Credible books about UFO's?
July 17, 2008 11:09 AM   Subscribe

Looking for a well-researched, non-quack book about the American Government's response to UFO's from the 1940s onward.

I saw a decent documentary on the history channel the other night about how the American government dealt with UFO sightings in the 40s and 50s. It touched on a close encounter in the 1950s around Washington D.C. when jets were scrambled to intercept orange lights showing up on radar. The documentary also touched on precursors to project blue book, and how they dealt with sightings.

What I'd like is a book similar to the documentary. I'd like a well-researched and balanced look at these events. I'm more interested in what various government organizations had to say about (and how they responded to) the general UFO phenomena in the 40s and 50s (or later) rather than eyewitness accounts of the sightings themselves. The book should be by a credible journalist or historian, if at all possible. The focus should be beyond Roswell, although I don't see how any book could not touch on this.

Again, just to be clear: government response to sightings, not just sightings in themselves. Not written by a quack. Nothing focusing on abductions either.
posted by Brodiggitty to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Finding a "credible book about UFO's" is a lot like finding a credible book on unicorns. Or, the government's response to unicorns.

Some Googling turns up:

I think you may just have to employ a heavy dose of skepticism, and read from several less-than-credible sources, check newspaper records, etc.

Non-nut non-abduction UFO books just don't sell, I reckon.
posted by aleahey at 12:28 PM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Final report of the scientific study of unidentified flying objects. Edward U. Condon, scientific director. New York, Dutton, 1969.
Conducted by the University of Colorado under contract F44620-67-0035 with the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Office of Aerospace Research, USAF.
Commonly known as the Condon report.

Aliens in the skies; the scientific rebuttal to the Condon Committee report. Testimony by six leading scientists before the House Committee on Science and Astronautics, July 29, 1968. Edited and with an introd. and commentary by John G. Fuller. New York, Putnam, 1969.
Commonly known as the Fuller report.
posted by Mrs. Buck Turgidson at 12:40 PM on July 17, 2008

There is (was?) a Journal of UFO Studies, which I have never looked at, but purports to have a balanced view of the UFO phenomenon (as in, they include articles from believers and skeptics alike).

What you want to avoid, mainly, are the ones by people like John Mack, Whitley Streiber, and Budd Hopkins, who are the abduction nuts that aleahey is referring to (I find these books fascinating, but not because I believe what they say--moreso because they're an interesting genre of literature, to me). Probably for what you want you will have to look at older stuff that avoids the entire abduction scenario-- try searching for keywords like Project Bluebook, Project Sign, and so on, rather than just UFOs or Flying Saucers and whatnot. (In case it is useful, the sort of abduction "innovation" on the UFO encounter genre really emerged in the mid-1960s with the Betty and Barney Hill case, but really took off in the 1970s before exploding in the 80s). Some possible suggestions (though they, too, involve a certain amount of nuttiness) are Keyhoe's first two books (The Flying Saucers are Real and Flying Saucers from Outer Space). J. Allen Hynek, who worked with Project Bluebook, also published a bit, but I don't know what his books are like. Another possibility (again, not great, but in this field you're unlikely to find much that is completely satisfying) is David M. Jacobs' The UFO Controversy in America.

You may want to take a look at some of the literature that has been produced on studying UFO accounts as a genre. Usually they're from a cultural studies perspective, and are of varying quality. I recently read They Know Us Better Than We Know Ourselves which made some interesting points. There's also Aliens in America which looks at the alien as a symbol for various postmodern anxieties and is more about conspiracies which I didn't like quite as much. While these books aren't what you are looking for, you might want to mine their bibliographies for materials. You might find some useful links or titles at the Center for UFO Studies.

I can probably locate some more information if you are interested. (I'm currently researching an article on this strange genre at the moment, and so I have a decent-sized bibliography going.) That said, aside from the sort of books that engage in some kind of anthropological study of UFO encounters, you'll have trouble finding much that isn't going to try to push a whole bunch of conspiracy theories and such on you.
posted by synecdoche at 1:00 PM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have a vague memory of reading an article about that very thing in The Skeptical Inquirer back in the mid-90s, probably around 1997, but it could have been a back issue (my school library had a subscription). You could try getting in touch with them. On their contact page they have an e-mail address for general inquiries:

It could also have been a bookreview.
posted by Kattullus at 1:40 PM on July 17, 2008

This is all very helpful. It gives me a starting point at least. I was just struck by how (in the documentary at least) it appeared that the government really was concerned about a handful of credible sightings. At least one military agency looked at the evidence and said "we can't explain this." I'm a bit of a skeptic myself, but it seems something was going on and they were concerned about it. Thanks everyone.
posted by Brodiggitty at 2:43 PM on July 17, 2008

I still have my copy of the Condon report that I bought in the early 70s, but now you can read it online. The Wikipedia entry also has a lot of information.
posted by lukemeister at 10:08 PM on July 17, 2008

Well, I picked up a copy of Flim-Flam, by James Randi, and he's a total skeptic, but part of that does entail using some government documents and official responses to UFO sightings to discredit more overblown accounts. The book is a little dated, by now, but it's still going to deal with those older sightings.
posted by redsparkler at 11:16 PM on July 17, 2008

You might also ask the nice people over at Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy Blog.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 8:58 AM on July 18, 2008

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