The Men Who Stare at Goats

ByJon Ronson

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Readers` Reviews

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
john mitchell
But entertaining.

Jon Ronson does his best to investigate a bizarre corner of the U.S. government; the psychics of the intelligence community. To get there, he interviews veterans of the programs, and LTC (ret) Jim Channon, author of First Earth Battalion Operations Manual (which is very central to what Ronson found out and his interpretation of what he learned).

Drug experiments, meditation, 'remote-viewing', psychic attacks, subliminal messages, the power of positive thinking, music as a mind altering substance, and other notions are brought together as Ronson explores the weirdest research and operations of the U.S. military. It is important to keep in mind that the people Ronson spoke with could have been a) telling an accurate version of factual truth; b) telling fabrications for any one of a number of reasons; c) mixing accurate information and bogus noise out of mental imbalance, a desire for self-aggrandizement, or some other reason. I'm inclined to go with 'c', but wouldn't want to speculate on what was the straight deal, what was nonsense, or which was which (or why a particular source told a story).

If any significant fraction of the information from the interviews is true, this would really put a crimp in most people's world view. It certainly should be a hit with the conspiracy theory crowd. All the elements of a good conspiracy theory are here; secret organizations, mind control, threads that run back decades, super-human abilities, offical coverups, classified documents. etc.

I enjoyed it, but kept in mind that it's probably 80% (at least) chaff, and I doubt that I (or the author) will ever be able to discern which 20% was accurate, and an accurate interpretation of the facts is even trickier, as much of the context will never come to light.

Fun stuff, but not to be taken too seriously.

E. M. Van Court
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Sometimes we can only let a little knowing into our world view and one way to do that is by walking the comedic conversational edge as Jon Ronson does so well.

After more than a decade a scandal broke into the open in Washington State. A state licensed group home called the O.K. Boys Ranch had been sexually violating boys for years while the state officials looked the other way. When a lawsuit dug up the records a citizen made a website and put all the documents related to the O.K. Boys Ranch on the site for anyone to read and decide for themselves.

When I read the documents of what was done to those boys I got nauseous and the picture that immediately popped into my head was Abu Graib.

Those horrors and the torture of human beings comes from somewhere, it doesn't suddenly pop out of thin air. My brother quit Special Forces in 1969 because of some of the men who took sadistic delight in torturing and killing animals at Ft. Bragg.

Read this book, it is more valuable than you know. Enjoy the humor and take in the truth telling that is in this book and reflect upon the horrific along side the humorous.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
It's hard to know where to begin with this book from British freelance journalist and documentarian Ronson. It is, in a sense, victim to a kind of clandestine catch-22. The claims made in it are so outrageously bizarre that they demand documentation to substantiate and take seriously. And yet, the matters involved are so ultra secret and frightening that it's unlikely such documentation could ever be produced without resorting to real espionage. So even though Ronson manages to get surprising number of former officers and others to go on the record about the American military's flirtation with the paranormal over the last 25 years, one has to kind of read the book with either a grain of salt or a bit of faith.

The basic gist is that in the years following the end of the Vietnam War, there was a real malaise in the American military. An officer named Jim Channon took it upon himself to examine alternative forms of warfare and spent about a year traveling around the U.S. immersed in the new agey, positive self-transformation movement that was burgeoning at the time (and still does). He wrote a manual in 1979 based on his findings, full of suggestions, some wackier than others, some of which have been explored the military intelligence community. At the core of his manual was the notion that the military could create "warrior monks" trained in paranormal techniques such remote viewing, mind control, and invisibility. To that end, there was a secret unit established which was involved in remote viewing and, as the title indicates, attempts to psychically kill animals by staring at them. One of the less bizarre offshoots of this research is the blasting of music by the military and FBI in siege situations (such as Panama or Waco) and at detainees in Iraq and elsewhere. There's also some interesting stuff about subliminal messages, and the entirely strange detainee experience of a British man, who was subjected to Fleetwood Mac covers, Kris Kristofferson, and Matchbox 20 at normal volume for no apparent reason.

The story is such a tangled one with so many bizarre threads that one has to applaud Ronson for keeping it all in some semblance of order -- although the bit about the Art Bell show and Heavens Gate cult seemed to stray a little too far from the core. Ronson's approach is to simply keep asking questions, acting naive to his interviewees and then devastatingly connecting the dots in writing. The writing style is so breezy and wittily deadpan that it somewhat undercuts the seriousness of the topics under discussion, although to be fair, when he does discuss detainee torture and the apparent murder of a civilian scientist, the tone does switch to appropriately respectful. Indeed, the parts of the book that trace how the more whimsical fancys of the late '70s got twisted into the very real torture at Abu Gharib prison (and elsewhere) are chilling. Similarly, his account of the famous CIA MKULTRA experiments of the '50s turn what might be comical into sobering stuff.

The whole thing is rather unsettling, because even though much of it is pretty wacky stuff, there's no disputing that a good portion of it is true. And yes, it'll confirm the worst beliefs of those who are are distrustful of the American military establishment, but it should prove shocking to the rest of us as well. It's hard to know what to do after reading a book like this other than scream for greater transparency in the intelligence community. But when the president has authorized some $30 billion for "off the books" operations... one gets the uncomfortable sense this may be only the tip of the iceberg.

PS. In conjunction with this book, Ronson put together a three-part documentary called The Crazy Rulers of the World which ran on BBC4 in the UK.
Them: Adventures with Extremists :: So You've Been Publicly Shamed :: Stone Cold Magic (Ella Grey Series Book 1) :: An Urban Fantasy Novel (The Ruby Callaway Trilogy Book 1) :: The Men Who Stare At Goats by Ronson - Jon (2012) Paperback
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
sandy medina
The Men Who Stare at Goats is a sardonic overview of the military's forays into psychics and other mumbo jumbo. The author, Jon Ronson, interviewed officers and psychic pioneers such as General Stubblebine and Jim Channon. (I never heard of them either.) He interacts with them the same way you or I would--with incredulity and attempts to stifle his laughter. In the dialogue, whenever Ronson "ums" or "ers", you can guess what he really wants to tell these people--"Um, you're completely bonkers." Overall, most of the interviewees are portrayed as weirdos. I wonder how they reacted when they read the book and discovered that much of it seems like mockery.

Interspersed in the humor are a few disturbing revelations. It is one think to laugh about the government's funding of bizarre psychic experiments, but it is another thing to consider the horrific outcome of some of those experiments. Ronson gives some examples such as the Waco standoff and the Heaven's Gate tragedy, but I think there are even more personal examples. Most of the interviewees come across as unstable: Is it possible that their immersion in this psychic world intensified or even caused their instability? It's ironic to think that the very people who revolutionized or spearheaded these psychic forays might have been damaged by them. Ronson also offers a unique view of the Abu Ghraib debacle, which makes sense and deserves some more exploration.

The Men Who Stare at Goats is a breezy, satirical, occasionally alarming book, the kind that you can read from cover to cover in an hour or so.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
skyla collier
The line between truth and tale is a blurred one. In ‘The Men Who Stare At Goats’ by Jon Ronson, the idea of what the mind believes to be true and what it believes to be false is often contorted. Ronson takes the reader on a journey into the mysterious world of The United States Military and the secret operations that they are involved in.
At times it is hard to believe that the stories being printed in this book are in fact true. It might take some outside investigation to truly comprehend the magnitude of the military operations that were being discussed, often in great detail. Ronson opens the book with an in-depth, yet skeptical tale about a mysterious Goat Lab in Fort Bragg and introduces us to the masterminds behind this questioned operation. Ronson is then led on a wild goose chase that introduces him and the subsequent audience to multiple people who claim to not only be involved in the Goat Lab operation but other psychic operations throughout the military. Ronson often leaves the audience just as his interviewees left him, confused and a little skeptical. Sentences, paragraphs, and chapters would abruptly end, leaving one to wonder what mysterious details would connect later in this journey.
The novel as a whole was constructed in such a way that confusion was built in and desire to find out more was inevitable. Ronson gave the reader the puzzle pieces and it was our job to attempt to solve and prove true the stories of the First Earth Battalion and their psychic voyage throughout the military and the world.
Throughout the book Ronson seems to make light of every situation he finds himself in. He manages to acquire meetings with top military personnel and over involved citizens of the like. He asks the right questions at the right time and always manages to get more information out of his subject then they intended. This, in fact, proving to be an ironic turn of events seeing as he is typically interviewing “psychics” from the military. Documenting every interview with a positive tone and an open mind Ronson is quick to follow up on the next “big lead”. This novel, however, can be a bit overwhelming to keep up with. Although the general material is not a big feat to take on, following the often out of sync story line and remembering the plethora of names, both military and civilian, can become a daunting task. This novel is filled with multiple military conspiracies that somehow manage to all intertwine.
The entire concept of the story has a skeptical ring to it. The title draws the reader in because the far off idea that men CAN actually stare at goats and kill them is in fact hard to believe. Ronson, is clearly skeptical and awed by the fact that people who run The United States military are so convinced that this is an actual concept.
For the reader that is enthralled by military science and conspiracy with a touch of skepticism this is the book for them. The people being interviewed are in fact real and the stories that they claim to be true may have some credibility behind them. Nonetheless this book does its job in entertaining the military science/technology crowd with witty comments and outlandish stories.
By the end of the book one may start to believe that most of these stories are in fact true. A connection is made between Ronson and each of his subjects and with that a little more credibility is gained. The connection between Ronson and Guy Savelli, who claims he can kill a hamster by looking at it, is a connection that seems promising and credulous, however this may just be another one of the dead ends that Ronson leaves us with throughout the book.
All in all The Men Who Stare at Goats proved to be a surprising and enthralling read. The story sequence made one sit back and really try to understand the plot as well as try to solve the psychic stories for themselves. The interviewees seemed credulous, however once Ronson dug deeper the skepticism always seemed to seep through. This pattern resulted in surprising discoveries as well as a need to be able to think critically and be able to follow the twists of a plot with many dead ends.
This novel not only sparked my interest in Military Science and Military secrets but also helped me to learn how to think more critically and connect seemingly unrelated ideas and concepts in order to form a more coherent and complete view of the entire situation, or plot line. Ronson did an amazing job keeping the reader focused on the overall concept of the book and often turned steered the readers mind away from taking a credulous stance on an issue that was in the end completely wrong. Ronson knew when information was truthful as well as when it was a sham. This helped prove, in the long run, what individuals and information were reliable and what was in fact just a ruse.
This book is not for the closed minded or easily offended types. At times the information might shock you and cause you to question something that was easily believable before. Ronson will draw you in and keep you entertained throughout the 256 pages. Finally, when you have made a genuine connection with him and his subjects and the plot line begins to thicken he will pull the rug out from under you and leave you wondering how the story truly ends. The mind games that are introduced throughout this book continue long after the final page has been read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
pat v
I'm read this excellent book about the strange things our military gets up to, like training soldiers to walk through walls and kill goats by looking at them.


This book covers the Army Intelligence's Secret Psychic Spy team, MK-ULTRA, and the document that sparked the whole thing, a New-Age manifesto penned by a head of military intelligence called First Earth Battallion, in which war would be performed with indigenous music and words of peace played over loud speakers and the soldiers would carry flowers and symbloically peaceful animals like baby sheep and wear spiritual symbols on their uniforms.


One of my favorite parts was the bit about Project Jedi, undertaken in the 1970s to create a super soldier that would posses superior strength, intelligence, cunning, and intuition by utilizing neurolinguistic programming.

Besides freaky things born out of Vietnam, he also covers the Waco siege, Abu Ghraib, and the Heaven's Gate cult. Yes, even Heaven's Gate is in here.

Here is an amusing tidbit I thought I'd share...

"The Americans have always been better than the Iraqis at leaflets. Early on in the first Gulf War, Iraqui PsyOps dropped a batch of their own leaflets on U.S. troops, designed to be psychologically devastating. They read. "Your wives are back home having sex with Bart Simpson and Burt Reynolds."

The book is hilarious, told like a detective story or a Graham Hancock book, one peice of evidence leading him to the next. His misadventures are entertaining and almost unbelievable, yet if you look part the absurdity of it all, it's kind of disturbing and gives a very worrisome view of what our government gets to behind closed doors.

And yes, someone killed a goat just by staring at it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
arkadiusz gorka
I enjoyed this book, as far as the content goes. It ebbs and flows like Ronson's other works, so if you're a fan of Jon Ronson, you shouldn't be disappointed.
Concerning the Audible version, I wasn't that satisfied. There are some books which need to be narrated by the author, and Ronson's books are of that sort. He has such a cadence and gesticulation to his writing, that it needs to be experienced by his voice. I'm not sure why this is the only book he has written that he didn't narrate, but I feel the audio version suffers slightly as a result.
Anyway, the text is good, and I would recommend it regardless.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
sarah leonard
It's been some years since I read the book so forgive the vagueness. Also, ignore the movie starring George Clooney, it was at best a re-interpretation of this book, and somewhat missed the point. Although both the movie and the book were somewhat disjoint and both lean towards the "please tell me this is a joke" feel of public spending and research there are somethings that come out in the book that were completely missed in the film.

The book tries to be researched and is mostly honest about being not water tight. It tries to not say that there is little or no corroborating evidence for some of the claims being made, but it also remains quite clear that these things are based on isolated reports. I wouldn't be surprised if even some of the completely outlandish things were investigated and even if the exact facts (cited in the book) are not going to line up with reality there is a thread that runs through this that remains believable and plausible as being something worth investigating.

And there is more to this because some of the most detailed chapters in the book we can see on TV every day, the logic and psychology behind blaring rock music in a fire fight and then offering candy once you enter the city are obvious, but someone had to come up with it and I felt the book did do these endeavors justice, even if reading them you occasionally ask yourself why a government or the military would shell out money for it.

In short the book is about research done by the military to give them an advantage in battles but also in making peace. Research ranges from the bizarre to the (now) commonsensical. It discusses the motivations and the reasoning to get to sometimes the object of research and sometimes the conclusion, but mostly it focuses on the people ... the "characters". And for what that is worth it is a good read, not great but entertaining. It should be noted that the book is not one of those gift books about stupid things someone did, rather it does try to be serious but in style and research never quite gets there. A lot of the things discussed I doubt happened quite like they are reported but like I said, I think there is a thread that runs through all of this that is real and that makes you think and wonder.

Who is it for? This is probably more suited for skeptical readers that will weight the facts rather than just believe them. It also isn't a page turner and despite being short takes some time to get through because the writing style isn't very flowing. Still if you battle through it I think you will have something to wonder about and I think that justifies reading the title.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
This nonfiction story is related in such a humorous manner I found myself laughing out loud. The narrator of the audible version uses just the right tone and affect. Each character's voice is imitated with an appropriate accent.

This listener found the author very likeable. This book is actually an expose, but the writer does not take a sarcastic nor indignant attitude.

This work is also a serious investigative report of government mismanagement at high levels. Told in a more serious tone, the facts would be too frightening to entertain.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Wow, where do I begin? This book is one of the funniest I've ever read. In fact, my new favorite quote is, "Most goat-related military activity is still highly classified." The story is absolutely hilarious in many parts, very easy to read and seemingly unbiased as Ronson allows his interviewees to say whatever they wish. However, and that is a huge however, I don't believe at least half of what he has written, and possibly as much as 75%. I do not follow conspiracy theories, and that is what much of this books seems to me.

Ronson relates his information directly from each source in most cases, which makes me automatically skeptical. Because much of this information is (supposedly) still classified, there is no way to verify it. "John Doe told me this, so it is true" is the state of mind you need to read and believe this book. Also, he has a bad habit of using British dialect in his interviews with Americans. I'm sorry, but Americans just don't use the word "bits" with the same meaning as the Brits do. If you're going to quote people, please quote them directly and don't change their words. (Granted, I bought a UK copy of this book, so maybe the publishing house changed the quotes; or maybe the quotes just aren't real. See, I told you I'm sketical.) Another mistake I found was a gentleman attributed with an American military rank that simply doesn't exist. Research or editing should have caught that.

I truly don't believe that a bunch of Special Forces guys at Fort Bragg are currently in the Goat Lab, trying to stare to death a de-bleated goat.

The Barney song playing on an endless repeat in Iraq? That story holds much more veracity than goat-staring. Music has long been used in psychological operations and it works. Though I'm not sure that I really believe it's the Barney song and not some other type of music, just because the Barney song holds no sentimental, cultural or torturous value for Iraqis other than its repetitiveness.

Basically, I found this book entirely readable and entertaining, and vaguely truthful. I don't want to say that Ronson has written a work of fiction and marketed it as fact, but I do think he wrote this with sales in mind and found the best stories and interviews for his target audience. Please please please do not read and believe every word in this book, because I know for a fact, 100%, that it is not entirely correct.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
keri bass
An enjoyable but very disturbing book investigating the more extreme (far-out)elements within the US military and how their are affecting the current execution of the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Following the failure in Vietnam, a senior US army officer started to investigate, alternatives to conventional armed conflict, specifically methods originating from the new age movements which had sprung up throughout America. What results is a manifesto arguing for non-violent combat resolution,non-lethal weapon technologies, remote viewers, the use of music etc to influence/control opponents emotions and the development of zen warrior monks "the jedi knights" with supernatural powers.

In itself, this would be a seemingly harmless offshoot from the mainstream military by an eccentric element. What makes the story disturbing is the seeming support that these ideas received from the military brass - for example the head of military intelligence who believed that if he concentrated hard enough he could walk through walls.

And even more disturbingly, these ideas seem to have never gone away and are back with a vengeance in the war against terrorism. Except this time they seem more focussed on achievable objectives such as the use of subliminal messages in interrogation and prisoner handling situations. And this time their appears to be very little in the way of controls/rules.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
This is a book about people who think they can will a goat or hamster to die or walk through a wall, or project what other people are thinking. Clearly nutty, but something that can be believable in today's military. As one the previous reviewers have noted, there is not much documentation on this, and the stories are kind of strung together, but they clearly show that someone wasn't thinking when they went into this area. Blacks ops should not be exploring this realm. I believe the military is using subliminal messages in music piped into prisoners cells in Iraq and Cuba. I say, hit them full force with the Barney song until they crack.

The flow of this book is not great, and there is little to prove what the author alleges. However, I believe that there is much truth in these nutty allegations. I wonder how much taxpayer money was shoveled into this stupid idea.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
"The Men Who Stare At Goats" by Jon Ronson is a hilarious but rather frightening account of "what happens when a small group of men - highly placed within the United States military, the government, and the intelligence services - begin believing in very strange things." The title comes from a program at Fort Bragg where, for a time, members of Special Forces tried to stare goats to death. Equally remarkable and crazy is the CIA's experimental clairvoyance program (it turns out thinking really hard about where Soviets subs are doesn't work), a general who tried to walk through walls and the use of the song "I love you" from Barney the Dinosaur as a torture device. Unsurprisingly, the military is not immune to human folly: there are those who believe fervently in woo and the paranormal. That these people wield tremendous coercive power just makes it all the more frightening.

The style is informal and journalistic, the content gripping and the book a pleasure to read. While there are no hard-core intellectual analyses, Ronson knows it's all bollocks - he lets the silliness speaks for itself. Overall, a fun book on a serious topic that will keep you interested throughout.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
I picked up this book because I enjoyed the movie. The beginning of the book is funny and the writing is light. You get a chuckle from conversations between the author and the interviewees and how people try to walk through walls or burst clouds. This section is a page turner and more fascinating than fiction.
From the middle of the book on however, the book deals with more serious topics, such as MK-ULTRA, Heaven's Gate, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo Bay. Although still fascinating, this part was somewhat dry, and I found the pace of my reading slowed a bit.
This book has some very enlightening information. Certainly there will be skeptics out there. But do we really know what happens behind any closed government doors?
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kerry anderson
Some of this books is hysterically funny, some of it is plain scary.

Quite how much of this is completely factual is open to interpretation. One cannot help hoping at least some of it is exaggeration (and that some of it is just plain fiction... please :-o)... Sadly, some of it at least very definitely is not, including some of the human rights abuses perpetrated by the "good guys". It is shocking to see the ways supposedly civilised countries treat those they suspect of being terrorists.

This is illuminating reading, and manages to be both very entertaining and often genuinely shocking. A thought provoking read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
melissa goodwill
Although I'm certain this is not entirely true, and it's probable that some of the sources are fabricating their stories, this is still an interesting look at some of the kookier experiments of the military and intelligence establishment. Some of the stories and positions presented are more plausible than others --the Frank Olson case as presented seems plausible. I doubt the existence of the First Earth Batallion...not enough good evidence was presented, same with the goat staring.

Nevertheless, this book was well-presented and very entertaining. Those that debate the validity of Ronson's sources are missing the point...half the story was that of the characters that claim to have been a part of these elite units.

There's certainly some truth to the sections on PSYOPS and the Mk-Ultra experimentation. Although to what extent, we can't be exactly sure. This isn't a scholarly look at those topics, just a highly entertaining narrative by a very funny journalist/documentarian.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
misery cordia
The Men Who Stare At Goats: An In-Depth Review

By watching heart-pounding action movies and T.V thrillers, you may think you have conjured up a general idea of what tactics the US Special Forces implement in the modern war against terror. Although upon reading this book, you will soon realize that the tactics of the real Special Forces are far from the public's generalizing impression. It should be known that these are the first words of The Men Who Stare At Goats: "This is a true Story". Jon Jonson (author) explores in boundless detail the hidden side of the United States Special Forces program. In his research, Ronson investigates the development and exploitation of a style of combat that is normally unheard of to the common man: `psychological warfare', or in simpler terms: attacking the mind of the enemy rather than body. While using psychic capabilities in warfare may seem like a myth, Ronson fluidly points out the real truths and history behind this captivating style of non-lethal combat to the point where as a reader, you will be left speechless and fervent for more information. Through the investigation of real life accounts, top-secret/unauthorized interviews, and summoning of government conspiracy's, Jon Ronson explores the dark secrets of psychological warfare.

Due to the forever evolving war on terror partnered by the endless progression and attainability of high-grade technology, new and more effective tactics that can neutralize these modern day threats are a hot commodity in the Special Forces realm. Ronson's extensive research leads him to believe that the Special Forces are now resorting to a principle that was proposed by a Vietnam vet named Jim Channon: "The mind is the weakest component of the human body". After his military service in the Vietnam War, Channon developed a manual called The First Earth Battalion that was intended to terminate all violent physical combat. When presented with this somewhat hippy `fighting' style, the Special Forces immediately implemented it into their program and enlisted a new regiment of `Psychic Soldiers'. Although the Special Forces altered Channon's proposition and only kept its core principle: attacking the mind of the opponent.

Keeping this principle of psychological warfare in mind, Ronson explores and highlights numerous accounts and scenarios in which the raw power of attacking the enemy's mind was unleashed. In one account, Ronson describes the highly controversial methods of interrogation of terrorists. He explores how modern day interrogation teams are using music to essentially get any answer they want out of their detainee. Although this is no ordinary music is being played. The teams would play music such as the Barney `I Love You' theme song, death metal music, and even Matchbox Twenty. You are probably asking yourself why would someone put a subject through interrogation methods that don't get answers out. Well in truth, the answers do come out of these terrorists. How? The answer is subliminal messages. Although subliminal sounds have never been proven to exist in the Special Forces, Ronson goes through extensive research to find proof of it's existence and as it turns out, all signs point to the reality of subliminal sounds. Ronson proves there is reason to believe that the Special Forces are essentially `warping' the minds of those whom are being questioned. This is where the Ronson's book gets very interesting: when you ask how the government can approve of such controversial methods.

It turns out that upon a closer examination of the Special Forces' `non-lethal' tactics, there is an abundance of conspiracy and government cover-ups. In the cold war era, there was an entire branch of the Special Forces that was dedicated to testing out new non-lethal psychological warfare tactics on innocent people. Although Ronson points out how in some circumstances these methods were quite the opposite of non-lethal. Whether it is poisoning people or inducing subjects to LSD and other drugs, Ronson proves the existence of non-lethal psychological tactics that you would never think existed. Ronson explores certain documented cases were people, without giving consent were in fact killed or harmed from these preliminary tests. This branch was of course was shut down after its leak to the public, but as Ronson points out, there is reason to believe that it is on the rise again.
There is web connecting all of these psychological warfare tactics and conspiracy theories, but you must read the book and find out yourself. This book is an in-depth look of the real war on terror and the insanity of just how complex it is. Ronson takes you as the reader from the visitor center of the Pentagon all the way to `top-secret' filing cabinets locked away in the basement. Ronson is truly a unique journalist because his hunch for secrets of psychological warfare take him on a quest that only he fluidly connects into one single text. This is the real life story of Jason Bourne. This is The Men Who Stare At Goats.

The Men Who Stare At Goats. Jon Ronson. 2004. Simon & Schuster. New York, NY.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
sam mowry
Once upon a time, General S. L. A. Marshall, a military historian, interviewed thousands of American infantrymen during the Vietnam War and concluded that only 15 to 20 percent have actually shoot to with the intention to kill. However, only 98 percent of the soldiers who did shoot to kill were "later found to have been deeply traumatized by their actions. The other 2 percent were diagnosed as `aggressive psychopathic personalities,' who basically didn't mind killing people under any circumstances, at home or abroad.
Basically, Marshall is saying normal people don't like to kill people. So, in terms of combat, the U.S. Military decided to think of a new way to train soldiers, which doesn't involve actually shooting. So, they hired Jim Channon, a veteran, to think of a new way to train soldiers.
His product: The First Earth Battalion.
His 125 page manual suggested that soldiers' uniforms should include pouches for ginseng regulators, diving tools and loudspeakers that would emit indigenous music and "words of peace."
Channon actually believes this is a good idea. In the book, The Men Who Stare at Goats, there are other military leaders who try to convince Jon Ronson even more crazy things. For example, one actually convinces the Ronson that he could actually kill goats (and hamsters) just by staring at them. There are other who claim to train military leaders into, "Jedi Warriors," which are soldiers who can walk through walls, levitate, and control the enemy's brains.
The book sounds ridiculous but Ronson does a great job of connecting the dots and leading the readers into his arguments. A light read but full of content, the book will get you to question everything the CIA does. You will also never perceive the children's Barney song, "I Love You" the same again.
Although this book is entertaining, it also brings light to some of the darker facts in our military history. For example, it traces a story back to Eric Olson's father, Frank Nolson, who had worked for the C.I.A. Frank Nolson's father had committed suicide by jumping of the tenth story of a building in New York.
Atleast, that's what he was told. At first, Eric did not know that his father worked for the C.I.A. After attending Harvard and having his mother describe the scene of the accident one more time Eric realizes that the scene of the crime is the C.I.A building. After thorough investigation, meeting the President, and going through national headlines, Eric realizes that his father was forced to take LSD. The LSD was used on him so he could talk about the secrets he learned from his world- travels. However, the LSD didn't work on him. His father had joked with his colleague on how the LSD wasn't working. After the autopsy report, it is shown that Frank had a wound which proves he was shot, and did not jump of a cliff. Lastly, but not least, the final clue which ties up the conspiracy is a phone call in which a man says, "Well, he's gone," right after Frank's fall and an another voice replying, "Well, that's too bad."
This brings to light some of the atrocities that do happen through scientific experiments when the military believe they have enough power to perform experiments which have a harmful effect on the participants and their family.
For example, Major Stubblebine truly believes he can walk through walls. His justification- the wall is made out of atoms, I am made out of atoms, I can merge the space then I should be able to go through the wall. Unfortunately, all that got him was a hard bang on the nose.
However, there are leaders in the military who use the same logic as him. The author makes it a point to make readers realize the logic behind their thinking.
Although the book does talk about the secret things undertaken inside military bases, he also discusses the tangible evidence that have come out of these endeavors such as Colonel Alexander's Sticky Foam. Colonel Alexander's Sticky Foam has been used to create a wall between the enemy and the soldiers, although the Somalia's somehow managed to climb over the wall. This has also been used to glue prisoners in their cell. However, their true intention was to cover the Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq so that they could never be used... but unfortunately those weapons were never found and the Sticky Foam went into hiatus.
This book is half funny, a quarter satirical and a little bit emotional when it brings lights to the dehumanizing interrogation methods used in prisoners in Abu Gharib and Guantanamo Bay.
A part of the book also discusses the use of subliminal messages in terms of training soldiers and torturing prisoners.
The PsyOps forces repeatedly play the Barney song to, as Jim claims, "to lighten the environment and vies these people some comfort, instead of beating them to death."
In discussing the Barney song, the author recalls a photo of a skinny boy wearing a stained tank. Although he may have done bad things, the boy was forced to listen to this song repeatedly and he was yelling and crying so loud, he almost looked like he was laughing.
Overall, the book is a lighthearted look at how the U.S. Army explored paranormal powers, "new age" parapsychology and psychic functioning in the late 1970's and early 80s. This book is not for someone who have an interest in goats- the title is deceptive but overall the content of the book justifies the title.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
It's difficult to know what to make of Ronson's trek through the land of US military intelligence (?) and psychological operations except to say, "You gotta be kidding me."

The featured player in this Dr. Strangelove-ish tale is Major General Albert Stubblebine III, onetime chief of intelligence for the US Army. No, Terry Southern (who wrote the script for Kubrick's Cold War satire) did not make up the name. There really is a General Stubblebine and he really did work hard on training himself to walk through walls and to levitate, and he really did talk to Brit journalist and film maker Jon Ronson about his various parapsychological ideas.

To get a sense of what Ronson is up to, it helps to have read his previous book, Them: Adventures with Extremists (2002) in which he disarms various wackos, from would-be jihad warriors to Klu Klux Klan grand wizards, by turning them into almost lovable comedic figures. Here nobody comes off as exactly lovable (although there are plenty of chuckles), but somehow one gets the sense that crazy as these warriors are, they are only the fringe on the patchwork quilt of state.

The goats in the title refers to "Goat Lab" a secret enterprise housed in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The idea is to keep a herd of de-bleated goats (100 strong and de-bleated so that they don't make a lot of noise that passers-by might hear) around so that special forces and other military operatives can do various things with them including staring them to death. The idea is that if some people can kill goats just by staring at them, think what they can do to Al Qaeda!

Yes, your tax dollars do go to pay for this. But, as Gen. Stubblebine, who is also into psychic healing, says "You cannot afford to get stale in the intelligence world...You cannot afford to miss something when you're talking about the intelligence world." (p.6)

Indeed. And I suppose this is how such shenanigans are justified by the higher ups. I mean, what if we're wrong? What if Al Qaeda or the ayatollahs get there first? Think about that! And I suppose that the powers that be in the US military are somewhat sensitive to the charge of restrictive, in-house thinking. So perhaps that is why people like Gen. Stubblebine get to be generals because somebody has to think outside the box.

Also thinking outside the box was General Stubblebine's superior officer, General John Adams Wickham, then army chief of staff, who was not impressed with the bent fork that Stubblebine presented to him at a black-tie party. He concluded "that Satan had somehow taken over General Stubblebine's soul. It was Satan, not General Stubblebine, who had bent the fork." (pp. 76-77)

Leading theoretician of outside the box military thinking would be Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Jim Channon who produced the First Earth Battalion Operations Manual. He's a guy the military wanted to lead a Warrior Monk unit into Iraq. (p. 254) Warrior Monks absolutely know how to stay cool when the bullets are flying, and they have no dependence on lust or on status. They can subsist on grains and nuts for extended periods of time and they don't need any Budweiser.

Another interesting character is Major Ed Dames (who would later become a regular on the Art Bell syndicated radio show spinning lurid tales of disasters and such to come). One time when there wasn't a lot of official military psychic work to do, Major Dames took to spying on the Loch Ness monster. He concluded that the monster was the ghost of a dinosaur. (pp. 73-74) Sounds right.

Amazingly (or appropriately) enough Ronson also looks into David Koresh's Branch Davidian cult, as well as the Heaven's Gate suicide comet riders--or would be riders. He examines the use of "silent sound" and other methods employed by the military to break down prisoners to get them to talk, including blaring songs from Sesame Street and Barney the purple dinosaur and some Guns and Roses rock and roll ("Welcome to the Jungle"!). You talk about your torture methods! One gets the sense that stuff like this ought to be barred by the Geneva Convention. Ronson also manages to give us some info about the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, forcing this reader at least to conclude that the techniques used there were the result of planned military PsyOps orchestrated by people a lot higher up the chain of command than Private Lynndie England and her cohorts.

In what turned out as a kind of counterpoint Ronson interviewed army Colonel John Alexander who opined that a lot of what Ronson found of interest "has no basis in reality." When asked what silent sounds are, he replied, "It sounds like an oxymoron to me." Too bad we don't know whether he said this with a straight face or not. Ronson reports that "He gave me a hard look, which seemed to suggest that I was masquerading as a journalist but was, in fact, a dangerous and irrational conspiracy nut."

I'm sure everybody in the military's psychological operations are having a good laugh reading this book, just as Ronson intended, but I wonder how the strait-laced commanders feel about it. Of course they will ignore it, but this book, folks, does NOT make the military look good. And that is an understatement.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
hel gibbons
This is a wacky trip through the field notes of author Jon Ronson as he interviewed alleged participants and theorists in some of the wackier military experiments. The narrative didn't have much structure or overall message; it was more a collection of Ronson's experiences talking to a wide range of people. The "men who stare at goats" are a small part of the story, which jumps from military intelligence to the battle techniques of the First Earth Brigade to the use of music to influence/torture Afghani and Iraqis to the extremists in the suicidal Heaven's Gate cult. All of thse are interesting enough subjects on their own, but neither Ronson nor the reader knows the overall connection between them.

The main substance of this book is interviews, many of which are conducted with subjects even Ronson questions the credibility of. In one case, Ronson hears the legend of a military psychic who has a vision of a missing key to the back door of his lab and is able to have a locksmith create the key from a drawing of his vision. When Ronson tracks down the actual man with the vision, he admits that he actually just picked the lock, but he invented the story to inflate the spirits of the flagging psychic group. How can we believe any of the other stories? It is all just heresay, and no one offers a smoking gun or concrete evidence about anything.

If you have an open mind and want to hear some fantastic tales, read this book. If you want solid evidence of conspiracies within the government, go to something better researched and documented.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
novani iie nugrahani
Jon Ronson writes in a very relaxed, entertaining style. Almost too relaxed and entertaining. I picked up and read the first third of the book in one sitting and enjoyed it deeply. I'd frequently laugh out loud at the completly insane ideas these government officials were devoting their lives to. They seemed essentially like harmless quacks (or, at worst, snake oil salesmen) who ultimately weren't doing a whole lot of harm.

Then Jon started making connections to Abu Ghraib and programs of assassination.

Jon's style is so accessible that you occasionally have to remind yourself that either this stuff if true or (at a minimum) there are people in fairly high positions who believe in it and act on it.

Either way, this is that rare book that has both interesting subject matter and is a great read.

My only regret is that the style of the book will probably prevent it from getting widely read or seriously discussed.

I'm not into conspiracy theories (I think I'm the last guy who really thinks Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK) but this book definately has me scratching my head. A great read!

I couldn't recommend it more highly!
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Ronson writes with a simple style and he seems to have a sixth sense for comic irony. But some subjects in the book are disturbing. He covers the unlikely fusion of new age ideas with military strategies. Sometimes I thought the purpose was just to cynically use the ideas for a cover for black operations. If death and torture can be made to seem absurd or funny, the public is not outraged by it. For example, Ronson covers the musical torture of playing children's songs over and over and how one man involved with the CIA might have been killed by an LSD overdose.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
michael oswanski
Jon Ronson has undertaken a project to uncover and explain alternative strategies employed by the US Military in the war on terror. By interviewing countless civilian and non-civilian individuals that have been involved in the implementation of these ideas, he has written a compilation of theories, tactics, and philosophies that are either in use or speculated about in today's military operations. These include sending subliminal messages to enemies while playing varying types of loud American music at them for hours on end. There are also stories of achieving such levels of meditation and spirituality that one is able to control the minds of others to some degrees - such as bending metal in Uri Geller fashion or even having the ability to stop the heart of animals like goats. There is also discussion of experimenting with different illicit as well as legal drugs on Americans in an effort to observe how their use would play out on those considered enemies. These concepts, and others, are fascinating to consider. The discussion leaves many questions unanswered as only some intelligence is available to the general public. But overall, it is intriguing to believe that some or all of these non-violent, non-lethal strategies are being employed by the modern military.

The downside of this book is that the writing is disjointed at best. Ronson gets an idea and starts to run with it only for the chapter to come to an abrupt halt and the next one to begin in a completely different direction. Only some of the theories and ideas advanced are fully resolved as the book continues. Overall, the reader is left with the main idea, but in a confused kind of way. Some of the material is well documented, some is just kind of hanging out there with little support. It is almost as if it was written as a stream of consciousness with minimal editing at the end.

It is a quick read, however, and can be finished in a day. What saves this book is the "conspiracy theory" feel with enough real life interviews to give the concepts plausibility. Do not look for this book to be a highly authoritative source oft quoted, but more a fun "what if" quick read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I got this in the airport, and was vastly entertained. So entertained that I've since read two other Ronson books, "Them" and "Out of the Ordinary".

No doubt the US military has plenty of more effective research projects than the ones described in the book, however, the relentless parade of howlingly funny new-age tripe and psychic mumbo-jumbo made me laugh out loud more often than any book I've read in years.

I recommend Ronson's other books, as well. My confidence in human nature has crumbled after these exposés of human absurdities.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
malarie zeeks
"This is a true story." That is the first line in _The Men Who Stare at Goats_ (Simon & Schuster) by Jon Ronson, and it is an entirely necessary one. The rest of the book is just too weird to be believed; this means that Ronson is in his element, as he showed in his last book _Them_, a study of paranoid conspiracy addicts. Those suspicious folks were laughable, and indeed there are many, many laughs to be enjoyed in reading this new work. But each laugh is a sad one now, for Ronson details goony beliefs among those in power, those whom the government is paying to do our will. They feel that "America, the great superpower, needed to be defended by people who actually had superpowers." Ronson has met with many of these warriors, found some who wanted to tell their stories and even brag about them, and with wonderful reportorial detachment has laid out the results. If you have an ounce of common sense, you will be dismayed to learn that our taxes are going to military and intelligence officials who are making sincere attempts to walk through walls, turn invisible, stop an animal's heart by just staring at it, warp brains by subliminal stimulation, and more. The waste is stupid enough, but Ronson shows how the doctrines have been part of the reason for the debacles at Waco and Abu Ghraib. Laugh through this book, but see if each laugh does not make you a little more indignant over this stupidity.

It was that bane of skeptics, Uri Geller, who put Ronson onto the scent in 2001. Geller had claimed that he had been a consultant "psychic spy" working for U.S. intelligence. In fact, he claimed that he still was. From Geller, the trail goes to Major General Albert Stubblebine, who is quite serious about his own attempts to walk through walls. Unfortunately, he has failed so far. He attempted to convince Special Forces at Fort Bragg of the need for psychic healing, bending metal through merely thinking about it (á la Geller), or bursting the hearts of animals without physical contact. Special Forces receives his ideas in silence, and say they don't even have access to animals on which he might try that last experiment. But they lie. They actually thought his ideas were excellent, and they had access to plenty of goats that had been deliberately de-bleated so that they would not cry out when such things as psychic heart-stopping were attempted on them. Ronson talks with a guy who killed a goat, but he is distraught because he recently killed his guinea pig, too. Other psychic spies were busy doing remote viewing, looking in on what General Manuel Noriega was up to in Panama. It was a tough assignment, perhaps because Noriega took to wearing black ribbons on his ankles and placing the names of his enemies in his shoes so that they could not harm him. One of the remote viewers named Major Ed Dames spent his off hours psychically spying on Loch Ness, and determined that the fabulous creature was nothing other than the ghost of a dinosaur.

There is diverse madness here, tied together by Ronson's dry wit and his obvious incredulity about what government officials are revealing to him. His investigation, as funny as it is, branches out into areas of sheer malevolence. Someone desperately needs to tell all the would-be psychic warriors here to come back to Earth. All of you: if you can do what you say, please, please get in touch with James Randi. He will work with you on scientific tests of your abilities, and if you have real abilities, he will had you a million bucks, and you will have the thanks of a grateful nation. If it turns out you don't have them, please go back to gunpowder and knives and tanks. I don't want my tax money going to pay for your illusions.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Jon Ronson's "The Men Who Stare at Goats" at its heart is a comedy, but after I was exposed to the strange and unusual occurrences and programs Ronson provides, I realized the military men behind the different experiments and "products" are quite serious about them. The military has adopted programs to stare at goats with the intent to stop their hearts from beating, blast Barney and Friends' "I love you" in order to break captured terrorists enclosed in shipping containers, has a general who believes people have the ability to walk through walls because atoms consist mainly of space, and has attempted to develop supersoldiers named "Jedi Warriors" that should have the ability to walk into a room and know every detail, to always make correct decisions, and to become invisible or at least not be seen. Anyone would find these funny at first and strange that the military would be involved with seemingly paranormal activities and programs, but as Ronson discovers on his journey beginning with Uri Geller's secret of being "reactivated", these unusual programs and experiments root from a justified and reasonable intent.
Vietnam was the U.S. military's first defeat. The war left the military traumatized, unconfident, and in an overall unfamiliar state. Warfare was changing, and the military knew it must adapt to these changes. According to many of the interviewees of Ronson, their ideas provided a new attitude and approach to warfare. Win the hearts of the enemy through powers the world has previously seen as paranormal and through new strategies never before thought logical. Some of these include the power to pass through walls, bend metal with their minds, walk on fire, calculate faster than a computer, see into the future, see and hear other people's thoughts. Although these were not officially a position of the United States military, many soldiers attempted to implement and pursue these ideas. Many after the Vietnam War took the new ideas of the interviewees to heart, and Ronson's journey reveals their relevance on the present day.
I do not believe the book is a comedy. Although Ronson's purpose was most likely comical entertainment, I had stopped laughing when the effects and intent behind the experiments were revealed. Ronson acts neither skeptically nor credulously. He is a journalist, and as far as I can tell, he reports what was said and revealed during his interviews. Then, Ronson looks for connections and follows the linked path, which began with the First Earth Battalion created after the Vietnam War. I am suspicious of the startling connections Ronson discovers. Occasionally the coincidence factor involved seems to great not to have been planned, but perhaps this is simply Ronson leading his readers through his journey after he has removed the dead ends.
Also, although I enjoyed Ronson's nonjudgmental attitude throughout his interviews and adventure, I was often left wondering more about his findings and the results behind them. I do not know the truth behind subliminal messages for example, and I am curious about their effectiveness. Ronson, of course, reports what his interviewees claim to be capable of or what their products powers amount to, but I was often left wondering, "does that work?" or "I would like to have known the ending to that story." I cannot blame Ronson for the style and flow of his work, but if you are a curious person concerned with the details, often such as myself, you may be left wanting more answers about the unusual projects, experiments used, or often times, the ending to their stories. For example, a member of the military Ronson interviews used what Ronson described as a "yellow blob" on him during the interview to explain how this man had taken the ideas of the First Earth Battalion and made them a practical reality. I found myself curious about this device and how it works after Ronson had described the effects of its use on him. They seemed quite revolutionary for such a simple, small device. As a result, I put the book down and made a few Google searches. I worry Ronson may have been too much of a tease with the mysterious devices and experiments discussed and had moved on too quickly with the next link in the story. Often times these devices and experiments seemed so interesting, unique, and revolutionary, I found myself frustrated to have to read about what Ronson wanted to share with me next. I would have found more information interesting and often times more interesting then Ronson's next story or interview.
To Ronson's advantage, however, his quick pace maintained throughout the book keeps the reader interested the entire way and will be surprised and almost annoyed by how often he or she will have to turn to the next page. No need to fret about a boring or uneventful topic. Ronson moves along just as my attention span began to wander, and for most readers, the topics will not be boring or slow. I know I was usually too surprised by his interviews constantly reminding myself that I was reading a true story. I believe this represents how good of a job Ronson has done creating a story that is most of all entertaining but also funny, shocking, sad, confusing, and other odd varieties of emotions, which one would expect from the title of "The Men Who Stare at Goats." I enjoyed it and can happily say I am a more knowledgeable person after reading it.
I would recommend Ronson's book to anyone more interested in the quirkier sides of the United States military which are rarely disclosed. Remember, however, this is not a science book. Ronson's purpose is only to explain his journey through his interviews. Details of the inventions, products, experiments, and tactics disclosed are not always included, so be prepared to not always know the result or background information. More often than not, most likely, you will be too distracted by Ronson's next discovery, interview, or email he receives to care what the results were behind a bogus military idea or project anyway.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
It's hard for a sane person not to entertain the possibility that Jon Ronson decided to string a bunch of preposterous ideas he overheard in lower Manhattan alleys into a novel with an as-silly title and has since jetted off with Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass to some hideaway resort, there to guzzle date rape drinks and craft new yarns. Fleetwood Mac songs as an interrogation method in Iraqi prisons? A general who tries to walk through walls? Charlton Heston as the voice of "God" in the Waco siege? How about combat uniforms equipped with ginseng regulators and soldiers who carry lambs onto the battlefield?

Luckily, I am not of sound mind and so I continued reading. And it turns out that Ronson very well might be the most level-headed character in his novel. There he stands, caught in the maelstrom of a clusterfunk, but like Charlie Brown staring down a football held by Peppermint Patty, resolved to weather insurmountable odds, peel off the layers of conspiracies and dig to the heart of a colossal hall of mirrors -- all while retaining his objectivity, and sense of humor. In so doing, he manages to at least put a few dings in the shell protecting our twisted, Machiavellian U.S. military leaders in their ongoing attempts to turn the world's populace into transparent puppets.

"Goats" gets as close to the secret history of mental/psychic warfare tactics (i.e. MK-ULTRA and the nastier Artichoke, goat- and hamster-staring [think "Scanners"], warrior monks, Barney torture, you get the idea) as may ever be possible given that much of the paper trail has likely been destroyed and the rest decorated in black marker. Ronson masterfully ties the acid tests implemented by CIA director Allen Dulles -- dubbed the godfather of psy-ops -- in the early 1950s to Gitmo, Abu Ghraib and other mind-control testing grounds of today. Thankfully, Ronson is no journalist's journalist; he weaves stories that hold you in their grip as if you're reading Agathe Christie, rather than what often passes for investigative writing: cut-and-paste copy that weights the reader down in facts and figures, and hot air from PR types.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Jon Ronson's "The Men Who Stare at Goats" is not a book for those looking to find revelations concerning shady military secrets. While the information in the book is true it is also not a grand revealing of military intelligence secrets. That said, it is a wonderfully fascinating page turner that has some incredible details on both the humorous New Age thinking of high ranking military officials and the more unsettling reincarnations of those harebrained ideas.
Ronson, a documentary filmmaker, takes a humorous and very skeptical approach to "The Men Who Stare at Goats" throughout most of the book. However, he does not tend to come out and say what he thinks about the situation. Instead Ronson simply documents his interviews, tell his account of the activities he took part in regarding his journey, and comes to some small conclusions. Since he tends to take this approach the best place to look for his opinion on any part of the book would appear to be his writing style. The book contains much more humor towards the beginning with interviews and accounts of psychic spying and the staring of goats to sudden collateral death along with a hefty dose of new age nonsense that causes the reader to often forget that he is reading a work of non fiction. Thus the reader can conclude that Ronson is taking a very skeptical approach, looking closely for humor that he could exploit. Yet just as the humor starts coming in a steady flow Ronson throws the reader for a loop. Somewhere around midway though the book his writing seems to become very serious, especially when he writes about those ideas that have been interpreted from the First Earth Battalion's feel good approach into a more sinister form for use in the war on terror. It is difficult to tell, especially later on in the book, whether or not Ronson has been taken in by it all. He certainly continues to be skeptical of the psychic soldiers but he seems to take the idea of subliminal messages disappointingly seriously. Other subjects, such as his account of MK-ULTRA or the methods of torture that have sprung out of the ideas of the First Earth Battalion are treated with an appropriate seriousness.
The book details the rise of strange tactics used by the intelligence community beginning just after the Vietnam War. Jim Channon, a retired Vietnam veteran, gave birth to the idea of the First Earth Battalion, drawing heavily upon the New Age philosophy that likely helped him heal after the war. Strangely enough the First Earth Battalion seemed to be just what military brass were looking for and even long after the disbanding of the First Earth Battalion the ideas first suggested by Channon have legacies, some amusing, some that seem interestingly worthwhile, and others disturbing. Channon inspired Major General Albert Stubblebine III to begin his attempts to pass through walls and create elite psychic warriors for the intelligence community. Special Forces, unknown to Stubblebine who retired after his disasterous pitch to the Special Forces, stole his ideas and commenced the development of psychic soldiers. Other strange applications have been made from Channon's ideas, including the use of sound as a non lethal weapon and tactical diversion, the use of music and flashing lights as a method of interrogation, and others. The reader will encounter strange characters one after the other and much of what is said is unbelievable, but the interesting thing about each of the people that Ronson encounters is that they believe what they are saying wholeheartedly.
The claims made by most of the interviewees cannot be confirmed any more than by the fact that the stories told by each person seem to fit nicely with one another. However, only one goat is mentioned to have died and all of the psychic soldier's visions of impending doom were sent up the chain of command and none of the subjects ever heard much, if anything, about the results of their efforts. The only things that proved to be effective that sprang from the First Earth Battalion were the uses of sound as a nonlethal weapon and interrogation technique. Furthermore the only particularly unsettling revelation is mentioned in the connection that the ideas have to the torture techniques used in the Iraq War that utilized a mixture of ideas inspired by the First Earth Battalion and findings from a project codenamed Artichoke. Perhaps the greatest mystery of "The Men Who Stare at Goats" which remains unsolved is what exactly happened to Uri Geller, and who is Ron?
"The Men Who Stare at Goats" proves an enjoyable introduction to the unusual practices of the intelligence community and the military. It is not a hardcore documentation of military secrets and conspiracies though it does lean slightly in that direction later in the book. Ronson's book might best be utilized by those looking for an enjoyable read, an introduction to military conspiracies, or those who are interested in a fantastic story that is far stranger than fiction.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
sheilla allen
The movie version of the book was so overacted and ridiculous, that I figured the source might be an improvement. Jon Ronson's look at how gullible US military people tried to use psychic warfare on their enemies seemed like a send-up of a certain kind of credulous military type. For a while, I found TMWSAG entertaining. It seemed like an obvious satire - a very subtle, low-key spoof that was so close to real that silly people (unlike myself, of course!) might mistake it for reality. Jon Ronson's lightly ironic and conversational writing style seemed to confirm this. The characters he "interviewed" are such caricatures that it never occurred to me that they were real.

The book is presented as a jumble of interviews and "facts" unearthed by Ronson. He is a journalist following a thread of activities of a few well-meaning army higher ups to design an army of the future. Some of these efforts resulted in the First Earth Battalion, a kind of macho peace army that would disarm enemies with disorienting sounds and by toting power peace symbols like baby lambs. This has the air of lampoonable crack-pottery of the highest order. Ronson follows this thread to the second generation, in which the baby lambs are ditched for attempts to stop the hearts of goats, and for sounds that hold subliminal messages. All of this is seemingly played for laughs. It's fairly easy to imagine a group of military true believers convincing themselves that all this New Age stuff really works.

But about 80% of the way through the book, Ronson's style changed abruptly and the tone became dark and even frightening. He started tying benign shenanigans, like attempts to view distant objects, with the real-world sonic bombardment of Manuel Noriega's hiding place in Panama and with the torture techniques used at Abu Ghraib prison. He even suggested a connection with the Branch Davidian standoff at Waco and the suicide of the Heaven's Gate cultists. At this point, I realized that we had left the land of light satire and entered the land of loony conspiracies.

A number of factors lead me to believe that a fair amount of what Ronson claims is BS. Here he is, following the trail of individuals who were and are part of a super-secret offensive to damage the minds of enemies. And the breadcrumbs for this amazing discovery are laid out nicely for him to find and follow. Even Seymour Hirsch doesn't uncover that much secret info so easily. By the end of the book, Ronson seems unable to distinguish between what is nonsense and what is possible. Having followed him down the rabbit hole, we find our minds muddled as well.

Some of the ideas that Ronson explores - remote viewing, death touches, etc. - smack of somebody's adolescent fantasies. But others - the ability to disorient people with lack of sleep and loud, intrusive sounds, and the diabolical idea to hook enemies on heroin in order to control them as they went cold turkey - are less outlandish and might well have basis in fact. An interesting thought is that the best cover for an atrocious story is to make it laughable. Claiming that US PsyOps troops were using Barney songs to torture prisoners is hilarious. But what if the public is then put off the trail of using other music and sounds to make targets insane? Ironically, the movie version of the book acts precisely in this way - turning a potentially serious issue into a joke about over-aged hippies and their flower power army.

Ronson's book is 80% fantasy, 15% supposition and 5% material that is factual enough to make the rest seem plausible. He would have served the public better, and have written a more influential book, by ditching the paranormal nonsense and sticking -- "a la" Catch 22 -- with straight satire.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
lauren mckenna
"Its like my mother always said, `You're never going to know what happened...' Well, something did happen...and it is knowable," (227). This quote from The Men Who Stare at Goats pretty much sums up author Jon Ronson's entire story. The book details Ronson's journey through discovering (though sometimes coming to dead ends) the U.S. military's past attempted use of psychology, nonviolent weapons, and the downright supernatural. The book tells of telepathy, subliminal messaging, alternative medicine techniques, unusual torture, human invisibility, and, obviously from the title of the book, of men who can kill a goat just by staring at it. Though the book reaches into the history of the military in the 1970s, it quickly becomes a book about events that took place in "George W. Bush's War on Terror," and actions that the military took post September 11, 2001 that borrowed ideas from a little-known, earlier military ideal called the First Earth Battalion.
The Men Who Stare at Goats was very much an enjoyable, fast read. Ronson's style is completely humorous, but in a subtle way. In some sense, the personalities and lives of the characters in the book provide their own comedy. The book begins by watching General Stubblemine, a frequently referred to character, try to walk through a wall and instead just smack his nose against it, and be frustrated with himself for not being able to focus enough to successfully complete this task. Throughout the book the reader meets equally strange men, like Guy Savelli, accredited with killing goats and hamsters by staring at them, who videotapes Ronson's entire interview for a then unknown reason. The reading level is not very difficult and Ronson tells his story mostly in simple, chronological form as he has experienced it. I did, however, find the excessive number of names in the book extremely confusing. Ronson pretty much leads the reader on a wild goose chase from one interviewee to the next throughout the entire book, making his later references in the book nearly impossible to remember. I took solace in the assumption that the author himself was probably just as exasperated and confused with the large number of sources and references it took for him to set straight even one wild claim.
Earlier I mentioned that the book is about the military's past attempted use of these surreal tactics. I use this word because, as Ronson discovers through his exploration of the U.S. military, most of the outlandish claims that characters spoke of such as killing goats with a stare, using psychics to predict terrorist attacks, psycho-electronic weapons, and etcetera, proved extremely hard to find real evidence on. The book provided prime examples where extraordinary claims were not backed by extraordinary evidence, as they should be for anyone to believe them. This lack of evidence, however, reveals Ronson's true skepticism. Though he acts completely open-mindedly and supportive towards those telling their tales, the author's lack of ability to find hard evidence shows his skepticism, though he never says he is skeptical outright. An example of this subtle skepticism is when he writes about the use of military psychics, specifically Major Ed Dames. Ed Dames told a talk radio show about visions he and fellow military psychics were seeing: the imminent threat of many human babies dying from a bovine AIDS virus, the entire earth being burned by a solar flare, and even something as specific as lightning killing President Clinton in 1998 on a gold course (94-96). Ronson, having written this book in 2004, years after these predictions, shows his skepticism by including these now-known-to-be-false psychic claims.
I must admit that a few times while reading the book, I had to wonder if it was really non-fiction. Besides the far-fetched military tactics, the idea that the U.S. military would even attempt to use and believe in these far-fetched tactics in modern age seemed unbelievable to me. "Well I bought it in the history section of Borders," I thought to myself, and the first sentence of the book claims that it is a "true story," so I guess it can't be fiction (1). What I later realized, as I've already somewhat discussed, is that Ronson's story is true. He accounted for all the information he gathered from his interviews as truthfully as he could. The catch is that he expects the reader to look at these outlandish claims as skeptically as he did, and realize that there was never enough evidence to prove that any of these tactics work. The surprising truth is that there are members high up in U.S. intelligence that have fallen for surreal claims in their hope to find any way to beat the enemy, even if the majority of the rest of the world would think its ludicrous.
Overall the book is extremely intriguing. Even to someone who is uninterested in history and the military, the curiosity and oddball allegations keep one fascinated. There are several frustrating moments in The Men Who Stare at Goats where Ronson seems to leave the reader hanging, either because he was sworn to secrecy or because he found himself at a dead end where it seemed impossible to try any other paths, but these cliff hangers emphasize an important theme of the book, that the U.S. military is full of secrets and halls of mirrors and classified information, and often the truth is very difficult to find. As Jon Ronson demonstrates though, many truths are "knowable" if one digs long enough.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
melissa williams
If you are looking for investigative journalism or novel writing this book will let you down. None the less I did find this book very interesting to read not to mention many people on the train going to and from work gave me odd looks as I read this on my commute. The book kept my interest, it sort of veers off in different directions but then gets back to where it started. I haven't seen the movie yet, but it was a good odd read, so if you want to read something that is a bit odd...this book is the right one for you.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
To think outside the box is thinking above and beyond what people think can possibly happen or imagine. And that is exactly what Jon Ronson shows in his book The Men Who Stare at Goats. Ronson takes you from post Vietnam to present day War on Terror and shows how the military is thinking outside the box. After Vietnam the military felt unconfident and a state of confusion so they decided they needed to observe how they functioned and come up with a new strategy of how to beat their enemy. So they formed this new unit of soldiers to experiment and develop new tactics on weaponry and interrogation using supernatural means. Ronson interviewed many people who felt that soldiers needed a new attitude and outlook on warfare. They needed to adapt to the new ways war was being fought and to do this they needed to go to extreme measures and dip their toes into the paranormal tactics. The military needed to teach their soldiers how to levitate, walk through walls, control minds, bend metal, be invisible, and of course kill a goat by staring at it, become "Jedi Warriors." All the suggestions were by people who felt that the U.S. Military needed to dominate again and regain their power. Even though the Military did not officially take to these ideas, many soldiers felt strongly about it and were influenced by the idea of these unusual processes.
This book made me laugh. From the very beginning Ronson had me saying "this is a strange but amusing book" and all I wanted to do was read on. This book is a fast read and enjoyable. Not a difficult read as Ronson goes in order as he experienced his discoveries. The fact that he writes in the same order of his findings and interviews with people, creates a sense of cliff hanging. He spends a whole chapter talking with the guy who allegedly is the one who can kill goats with just a stare, Guy Savelli. However the chapter ends with you wondering why Savelli videotaped the whole entire interview with Ronson. Jumping from interview to interview, many names are thrown out there leaving you to wonder and speculate on the ideas and information you are gathering. From one interesting story to another will keep you entertained and wanting more but at the same time leaving you with wanting answers about the guy with the "brain scanner", about if the gadget was ever used, or did the new experiment end up working. It makes think maybe this is how Ronson felt has he discovered new leads and interviewed interesting people with these stories to tell. He felt flooded with information and tried to process it all and keep things in order. I find him to be a good reporter and informed us of a well investigated topic. He did all of his homework and went above and beyond to get the reader to think and learn about this weird and bizarre tactic that is being used in our military.
As the book went on you can tell the genre of the book is not comedic but actually more serious. As he describes the present day War on Terror and actual events that has happen in the recent years, you begin to realize and think about our military and things we hear. In actuality, we do not hear much. Ronson trails a theory from 30 years ago to present day. He is a reported trying to tell a story of the evolution of the influences of the First Earth Battalion and all the surreal tactics the military has used throughout history. As Ronson describes these events of starring goats to death, the use of psychics to predict future events, or your mind to control your enemy, it makes you wonder if this is all very true. Even though these are explained with great detail and excitement throughout his book, it makes you think about if there is ever real evidence proving these paranormal "out of the box" tactics? As you read from chapter to chapter exploring new ideas and hearing of past stories, you need to take the time to be skeptical about some things. Ronson does start the book saying "this is a true story", however does not mean that because you are fed with information you must believe that. Ronson himself is even skeptical, judging by his style of writing and the layout of his interviews, but he keeps an open mind throughout the book. It was a sense of fresh air reading the book and not having the author's own opinion thrown at you. He leaves all judgment and questioning to the audience. He keeps things interesting and always leaving you seeming to want a conclusion. But that is the way he does things, leaves you to do the thinking with the information he provides.
I have already recommended this book to my family and colleagues and I recommend it to you. If you like reading about supernatural, paranormal, unusual, and just straight up interesting things, this is a book for you. This keeps your curiosity going from beginning to end and always keeps you thinking about "outside the box" ideas. If you want a book that is fascinating and about something you maybe knew ever existed, then Jon Ronson's book The Men Who Stare at Goats is the book for you.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
kate carpenter
On getting around to writing a review on "Goats," I found myself wishing that there were two rating scales on the store -- one for entertainment value, and one for accuracy. I rate "Goats" five stars for amusement value -- it really is an entertaining and engagingly-written book, and nothing I say further in this review is meant to discourage you from reading it -- I really do recommend you buy it if only for its entertainment value alone. But do so with a very large helping of salt, since I only give it one star for accuracy (I averaged the two ratings, hence the three stars).

I shall leave the amusement factor behind as sufficiently addressed, and talk now about the accuracy issue -- at least so far as the parts of the book about parapsychology are concerned (there is an odd conflation in it of 'psychic' operations and psychological operations, or 'psyops,' neither of which had anything to do with each other; I cannot speak authoritatively on the psyops part of the book). Whenever possible, Jon Ronson and his crew (yes, "Goats" is a team effort, though Ronson gets prime billing) opted for color and sensationalism over accuracy. Interviews are cherry-picked for the juiciest stuff, leaving context on the cutting-room floor that would have presented what they did choose to print in an entirely different light had it been more honestly presented (the film-making language is intentional, as the book is the literary companion to a three-hour conspiracy-laced documentary on the same topics).

For the sake of the story they also seem to have been perfectly happy to make logical leaps connecting events and persons which in reality were either never connected, or only were very tenuously. As one example, retired Colonel John Alexander is presented as being "one of Al Gore's oldest friends," when in fact what John (a close friend of mine) told them in an interview was that he had once decades before been briefly introduced to Gore and shaken his hand -- and that Gore would not know him from Adam.

As another example, they present Gen. Bert Stubblebine as having actively recruited Ed Dames to become a government remote viewer, making the general eventually responsible for the deaths of 39 Heaven's Gate cult members (I won't take space here to tell you how this is alleged to have occurred -- read the book!). The real facts are that Stubblebine had nothing to do with Dames until the latter was already well entrenched in the remote viewing program. Missing from the book is any account of the successful intelligence work done by the military remote viewers (and there is plenty of authentic documentary evidence available to show this), or the extensive scientific research that grounded it.

It's not possible to cover all the literary crimes of "Goats," but I assure you my take on this does not result from hearsay, but from first-hand knowledge of and direct communication with nearly all the remote-viewing-associated people featured in the book, plus my own multi-year involvement with the government remote viewing program. The carnival-esque image with which "Goats" paints what became known as the "Star Gate" remote viewing program is merely a caricature (and a very rough one at that) of a program that, while not perfect, was indeed successful and valuable despite what its detractors might prefer to believe. But please, do buy the book!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
stanimir rachev
I loved Ronson's "Them" so I grapped this goat-stare book.
The premise and formula is a lot different from "Them." Ronson has a hypothesis that drives his adventures and links the strange characters in this one- that the US military/ intell community makes use of some strange almost paranormal tactics/abilities/strategies to wage war.
Some of it was hard to swallow(includingthe title inspiring bit about men who kill animals psychically) but Ronson's storytelling ability kept me pageturning.
There is nothing remotely boring about this book.
In short this is a layman's look into the world of strange warfare. Don't expect a dry dose of obscure history instead look for vivid strange characters who you will want to end up believing.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
eve bender
Since there are plenty of reviews about the content of the book, I'm focusing my review on the journalistic style instead. I enjoyed this book. I disagree with most of the criticism in the low-rating reviews, because the author is very open about his information gathering techniques. He includes himself in the book, saying "I called this guy, and he told me _________." (Contrast to the styles of many other journalists, who would just say "_________________ is true.") Ronson's style of presentation allows the reader to decide who is credible, what may be fact and who/what should be taken with a grain of salt. Much of this book is based on word of mouth. Somtimes the sources give information that contradicts, many of the sources are quoted as saying "If you print this, no one will believe you because I'll deny saying it later." This is not so much a book of facts as a book of evidence for possibilities that can perhaps never be proven.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
peter john
It is difficult to determine if one likes this book or not. It depends on if the reader is taking it too seriously or if they can see the dry humor underlying every story. The practiced skeptic will recognize many of the names mentioned and the credibility concerns attached. At the same time, it is conceivable that intelligent people in the military and elsewhere have bought in to the aledged learning of these individuals. After all, why would one turn down the chance at making a few extra tax dollars from secret coffers that cannot be traced to a scapegoat de-bleated or otherwise (baaaad pun intended). It is at least an enjoyable ride through the bizarre world of bloated government where the right hand can see over the porkbelly what the left hand is doing. In the end, you wonder if the asylum inmates are running the asylum or just giving the mad doctors who work there new ideas for twisted uses - who can know? Just do not make the mistake of taking it too seriously.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
If you saw his show on the BBC (same name) the book is exactly the same. I enjoyed the show more than the book because the spooks at Ft Bragg actually let him stop by with his camera crew. Nothing the military likes more than press coverage. That is...until that coverage casts a negative light over their operations. I feel that Americans are extremely naive on the things that the military kooks are capable of doing and already have the funding to make happen. How else can you explain that some weekend warriors from West Virginia knew tactics to get prisoners to talk?? They didn't come up with that stuff on their own. Silly naive Americans!

I enjoyed the book very much but since I already saw the BBC program, it wasn't anything new. Pick it up used and pass it on. I think more people should know where their tax dollars are being spent.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
After three years of research the author presents this essay. It's real. He interviewed the protagonists of the story. Everything is possible with mind control. And here there is talk of experiments using this power. And one of the things discussed was what to do what the title says. It sounds like science fiction.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Wonderful book, written with a dry sense of humour that at first makes you laugh. But, as you read on further into the book, you realize how scary the information is and how sad.

This should be a MUST read for all Americans. Having lived in America for over 20 years, I have always found the majority of Americans to be very naive when it comes to their government, believing that the American government only has the best interests of themselves and others at heart. And if you believe that, I have a bridge I can sell you!

Read especially the information about Guantanamo Bay and Iraq. Very frightening stuff.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
"The Men Who Stare At Goats" is perhaps the oddest book I have read since "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" by Chuck Barris. Both books are incredibly entertaining and have plots revolving around fairly unbelievable government programs. Chuck would have fit in here perfectly.

This is the story of military and government intelligence officials who believe and promote utterly wacky concepts, like "Warrior Monks," the ability to stop a goat's heart telepathically by staring at it (this was allegedly demonstrated later on guinea pigs for budgetary reasons), and the ability to walk through walls.

Jon Ronson has a wonderful, conversational writing style. The only unfortunate part of that it is hard to tell when he is serious and when he isn't. I do not know how much of this book is true, and how much is complete, if inspired lunacy. I am not accusing Ronson (a documentary filmmaker) of fabricating anything, but given that his references are all speaking from first-person experiences which were supposedly classified, verification of these stories is nigh-impossible. In other words, even if Ronson reported the facts as he knew them, there is no way to verify the bulk of these allegations. I do know that Art Bell is discussed to a degree, and despite relative skepticism from Ronson and others, his mere appearance in the book tends to make most people (including myself) more skeptical of matters at hand.

I don't know what parts of this book I believe and what parts to merely laugh at. Within that conundrum is the entertainment value (as disturbing as it may be) of this book.

I recommend this book for people with open, but skeptical, minds.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
If you saw his show on the BBC (same name) the book is exactly the same. I enjoyed the show more than the book because the spooks at Ft Bragg actually let him stop by with his camera crew. Nothing the military likes more than press coverage. That is...until that coverage casts a negative light over their operations. I feel that Americans are extremely naive on the things that the military kooks are capable of doing and already have the funding to make happen. How else can you explain that some weekend warriors from West Virginia knew tactics to get prisoners to talk?? They didn't come up with that stuff on their own. Silly naive Americans!

I enjoyed the book very much but since I already saw the BBC program, it wasn't anything new. Pick it up used and pass it on. I think more people should know where their tax dollars are being spent.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
After three years of research the author presents this essay. It's real. He interviewed the protagonists of the story. Everything is possible with mind control. And here there is talk of experiments using this power. And one of the things discussed was what to do what the title says. It sounds like science fiction.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Wonderful book, written with a dry sense of humour that at first makes you laugh. But, as you read on further into the book, you realize how scary the information is and how sad.

This should be a MUST read for all Americans. Having lived in America for over 20 years, I have always found the majority of Americans to be very naive when it comes to their government, believing that the American government only has the best interests of themselves and others at heart. And if you believe that, I have a bridge I can sell you!

Read especially the information about Guantanamo Bay and Iraq. Very frightening stuff.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
dallas davis
"The Men Who Stare At Goats" is perhaps the oddest book I have read since "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" by Chuck Barris. Both books are incredibly entertaining and have plots revolving around fairly unbelievable government programs. Chuck would have fit in here perfectly.

This is the story of military and government intelligence officials who believe and promote utterly wacky concepts, like "Warrior Monks," the ability to stop a goat's heart telepathically by staring at it (this was allegedly demonstrated later on guinea pigs for budgetary reasons), and the ability to walk through walls.

Jon Ronson has a wonderful, conversational writing style. The only unfortunate part of that it is hard to tell when he is serious and when he isn't. I do not know how much of this book is true, and how much is complete, if inspired lunacy. I am not accusing Ronson (a documentary filmmaker) of fabricating anything, but given that his references are all speaking from first-person experiences which were supposedly classified, verification of these stories is nigh-impossible. In other words, even if Ronson reported the facts as he knew them, there is no way to verify the bulk of these allegations. I do know that Art Bell is discussed to a degree, and despite relative skepticism from Ronson and others, his mere appearance in the book tends to make most people (including myself) more skeptical of matters at hand.

I don't know what parts of this book I believe and what parts to merely laugh at. Within that conundrum is the entertainment value (as disturbing as it may be) of this book.

I recommend this book for people with open, but skeptical, minds.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
david grabowski
Excellent book. Thoroughly entertaining and equally disturbing. What started out as light hearted story into training psychic soldiers slowly becomes more and more unpleasant as Ronson discovers these little pieces to an overwhelmingly frightening, (for me, anyway) larger picture. It throws up some very alarming red flags and questions about some very dark places our men and women of the military are going.
It's also great to see all these live interviews with everyone in this book (and for all the reviews calling BS on this book) with Jon Ronson's companion piece documentary that was made with this book for Channel 4 in Britain, 'Crazy Rulers of the World'. Yes, these people actually exist and yes, they really do believe this stuff and yes there is a Jim Channon who came up with the '1st Earth Battalion' for the military. It was not just a "what if" piece that one reviewer claimed it was. Just Youtube Crazy Rulers of the World. It's a 3 part doco titled "The Men Who Stare at Goats", "Funny Torture" and "Psychic Footsoldiers" respectively.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
vanessa gordon
This book is a chronicle of what happened when the Army tried to "think outside the box", and how truly wierd and bizzare that process got. It tells the story of generals who tried to walk through walls, an ex-officer who studied "New-Age" movements in California, soldiers who sat in a bunker and tried to psychically track Manuel Noriega, interrogators who used Barney the Dinosuar music to break thier subjects, and, as the title states, men who tried kill goats by staring at them. It is somewhat far-out but believable, and written in a fast-moving narrative that almost, but not quite, brings together all the aspects of this unusual process. The work seems well researched, but relies primarily on sources that don't always seem 100% reliable. It is a fun, well written story that will either surprise you or confirm your view of military intelligence.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
xin cai
I showed my dad my copy of this book, which i was almost done with. He borrowed it to read overnight and was still reading when i saw him the next day. Like me, he could not put it down! Then he drove to Califirnia, taking it with him! It will snag you like no other book i've read recently... except for Ronson's other books! I just started (June 2011)a blog about him_ [...]. Check it out, contribute your thoughts!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Until today I would have never thought that "New Age Psychic/Spiritual Beliefs" and "U.S. Military Commanders" could be linked in the same paragraph. But this book documents Army Colonels skipping hand in hand with new age "psychic energy" nonsense so deranged it makes "Dr. Strangelove" seem sane.

I'm sick at the moment and catching up on reading, which is important to note, as I'm going to admit I read this in one sitting. The last time I did that was reading "Blink," by Malcolm Gladwell. Nothing against Mr. Gladwell, but unlike his, this book is an absolute must-read. It is full of jaw-droppingly delusional people in positions of incredible power in the U.S. military, government and intelligence services. For example, it opens with the story of Army General (and former head of military intelligence) trying AGAIN to ... wait for it... walk through a wall. Yes, and he also believes he can burst clouds with his mind. He's also frustrated that, as hard as he concentrates, still hasn't conquered levitation. I had heard of the CIA's "remote viewers" who were supposed to sit in a room and try to find terrorists with their minds. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Again, truth is far, far stranger than fiction and much scarier. Ronson keeps it hilarious though. I've read his book "Them" and seen his specials rerun on TRIO called "The Secret Rulers of the World," and can vouch he's a thorougly level-headed individual, although the people he choses to document are always completely insane.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
blair south
The book follows the U.S. Army's introduction to what later became known as the New Age movement. It explains a lot of the craziness that went on and possibly much of the insanity that has happened recently in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanimo Bay.

You might say it takes you from the Peace Movement to the Bowel Movement!(referencing the mythical "brown note" that the Army has been searching for, not the quality of the book)
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
ramya ramani
I really wanted to like this book. The subject matter is fascinating, and worthy of inclusion in Michael Shermer's "Why People Believe Weird Things". Middle to senior Army types who actually believe they can walk through walls? Experiments trying to kill animals through thought control? "Remote viewing" of military secrets? Sounds like fun.

What detracted from the subject matter was the actual writing of the book. Someone get this man a good editor! Mr. Ronson's writing style is so formless that it resembles stream-of-consciousness. Points and incidents mentioned early in the book are repeated needlessly in later chapters. Obvious thematic threads are ignored and instead a jumble of often random incidents and anecdotes are haphazardly strung together.

Too bad. It could have been a lot better than it is.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Really good journalism, a number of disturbing discoveries, warm-hearted prose and understated English wit. This book is absolutely gorgeous and Jon Ronson deserves acclaim for it. I've read it several times...and I'm still staring at my hamster.

`Them' is maybe better. That's only maybe. This is incredible.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
I had the hardest time deciding whether or not to read this book based on the various the store reviews. While I love a good conspiracy theory or two, I try to avoid books either written by conspiracy fanatics who have no objectivity, or conspiracy comics who treat the subject from a distance and use it to poke fun. As you can imagine, it's tough to find middle ground.

Goats ends up being worth reading for fitting somewhere into my realm of acceptibility, but sadly not enough to merit more than 3 stars. Ronson definitely keeps his distance during the first half of the book - as military men, some of whom are clearly unhinged to some extent, talk about crazy programs, Ronson makes it clear that he's not confirming or denying the allegations, merely quoting. And here, the book takes a comic tone and allows the reader to decide who to believe. On top of this, the book feels light, as if little research beyond interviews was done. Perhaps there's no other way to get this kind of information. Regardless, every chapter was more of a series of anecdotes than anything.

For the second half, the tone turns more serious as it becomes clear that there is a spider web connecting many of the participants of various army plots, and here Ronson suddenly suddenly gets too serious without enough evidence. I was fine with the tone change, and the book does lead you on the same inner feeling: at first, "this is nuts" to "hey, maybe there's something seriously wrong going on." The problem is that this is where we needed a lot more hardcore research. And yet the book still felt light and airy. I mean, Ronson didn't even bother to look up the name of the song or band that features the words "Burn Mother*ucker, Burn!" A small point, but one that will stand out to American readers as an obvious example of not doing all the homework. Also, the history of these programs is basically presented as Ronson discovered them, and the problem with this is that he backtracks and overlaps on himself a zillion times rather than present the material sequentially. Again, I see the reasons for taking us on the same path of discovery he did, but I'm not convinced it was for the best.

I think that there's a better book that could've been written buried in here somewhere, and what actually hit the page isn't necessarily bad. It just ultimately comes off as too light to be as important as it could have been. For those who were in my quandry of deciding whether to buy it, I recommend it, but I felt a lot better buying it used.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
melinda mills
For those who would dismiss Mr. Ronson as anti-American, anti-Republican, etc., I offer this: in the roles of either participant or eye-witness I was "there" for every bit of US Army insanity the author describes that occurred between 1980 to 1999. He neither exaggerates nor invents. Although the author hasn't gotten the whole story on everything, if I fault Mr. Ronson for anything, it's that he is too kind. :(
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
priscilla rojas
The book is quite entertaining and admittedly held me to the pages. Not sure how and what to take seriously when reading this book, especially when watching the movie that quickly followed (too quickly).

It is like an entertaining amateurish Chomsky book that one does not know how to take, a serious Michael Moore but comedy.

Worth a go if you appreciate such themes
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
bettina frohn
This review is about a true story. Well, actually, that in itself is debatable. When it comes to Jon Ronson's novel, The Men Who State at Goats, this question is easily posed. From the initial sentence and on, Jon Ronson implies that the list of detailed encounters with special operations forces, psychics, and other interviewed guests remain unconditionally true to the word. This implementation of fact vs. what a normal reader might consider immediate fiction allows the words to be read in a different light. This concept allows the reader to seemingly assess each situation on their own, perhaps allowing the book to be viewed in a separate individual way by each different reader. Regardless of method of analysis though, Jon Ronson's topic of paranormal and physic activity harbored for use within the American military presents an initially enthusing read.

Ronson's approach of narrating his "true" experiences as he searches for answers to an interesting question provides legitimacy to his argument that his words are indeed fact. From the very beginning, we gather the sense that through his interviews with credible sources like Katie Couric and Uri Geller, he can truly identify with those who surround him. This credibility is unusable though when he begins to encounter stories of a special forces unit known only as "First Earth Battalion", who apparently use physic powers to discourage their enemies and even stop the hearts of animals. This myth sends Jonson on a wild goose chase, ultimately leading him to Iraq, following men who claim to be on a mission. Once the story settles around this operation, secrets about the "First Earth Battalion" start to emerge, such as how it was created. Colenel Jim Channon's experiences early in Vietnam caused him to have a change in mindset, and ultimately allowed him to train his mind and body to formulate a way of peaceful warfare that did not involve guns or lethal procedures. By using the paranormal theme of physic ability, the "jedi warriors" were able to subdue any opponent, and use their abilities for other purposes such as hostage location and invisibility. Without ruining much of the story, it comes to a conclusion that reveals not only the secrets of the organization that consists of the men who stare at goats, but what becomes of them.

I enjoyed The Men Who Stared at Goats for many reasons, particularly Ronson's ability to provide an interesting paranormal event that he claims to be true to a world of facts based on science. His ability to make physic powers seem feasible rather than childish and irrational actually stimulates the thought of whether or not such material on the pages could be accurate or not. His claim that the book is true was bold yet great food for thought, which I appreciated. Had that one sentence been deleted, I may not have even finished the book considering some of the claims were very outlandish. I also enjoyed the presentation of the story, as it took off right when it needed too. Ronson seems nearly as skeptical as the reader would be, allowing you to view him from afar while also being able to put yourself in his shoes. This enables the reader to actually live the experiences he claims, rather than feel like an outside observer. Lastly, being a fan of the paranormal, I enjoyed the going against the grain subjects, such as being able to stop a goat's heart with your mind or turn invisible. The concepts are those of which we dream about when we are children, like what if we could fly or move through walls. The fact that such topics are discussed as part of special operations forces and adult situations make it that much more exciting, while also taking us back to our childhoods.

Although I did find entertainment value in The Men Who Stare at Goats, I feel that it did not fully live up to its potential. The attempts at dry comedy and playful intertwining of themes provided laughs every once in a while, but does not fuel an entire adventure. And while I did enjoy the theme of the story, the reality of the paranormal and physic abilities they portrayed were seemingly no more believable do to the randomness and unexplained nature of the actions themselves. While Ronson seems to claim his experience was a true story, could he have done nothing better to prove it? If I was making a claim about the paranormal like he did, I would have tried harder to explain how and why such events can occur better than was presented. Unfortunately, I found myself disappointed as I read the last few pages.

Although whimsical and entertaining in parts, I found The Men Who Stare at Goats a true disappointment. I wouldn't necessarily say it isn't worth reading, but expectations should not be high before entering the adventure that Ronson experiences (apparently). With such material, Ronson challenged himself to promote a book with such bland yet distinctive material, especially in a world like today's, and unfortunately, his attempt failed. While I personally found some of it interesting, he did not provide enough true fascinating material or story line to keep even myself, and what I could imagine would be much less of anyone else. The Men Who Stare at Goats is simply nothing more than an attempt at promoting the wrong theme in the wrong ways.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
This was an entertaining and informative review of the bizarre attempt by the US military to develop a corps of pyschic soldiers. The investigative reporter did an admirable job of providing a glimpse into the mind-set that would pursue such research without making them look totally insane. Indeed, he even showed that there may be some basis for the projects.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
kj grow
This book probably makes a better movie than book, even though I have not seen nor plan to watch this movie after getting through the first five chapters. This book has a lot of hype and sensationalism with a few grains of truth sprinkled here and there, and that was my interpretation.

The idea that the mind can change things and bend objects is not new and this seems like a desperate attemp to merge eastern with western cultures, albeit in a commercial and for profit style.

Again, this was my interpretation. Make your own.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
This entertaining book can be read on 2 levels. First you can read it as an excursion into Alice in Wonderland or you can take it as a serious excursion into some of the more frighful realities of War. Abu Gharib,Waco, Uri Geller, remote viewing with Major Ed Dames, Art Bell are woven into the more frighening parts of the book. If the names cited ring a bell (no pun intended) then get this book. If they do not then read this thought provoking book as an excursion into Wonderland/horrifying reality.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jennifer tester
Some reviewers have completely missed the point. This is the author's journey researching an inane army experiment, and what manifestations may remain. This book is no more an investigative proof than Ronson's last novel was an argument for joining extremists. This book is Errol Morris, not Art Bell.

Wholly enjoyable and entertaining, it's hard to remember at times this is non-fiction, as some of the interviews seem insane. The presentation base comes from declassified goverment documents. However, they are not included, nor are there any footnotes, because Ronson is not trying to convince the reader of anything. He is writing about his interviews and conversations investigating the chronology of the "First Earth Battalion" manual. I believe Ronson started this project intending it to be much funnier (he is a comedian after all), but some of the subject matter and personas he found, though entertaining, aren't laughable: staring at a goat trying to kill sounds funny, but imagine the views of a person who wishes they had the ability to kill people with their mind. So it is a perspective on the legacy of a few persons relieved of common sense, that were given a little power and a budget.

You might enjoy this book if you:

- Find Jon Stewart (The Daily Show) funny.

- Like character documentaries, like those by Errol Morris.

- Enjoy psychology.

- Want a light introduction to a bizzare goverment-funded experiment.

You probably won't enjoy this book if you:

- Are looking for hard documentation on goverment conspiracy

- Believe our goverment would never do bad things to people

- Are uncomfortable with light critisism of George W. Bush
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
This book was better than expected! Ronson writes about a serious subject in a humorous tone. The author does a wonderful job illustrating each characters humorous quirks, while knowing when to take a more serious tone. The book is funny and a bit scary at the same time, which isn't as easy task for a writer. I was impressed to say the least, and quickly ordered Ronson's previous title "Them: Adventures With Extremists", and am anxiously awaiting it's arrival.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
There are two ways to look at this book. One is to appraise its value as entertainment. The other is to look at its serious claims. Let's handle the first way first.

In terms of fantastic conspiracy theory, this book is mediocre. Its beginning is interesting, and the stories of mind control, with vague references to vast military schemes and secret activities are intriguing. It brings to mind a mix of Matilda, and some of the more creative parts of Weekly World News. The book deteriorates rapidly though, as it becomes a mix of 1) serious investigation into some of the tangents in the story 2) criticism of the Army and 3) efforts at current political/military commentary. The author appears to have bought into some of the stories he initially writes about from a distance, and the characters therein.

By the end of the book, there is little more of a coherent framework than a series of vignettes, linked together by some greater Army/CIA/US government/Western governments conspiracy. These stories have some highlights, but become boring and whiny -- especially as they are increasingly punctuated by the author's attempts to provide serious commentary.

As for its serious efforts, the author probably needs to spend more time studying, before offering bloated claims and stringing together such comprehensive theories. He 'supposes this has been a book about the changing relationship between Jim Channon's ideas [source of much of the book's fantastic theories] and the army at large.' The author, however, doesn't seem to know much about the army, or military in general. Moreover, he's derisive in his references, whether suggesting soldiers who detain HVT might just do so without any justification, or that for many years, military members have been plotting ways to torture people for sadistic or malicious reasons.

The author tries to pad his assertions with oblique references to serious scholarship, but undermines his credibility further by doing this improperly. E.g. his reference to Fukuyama, who had the 'worst prediction ever,' and saw 'simply nothing nefarious out there on the horizon.' Fukuyama's text was a combined political and philosophical treatise, predicting a dialectical model for the human condition modeled on Hegel. He left the door open to challenges from other ideologies, but suggested liberal democratic governance was the end-state of that dialectic; indeed, his assertion was about the end-state of human governance. The author's blithe dismissal of a subject that is irrelevant to his argument is both out of place, and a mischaracterization of serious scholarship.

The most disappointing 'serious' part of this book was the implicit assumption that the US military is malevolent and wrongheaded, and that the ugly parts of war (especially the stuff about Iraq) are somehow avoidable, and only exist because the Army/CIA/Marines/America/politicians want it to be so. These are not new arguments, nor are they especially creative ones. They reflect more an unfamiliarity with history, and an ignorance of the barbarity of conflict that Americans have consistently seeked to avoid. I wouldn't expect much different from this type of novel, but it's nonetheless disappointing.

Note also that in any organization of over 1 million people (such the US Army--not including the other branches of the military, or other government agencies), especially one with high turnover, you're bound to encounter some wacky folk. That some of those people make it high in the pecking order is disappointing, but not beyond the pale. And it is certainly not sufficient evidence for a rambling book about the vast reaches of a complex set of conspiracy theories.

In sum, the first half of the book has some good stories, and makes for a good prelude to an entertaining novel. But you'd be better off using your imagination in place of the second half, and well, I suppose you go elsewhere if you want something serious.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I feel this book is written in a very entertaining style, yet, its truths are something we all should be made aware of. Jon Ronson doesn't inflict his opinions on us. I feel he just tells the story and the truths are laid out by the people he interviews who actually lived it. A definite must read. I am going to buy his other book "Them" on Friday!
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
tricia bateman
A quirky semi- (pseudo?) historical account of how the field came about, with highlights (or more like re-countings of the high jinks they get up to) from some of the key players and well-known practitioners of remote viewing. The author's facetious tone and tendency to paint all characters as larger than life, however, did not help - especially given the easy skepticism that the subject matters tends to attract - although some may see the frivolousness as a preemptively defensive stance. As a tie-in with the movie however, this volume does a good job in keeping with the light and incredulous spirit of things.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
jemima osborne
The Iraq War caused many Americas to scratch their heads in disbelief. The confusion on the battlefield, the corruption taking place among civilian contractors, the constant stream of "friendly fire" deaths, etc., have led many people to question the wisdom of American maintaining what is essentially a mercenary army.

Then along comes a book like this, which makes it clear that the U.S. military has far too many generals with far too much time on their hands. Although this book reads like a novel in that it has "characters" who belief that future wars will be fought by soldiers who can walk through walls, it is about an actual secret wing of the U.S. military called the First Earth Battalion, or so the author swears.

This book is not about the draft, but it sure makes a good case that a return to the draft is in the national interest, if for no other reason than to contain the Looneys who believe that telepathy is a battlefield option in America's next war.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
vicky delgado
Fascinating material presented in a well written objective format. At first i was skeptical but apparently the NY Times and various other newspapers have investigated his work and given it a thumbs up.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
ricardo faria tom sio
So, has Mr. Ronson wised up to what is going on since his last book. Most people by now acknowledge the strange goings on accounted in this book. What I do not understand is how seemingly intelligent people can't connect the dots that they may not be accidental; that there may be groups of elite with less that beneficient designs. ?

How about a little healthy skepticism towards the government.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
lee trampleasure
The author follows three main stories that have the common thread of being Intelligence projects. He tends to jump around a bit between the stories, and at times assume the reader is aware of some of the events he talks about. Despite this he does tie it all together into a compelling story that I found hard to put down till I finished it(about 5 hours).
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
This is a fascinating tale about people who are completely nuts. Unfortunately, many of these people who are completely nuts hold or have held senior positions in the United States military. Ronson rarely writes a judgmental word, but allows his subject to speak for themselves--and hang themselves with their own words. (At least, that's the impression--obviously Ronson has selected which of their words to present.)

Ronson looks at ideas for a "First Earth Battallion" by soldier-turned-newage-marketing-guru Jim Channon, who proposed in 1979 that the military put greater emphasis on influencing people with alternative weapons such as paranormal abilities and music. Ronson traces the use of music in warfare to the use of loud music by the FBI at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas and as a torture technique used by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay and in Iraq.

The book covers a wide-ranging territory of nuttiness, including Uri Geller (who is quoted in the book suggesting that he has been re-activated for use by the U.S. military), the remote viewers at Ft. Meade (Joe McMoneagle, Ingo Swann, Pat Price, Ed Dames, etc.), the non-lethal weaponry of UFO and paranormal investigator Col. John Alexander, the connections between the remote viewers and Courtney Brown--and then to Art Bell and Heaven's Gate, and the CIA's MKULTRA experiments and the death-by-LSD of Frank Olson and his son Eric's search for the facts about his death.

The book is alternately amusing and horrifying. It would be funny if this craziness wasn't taken so seriously by high-ranking officials who have put it into practice, wasting tax dollars and occasionally producing horribly unethical outcomes.

I highly recommend this book.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Ronson whines that his books aren't as popular in the US as in the rest of the world. Perhaps because he insults his subjects, approaches them with disdain and ridicule.

America has its kooks and eccentrics, but we rather like them. Ronson adopts the smug smirkiness of a David Letterman to get a few yuks.

Then he decides the war on terror is a joke.

I found his THEM to be engaging, mostly because he found that some of the "wackos" were just guys having a good time, and it was those who believed in the "Thems" that were the weirdos. for example, the Bohemian Club. In "Goats" the um, kid gloves are off, I guess.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I became aware of Mr. Ronson after watching his "Secret Rulers of the World" series on TRIO. The tape in my VHS copy is going to snap I've loaned it out to friends so much. After reading the excepts on his website, I had to get this. I couldn't put it down!! I only hope his newest TV Series "Crazy rulers of the world" will find it's way onto DVD soon. Thanks for another great book Jon! Check it out if you're into Michael Moore, Hunter S Thompson and/or dark crazy humor in general.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
There is one aspect of this book about which I DO have firsthand knowledge - and that concerns my first cousin Jim Channon, about whom Mr. Ronson writes at great length. I know Jim Channon to be a highly imaginative and creative visionary artist who sincerely seeks to influence the human populations of this planet to cooperate rather than annihilate one another in acts of senseless warfare. I know from firsthand discussions with my cousin Jim that his First Earth Battalion concept is an attempt to unify the military establishments of this world in an altruistic common cause - to substitute worldwide cooperation in preserving this planet in place of the centuries of bloody conflict which has historically been centered around violently competing religious ideologies.

An earlier complimentary book reviewer of "...Goats" - Constance E. Cumbey - has penned her own scathingly biased hit piece (Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow) which decries the "New Age" movement and claims that its proponents' desire for worldwide cooperation rather than religiously motivated warfare would somehow lead to "barbarism". (What???) I suppose she believes that the centuries of bloody warfare which HAVE been fomented by the differing beliefs of the three worldwide religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), - each of which claim to be the ONLY correct way of following the dictates of their version of the "God" of Abraham, - would be preferable to worldwide cooperation?! No surprise there. All religious fundamentalists apparently believe that ANYONE who disagrees with their chosen form of worship is going to "hell", anyhow... so why not just kill them all and send them there posthaste, right??? Heaven forbid that modern secular idealists would rather seek a means of worldwide understanding and mutual cooperation instead of conventional military industrial warfare! My god! Haliburton would go bankrupt!!! 8-P

Mr. Ronson mischaracterizes my cousin Jim Channon as an incredibly wealthy and seemingly insane man who owns a mountaintop in Hawaii and behaves like a warlord in his neighborhood. Rubbish! This is not only ridiculous - it is libelous. Jim owns three acres at the top of the hill in a rural Hawaiian community, on which he has constructed a beautiful outdoor garden amphitheater (where his daughter was married), a guest house, a yurt, and an open-air and open-beam rustic residence in which he runs no air conditioning and communes with nature to the extent that he kills no creature that chooses to inhabit it with him. There are geckos clinging to the walls. There are occasional spiders in the corners. There is a kitty cat. When his sister, my cousin Elizabeth Channon Jones, asked him why he didn't even choose to kill the spiders, Jim replied, "They're creatures too!". Does THIS sound like a man who would recommend or condone the practice of attempting to kill animals or human beings with mental or psychic energy? A 'flowerchild', perhaps... a true 'nature boy', perhaps... but a nutcase who thinks he's a warlord? NO. I'm afraid that with this "Staring at Goats" book Mr. Ronson qualifies as a Spin-Meister and practitioner of hyperbole for purposes of profit.

Jim Channon trusted this man, opened his home, and shared some of his most personal and heartrending experiences in Vietnam. In return for his trust he was smeared in this sensationalistic little exercise in spin. The First Earth Battalion is Jim Channon's imaginative, futuristic, and creative concept for a worldwide cooperative military force whose mission would be to preserve this planet for posterity and to replace conventional warfare with visionary tactics of mind-expansion and compassion. The non-lethal tactics he proposed, based upon new age psychic research and experimentation prevalent in the 1970's - `80's, was never intended to be utilized for purposes of torture. It was intended to be mind-altering and mood-altering in the hope of dissuading prospective combatants from killing one another. Idealistic? Certainly. But this man (who won't even kill a spider in his own home) never EVER intended his suggestions to be used for purposes of killing innocent animals... or for torturing prisoners.

Subliminal suggestions have been proven to be successful. Sound does affect one's equilibrium and state of well being. But ask Senator John McCain if he believes that being forced to listen to the "Barney the Dinosaur" song: "I love you, you love me, we're a happy family..." constitutes anything remotely approaching "torture". Give me a break!!! This does a gross injustice to the likes of Senator John McCain and anyone else who has genuinely experienced TORTURE. McCain's bones were broken... his joints were dislocated... his face shows the scars. If listening to "Barney The Dinosaur" singing for several days in a row induces some potentially suicidal/homicidal religious zealot to spill the beans, I'm GLAD.

So based upon my personal knowledge concerning Lieutenant Colonel (ret) Jim Channon and his imaginative First Earth Battalion THINK PEACE (pun intended), I take this entire "Staring at Goats" book with a large lump of rock salt. I sincerely hope that we DO see the day when my cousin's visionary concept of dedicating the world's manpower to preserving this Earth (instead of wiping each other off the face of it) comes to fruition.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
"The Men Who Stare at Goats" begins with a story of a two-star Army general in charge of intelligence (commanding 16,000 soldiers) trying to walk through a wall - based on the logic that the world is made up of atoms, and atoms, in turn, are mostly made up of space. Eventually he was "retired" because of his weirdness.

Other material covers wild-ideas for weapons - eg. a "death hologram" used to scare a target individual to death, and killing a goat by staring it to death. Supposedly an alien race attached a canister containing virus to the Hale-Bopp comet - intending to drop it on earth to eat all the plant life.

The material rambles, is not credibly documented, and lacks any point.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
sara elmahdy
This book has a good hook. But it fails to deliver. I tried to keep interested but chapter after chapter failed to deliver anything of substance. It would make attempts to tie things together from a few sketchy details from people obviously not mainstream and I have 21 years of military experience and was very interested in the fact this was touted as a true story. While I believe that the events described are true, the vagueness and lack of detail and follow-thru left me very empty and disappointed that with all the hype this story did not deliver. This writer has an agenda and while I agree truth is stranger than fiction if you claim a true story and stake a claim fully string your fact together and make your case stick! This was a wild goose chase that got so absurd I couldn't make it past halfway with out throwing it down in disgust. Save your money.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
teddy jacobs
I had hoped, in choosing this title, to take an amusing look at some of the nuttier things the U.S. Military has undertaken in order to keep the world safe for democracy. I had hoped to find a good bit of amusing material, and perhaps some insights into their effectiveness.

What I got was one more Brit attempting to tell the world how the Americans are screwing it all up, even though the entire world knows the British empire did little better during their turn as the world's policeman.

What I got was one more liberal telling us how vile and draconian the U.S. government is, even though most of its labrynthian departments were carved out by well-meaning liberals over our governments 200-plus year history.

What I got was one more liberal stuck in the same old cleft-stick of his own devising: Is the U.S. Military clever and diabolical, or stupid and inept? Those who have chosen to side with the terrorists against the current administration for political reasons of their own are going to have to choose their doom: Are the Americans led by George Bush clever, or stupid? If they are clever, then it might be best if they weren't hindered, no matter the political cost. If they are stupid, then what does that make those who find themselves unable to affect change? What does that make those whom they are currently defeating, both in combat abroad and politically at home?

Choose your doom, Jon. If George Bush is diabolical, why are the enemies of the free world afraid of him? Isn't that a good thing? Good, that is, for the free world, and not neccecarily your party, we mean. And if he is to be considered good but stupid,what does that make of your opposition to him?

Consider even Jon's take on U.S. casualties in the war: He seems to feel that the real tradgedy is that American body armor allows more wounded men and women to live, if as amputees. What are you saying, Jon? That it would be better if they died? (Or perhaps better for your party, we should say...)

Poor sad liberal. Forced to choose between his hatred of things military and the political capital to be gained by trotting out brave wounded soldiers.

In final analysis, this book has earned a three for it's clever humor in the first half of the book, as well as an amusing interviewing style. In the end, this book failed to live up to its potential due to the authors' inability to succumb to the temptation of politicizing.

If the author had done a better job of holding to the middle ground, he might have had a work worthy of reading by far more people. As it was, Jon Ronson couldn't, like many liberals, "choose his doom."
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
catherine amodeo
Perhaps I was expecting something like the da Vinci Code -- a trashy but amusing story. This was just awful. The writing was a bad choose-your-own-adventure novel. The plot, if you can call it that, was aided along like a trashy TV drama that uses the theme for Jaws every few seconds to keep readers interested. The characters were less formed than the results of my Montezuma's Revenge. Perhaps this style works for those who can stay amused by the piece of paper with "For a big surprise, turn this over!" written on both sides. I'd rather perform immoral acts with a porcupine than recommend this rot.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
scott carmichael
The claims and the "research" in this book would be laughable if not for the legions of readers too eager to believe anything vaguely conspiratorial about the 'guvmint and its jack-booted thugs. First of all, there is not, and never was such a unit called "First Earth Battalion". This whole misunderstanding (assuming that it wasn't a deliberate misread) comes out of a think-piece written by a student at the US War College in the 80's. It proposed a unit that utilized holistic solutions for low-intensity conflicts peopled by soldiers that were trained in self-actualization disciplines. The idea was an exercise in out-of-the-box military thinking. In other words, IT WAS A HYPOTHETICAL WHAT-IF PIECE. The kind you might write for a college class - which it was (the US War College, that is).

There was later an experimental program in which a Special Forces A-team was taught things like meditation, biofeed back, and Aikido in order to see if non-traditional "alternative" training methods could improve the performance of elite soldiers. While significant, quantifiable performance increases were noted, the program was disbanded after only a few iterations. Participants of this short-lived program were jokingly referred to as "Jedi Knights". Shoddy research + imagination = this book.

Getting something like the "First Earth Battalion" wrong, it's no surprise he gets other things wrong also. Like the so-called "goat lab" central to the title of the book. Considering what he has written about this facility, some conclusions can be drawn:

A. Some interviewees actually worked there and were probably in a contest with co-workers to see who could invent the most outrageous tale to tell the author

B. Some interviewees never worked there and repeated the urban legends that inevitably accumulate around such facilities

C. Author took interesting snippets of truth and gilded the lily beyond all possible imagining of the interviewees.

Which of these, or combinations of the above, sound -gasp- most probable? Special Forces operators, and they are the only people that will have worked there, can have a morbid sense of humor. Combined with the training they receive on interrogation resistance techniques, they are past masters at deceiving, manipulating, and generally clowning unwary writers, reporters and media types in general. Believe me, they saw this guy coming a mile away. Those hallowed few that have ventured into the SOMTC that are reading this review know of what I speak.

File this under FICTION.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Fascinating tale? Yes? Believable? Anything is possible with the US government but Ronon's serious lack of resources other than interviews with the people, who for all we know could be a bunch of liars, makes it hard to distinguish this book from several episodes of the X-Files.

I was looking forward to reading this but was totally disappointed. Not worth wasting your money.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Crazy books like this and America's Keenest City and the Illuminati try to tell us that our leaders are engaged in weird occult practices or worship octopuses or other assorted nonsenses. At least the latter admit to being novels.

There are no secret CIA occult industrial societies dancing in the woods directing what goes on. If you are kept down it is your own doing. George Bush is doing a great job because he has worked to get to the top. Men's lodges with funny handshakes went out of fashion two centuries ago.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
chris blocker
I'm beyond shocked at the negative reviews because I usually don't hop onto the store to write a review, but felt compelled to do so for this book because I enjoyed it so much. I read it at the beach, which was perfect because it's the sort of book where you want to pop your head out of the pages and announce to everyone else sharing the beach blanket what you just read.

I loved Ronson's earlier book, Them (and used it in the sociology class I taught), so I had a feeling I would enjoy this book too. And I wasn't disappointed. It's engaging and moves at a great pace. One thing I love, which few journalists-turn-nonfiction-book-writers do, is that Ronson breaks down the 4th wall between the reader and the subject, injecting himself into the narrative.

Definitely recommend this book.
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