasty feud between those scientists and researchers who took UFOs seriously, and those who did not – including the project's leaders, Dr. Edward Condon and his top assistant, Robert Low. When Dr. Condon made several public remarks ridiculing UFO witnesses and it was discovered that Low had written a letter detailing how the Condon committee would pretend publicly to be "unbiased" about UFOs while it actually was "anti-UFO" in private, several of the committee's "pro-UFO" members quit in disgust and became openly critical of the project's leadership.

In fact, the "Condon Report" (published in 1969) couldn't find explanations for nearly one-third of the sightings it examined, yet Condon, in his introduction to the report, flatly stated that UFOs didn't exist and that science had nothing to gain from taking the phenomenon seriously. He, thereafter, became a fierce opponent of any attempt to treat UFOs seriously, and even tried to shut down a symposium on UFOs sponsored in 1969 by the prestigious American Academy for the Advancement of Science.

Jacobs also offers a full account of almost every major UFO sighting from the Arnold incident in 1947 through the 1973 UFO "wave" (which was the last well-publicized series of sightings in US history). Unlike most books on UFOs, Jacobs attempts to be even-handed in his analysis of the subject, and he is critical of both the believers and debunkers at times.

The one feature of this book which may surprise some people is that it ignores the famed "Roswell" UFO case, in which a UFO supposedly crashed on a ranch near Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. In fact, the Roswell case was virtually unknown until the 1980s, and it was the Kenneth Arnold sighting, and not Roswell, which brought UFOs into the spotlight.

If you're interested in reading a scholarly, well-researched and well-written history of the UFO phenomenon – the sightings, government investigations, and the people who make up both sides of this mystery – then David Jacob's book is one of the best that's been published. My only complaint is that it ends in the mid-1970s – I wish that Dr. Jacobs would give us an updated version soon. Highly recommended!
 
       
       
       
       
       
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