x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Required reading: Alien nation

One day we may hear the full story about Area 51. For now, read these books to satisfy your curiosity.

The US government has officially acknowledged the existence of Area 51, the expanse of land in the southern Nevada desert that has for decades been the subject of UFO and alien visitation mythology.

Many UFO-heads believed that Area 51 was at the epicentre of a government conspiracy to hide contact with extraterrestrials from the general public. It was said that alien ships had crashed on the base, that meetings with alien visitors had taken place and even that the US government was using the base to develop time-travel technology.

The truth, it turns out, is rather more prosaic. Area 51 is a secret test base for military aircraft, developed during the 1950s. Or, at least, that's what they want us to think.

For an eye-opening introduction, turn to Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base (Orion, Dh57) by the investigative journalist Annie Jacobsen. She interviewed former Area 51 employees, including scientists and test pilots, for her book, which examines the origin of the site as a testing ground for the U-2 bomber during the Cold War and its connection to the most famous UFO episode of all time: the Roswell Incident.

For five decades, some ufologists have claimed that the mysterious craft that crashed outside Roswell in 1947 was that of an alien visitor. Read Dreamland: Travels Inside the Secret World of Roswell and Area 51 (Villard Books, Dh109) by Phil Patton to learn how some claim that the wreckage of the ship - and the alien survivors - were taken to Area 51 for examination.

The truth about Area 51, then? Jacobsen's account is most persuasive; while talk of little green men may be a stretch, she says, Area 51 was nevertheless a hotbed of secret military testing, and inextricably linked to larger - and still uncovered - truths on the conduct of the Cold War. The Roswell crash? A secret US test flight that went wrong, says Jacobsen.

One day, we may hear the full story. Until then, turn to fiction to satisfy your alien visitation curiosity. The blockbuster hit I Am Number Four (Penguin, Dh46) by Pittacus Lore tells the story of a teenager with an unearthly secret.

artslife@thenational.ae

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