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The Imagineers of War: The Untold Story of Darpa, the Pentagon Agency That Changed the World by Sharon Weinberger

The Imagineers of War: The Untold Story of Darpa, the Pentagon Agency That Changed the World by Sharon Weinberger

In THE IMAGINEERS OF WAR,  Sharon Weinberger provides a detailed history of this interesting defense agency.  The activities of DARPA have been varied—perhaps by design.  The authors explain that DARPA was “established it as an independent agency that reported directly to the secretary of defense.”

Much of the earlier work of DARPA ended up being scrapped, transferred to other agencies, or just not helpful. For a while, ARPA, as it was known in early years, did research in satellites.  Then, in 1958, this research was taken over by NASA.

 The Imagineers of War by Sharon Weinberger

The Imagineers of War by Sharon Weinberger

Of course, there was one BIG invention that was not a flop.  The DARPA engineers invented a networking system, which they called ARPANET. The author recounts a funny story about the first message transmitted over ARPANET:

“At 10:30 p.m., on October 29, 1969, a one-word message arrived at a computer console at the Stanford Research Institute. 'Lo,' read the message. That was the entire content of the first transmission sent across the ARPANET.  . . it was supposed to be 'login,' but the system crashed before it could be transmitted in its entirety, sending just the first two letters."

Of course, ARPANET later evolved and formed the basis for the modern internet.

Much of the book recounts the long and winding history of the agency, and all the zany weapons projects it invented.  Much time is spent describing the agency leadership. A recent director, Dr. Tony Tether, for example, wanted his program managers to “have inside them the desire to be a science fiction writer.” The authors also note, that “More than anything, Tether loved Disneyland.”

Some of DARPA's invention turned out to be vital. And some weapon systems are still in use: “Today, the agencies past investments populate the battlefield."  One great example is the Predator drone.

The real question, wonders the author, is where does DARPA go from here?  What is the new mission?

“More than fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks, and over two decades since the end of the Cold War, the dilemma for DARPA is finding a new mission worthy of its past accomplishments and cognizant of its darker failures.”

So all in all I found THE IMAGINEERS OF WAR to be a somewhat interesting read.  My favorite parts were the discussions on the interesting inventions—especially, of course the DARPANET.  On the other hand, I found the long discussions on the politics of the agency, and its leadership to be a bit much at times.

I should also mention that this book caught my eye because I had the opportunity to work on several defense projects funded by DARPA.  In every case, I found the engineers on this projects to be of top-notch caliber.

 
 The Imagineers of War by Sharon Weinberger

The Imagineers of War by Sharon Weinberger

Advance Review Copy courtesy of the publisher.

Photos courtesy of Pexels.

 

Advance Review Copy courtesy of the publisher.
Photos courtesy of Pexels.
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