Book Review: 'UFO' is a detailed look at the history of the search for the truth that's out there

The truth may be out there, but making sense out of it isn't easy.

Discussion about unidentified flying objects has moved over the years from fodder for science fiction movies or jokes to the subject of congressional hearings. Garrett M. Graff's “UFO: The Inside Story of the U.S. Government's Search for Alien Life Here — and Out There” is the perfect guide for readers interested in learning how that discussion has evolved.

Graff offers an authoritative and objective look at the history of UFO sightings and research into the possibility of extraterrestrial life over the past 75 years.

It's a narrative as compelling as Graff's other works, including his history of Watergate, and requires the same skill that he's demonstrated in navigating government documents.

The deeply researched history traces the ways the government has struggled to wrap its arms around the questions raised by UFOs — or, as they're now known, “unidentified aerial phenomena” — sightings going back to the 1940s.

“It's not that the government knows something it doesn't want to tell us,” Graff writes at the outset of the book. “It's that the government is uncomfortable telling us it doesn't know anything at all.”

Graff profiles a sprawling cast of characters who have played a role in the search for UFOs and alien life over the years, from amateur ufologists to famed astronomer Carl Sagan to Blink-182 frontman Tom DeLonge.

They're all battling hoaxes and public skepticism and trying to overcome the lingering question first posed by physicist Enrico Fermi: if extraterrestrial life is prevalent, why don't we see more of it?

Graff highlights the advances in science that are made over the years in trying to answer that question, but also in showing just how vast and unknown the universe is.

The book shows how attitudes toward UFOs have changed over the years, not just by scientists and the government but also in popular culture. Those shifting attitudes have led to more openness about discussing sightings, and the national security implications of not knowing what they could be.

Graff is unlikely to convert firm skeptics, but he may at least convince them to keep an open mind the next time they read about UFOs or UAPs.


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