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Military science: Masters of war

by David Kaiser

On 4 October 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite. Four months later, the United States kick-started a new venture: the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). Nestled within the Pentagon, just steps from the office of defence secretary Neil McElroy, ARPA was the nation’s first space agency. But its writ was much broader. As Sharon Weinberger describes in her fascinating and absorbing history The Imagineers of War, this team of experts was tasked with anticipating “the unimagined weapons of the future”. Weinberger’s account, based on extensive and meticulous research, reveals surprising twists in the recent history of the age-old entanglement between knowledge and power…

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Reviewed by Lawrence D. Freedman

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…

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