on June 26, 2007
I'm not sure why the previous reviewer found the book so disjointed, as it was written in a very consistent manner. The book starts off looking at the First Earth Battalion, a New Age-esque movement within the US Army designed to create a class of non-lethal "Warrior Monks." The ideas that Jim Chiannon created for the FEB are instrumental for the programs described throughout the rest of the book. For instance, one of the "weapons" attributed to the FEB is music, designed to calm your opponent down and... surrender, I suppose. The FEB itself is a bit iffy when it comes to actual combat, as far as I know. Music was to be used as a method to heal rifts between combatants, according to Chainnon. Fast forward to the War on Terror, where music was/is being used as a method of torture in Abu Gharab and Gitmo.
The point of the book, as far as I was concerned, was to show how the US Army leadership in the post-Vietnam era was traumatised by war. The FEB is just one reaction to Vietnam. However, as time went on and more recruits joined the Army without knowledge of Vietnam, the more peaceful tactics and ideas were turned into weapons. What makes the book interesting is that the ideas are written in the form of a discovery narrative, whereby we learn the horrifying facts behind these military programs as the author discovered them.
The Men Who Stare At Goats is an excellent book for anybody interested in the strange ideas that the US military has investigated in the past fifty years in order to gain a leg up on competition. Two quick recommendations: Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond (Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain) is a very similar book that focuses on the CIA rather than US Military, and The Postman (David Brin) is a novel that incorporates some of the ideas from the First Earth Battalion - the film is mediocre, but the novel is excellent.
on September 20, 2014
Ronson offers numerous factual portraits of people (especially those connected to the military) who believe in psychic abilities and "New Age" techniques of persuasion and manipulation. He also provides some informative research into once-classified or "unofficial" military programs. Sometimes the narrative degenerates into weird-for-the-sake-of-weird or, worse, stupid-for-the-sake-of-stupid. Often he writes something like "...something shocking then happened..." but then proceeds with five or ten pages of filler before mentioning what that thing is. There is really only enough material here to fill a long article, and most of the good stuff is at the beginning.
on August 31, 2006
If you are looking for a quick easy read that will not consume much of your cognitive functions then this might be worth checking out. However I personally find that the presentation of ideas in this book to be somewhat disjointed. The characters (and I understand that they are or are at least supposed to be real people) are flat and boring. My preconcieved notion about this book was that it would be and interesting and factual look at these supposed military experiments in an ordered and interesting manner. However I would classify this more as a drunken stumble through a menagarie of fairly uninteresting characters telling a disjointed and in places hard to swallow tale of ineptitude at the highest levels. The first chapter is interesting and somewhat enthralling. However after it seems as though a different author took over the storytelling. I would not recommend this book unless you are looking for a light, sometimes mildly humourous, mostly fusterating and easy to forget read