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Area 51, out in Nevada and next door to the primary U.S. nuclear weapons test site at Yucca Flats, has long been a magnet for UFO obsessives. It’s in the middle of nowhere, and it’s top secret, two good reasons why the suspicious might be attracted to its operations.

Throw in decades of classified CIA research and development on overhead reconnaissance technology, including the U-2 and A-12 spy planes and the earliest unmanned aerial vehicles, and its reputation as a place where strange technologies grow seems justified.

Annie Jacobsen, a Los Angeles-based independent journalist, does an adequate if error-ridden job of reporting on these black-budget projects in “Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base,” using the classic investigative method of interviewing dozens and dozens of worker bees from engineers to security guards and piecing their stories together.

Then, like a test pilot who pushes her plane too far, she crashes and burns on the grisly tales of an unnamed single source, supposedly an Area 51 engineer and Manhattan Project veteran who leads her on a wild goose chase of honking absurdity straight down the UFO vapor trail into the very heart of conspiratorial darkness.

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