UFO: The Inside Story of the US Government's Search for Alien Life Here—and Out There (Hardcover)

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UFO: The Inside Story of the US Government's Search for Alien Life Here—and Out There By Garrett M. Graff Cover Image
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UFO: "Unidentified Flying Object". Recently rebranded “UAP” for “Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon,” or “Unidentified Anomalous Phenomenon.” Apparently “UFO” had some marketing problems.

As proud Pacific Northwesterners know, the first official sighting of otherworldly aircraft didn’t happen at Roswell, New Mexico, but rather, near Mount Rainier on June 24th, 1947, by a 32-year-old rescue pilot named Kenneth Arnold, who landed in Yakima later that day and told a lot of people about the “saucer-like craft” he saw. (I never knew any of this until I went off to college, and I’ve always wondered why stick-in-the-mud Yakimites don’t talk about this at all, while other communities are quick to cash in on the notoriety associated with UFO sightings. Even if it’s too late to attract tourists at this point, how about a plaque or a mural on the airport wall, or just something commemorating it?)

For what it’s worth, Yakima is first mentioned on page 4 of UFO, the 518-page book by investigative reporter Garrett Graff, whose previous subjects have included Watergate, September 11th, and the Cold War. Shortly after Arnold’s story appeared in newspapers, it seemed like everyone was seeing glowing aircraft everywhere during the Summer of ’47.

Spoiler alert: Graff doesn’t uncover any evidence that we’ve been visited by intelligent alien life. The purpose of the book isn’t to champion the existence of extraterrestrials or to make fun of those who have claimed to have seen them, a group including Jimmy Carter in 1969. (Eight years later, Carter would, as President, inscribe a message to alien civilizations on a golden plate contained in the Voyager 1 spacecraft.)

Rather, Graff’s purpose is to try and construct a timeline of modern ufology and chronicle it all in one place: the government investigations, the amateur sleuths with their newsletters, the culture in which all of this flourished. Refreshingly, the author approaches the whole thing with a skeptical, but open mind. It’s a constant tension: While some stories are clear hoaxes, and some are probably military aircraft on maneuvers or some kind of space debris burning up in the atmosphere, there are also so many sightings from otherwise credible people with no reason to lie who adamantly stand by their stories, that something has to be going on; but on the other hand, if something were going on, given the volume of sightings, you’d expect some kind of tangible evidence to have emerged by now.

It’s probably not an accident that the modern incarnation of UFO sightings converged so closely with the dawn of the Cold War and the Atomic Age. After all, as the author reminds, us, two thousand years ago, UFOs were called “angel sightings.” What the mind can’t explain, it will fit into a larger context of the times. At the end of the day, the most important letter in UFO, or UAP, or whatever we’re calling it now, is the “U” for “Unidentified.”

— Chris Saunders


“One of the rare books on the topic that manages to be both entertaining and factually grounded.” —The Wall Street Journal

From the bestselling author of Raven Rock, The Only Plane in the Sky, and Watergate (finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in history) comes the first comprehensive and eye-opening exploration of our government’s decades-long quest to solve one of humanity’s greatest mysteries: Are we alone in the universe?

For as long as we have looked to the skies, the question of whether life on earth is the only life to exist has been at the core of the human experience, driving scientific debate and discovery, shaping spiritual belief, and prompting existential thought across borders and generations. It’s one of our culture’s favorite conversations, and yet, the idea of extraterrestrial intelligence has been largely banished to the realm of fantasy and conspiracy. Now, for the first time, the full story of our national obsession with UFOs—and the covert search by scientists, the United States military, and the CIA for proof of alien life—is told by bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize finalist Garrett M. Graff in a deeply reported and researched history.

It begins in 1947, when two headline-making sightings of strange flying objects prompt the US Air Force’s newly formed Department of Defense to create a series of secret programs to determine how unidentified phenomena may pose a threat to national security. Over the next half-century, as the atomic age gives way to the space race and the Cold War, the mission continues, bringing together an unexpected group of astronomers, military officials, civilian contactees, and true believers who bring us closer, then further, then closer again, to answering one of our most enduring questions: What exactly is out there?

Drawing from original archival research, declassified documents, and interviews with senior intelligence and military officials, Graff brings readers a story that’s “Loads of fun…[a] fascinating deep dive down the rabbit hole” (Publishers Weekly).

About the Author

Garrett M. Graff has spent nearly two decades covering politics, technology, and national security. The former editor of Politico and contributor to Wired and CNN, he’s written for publications from Esquire to Rolling Stone to The New York Times, and today serves as the director of the cyber initiative at the Aspen Institute. Graff is the author of multiple books, including the FBI history The Threat MatrixRaven Rock (about the government’s Cold War Doomsday plans), When the Sea Came Alive (an oral history of D-Day), and the New York Times bestsellers The Only Plane in the Sky and Watergate, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History.

Praise For…


"The perfect guide for readers interested in learning how that discussion has evolved. . . . a narrative as compelling as Graff's other works."
Associated Press

“Loads of fun, and Graff’s agnosticism has the potential to appeal to skeptics and believers alike. . .  a fascinating dive down the rabbit hole.” 
Publishers Weekly

"One of the rare books on the topic that manages to be both entertaining and factually grounded."
Wall Street Journal

“An entertaining tour through the world of flying saucers, aliens, and weird science.”
Kirkus Reviews


“Do we need still another Watergate book? The answer turns out to be yes — this one: Garrett M. Graff’s Watergate: A New History. It is a remarkably rich narrative with compelling characters, who range from criminal and flawed to tragic and heroic. As someone who played a small role in the drama while I was editing many of The Washington Post’s Watergate stories, I found that Graff convincingly populates and re-creates an extraordinary time in the history of the country and this city. ... fast-paced ... filled with apt sketches of its many characters, major and minor, from all the president’s men, and some of their spouses, to journalists, investigators, lawyers and members of Congress. It vividly re-creates all the key events, from Nixon’s overreaction to the revelation of the Pentagon Papers about the Vietnam War in June 1971 to his resignation in August 1974.... engaging, informative and thought-provoking, more than earning its place on bookshelves alongside the old histories.” —Len Downie, Jr., The Washington Post

“Dazzling. . . A lively writer, Graff explores the dramatic scope of the Watergate saga through its participants — politicians, investigators, journalists, whistle-blowers and, at center stage, Nixon himself.” —Douglas Brinkley, The New York Times Book Review

“Award-winning author Graff aims to give readers the full scope of Watergate — a much bigger, more bizarre story than even remembered — telling the full story from start to finish in this ambitious book.” —New York Post 

“A definitive, exhaustive account of the scandal. . . a fascinating, horrifying examination of the Nixon presidency up close—enough to scare the record straight.” AirMail

“A meticulously researched, expansive history of the Watergate scandal from start to finish, from the release of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 to the reverberations that echo through present day.” —Barbara VanDenburgh, USA TODAY

“A brisk, riveting, compulsively readable, comprehensive, up-to-date narrative of the entire tangled affair, and it's hard to imagine it better told. . . . Now the best and fullest account of the Watergate crisis, one unlikely to be surpassed anytime soon.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Monumental. . . effortlessly clarifies the strands of one of the most complex episodes in modern history. . . A masterful, epic look at a story that is still barely believable.” The Daily Mail

Product Details
ISBN: 9781982196776
ISBN-10: 1982196777
Publisher: Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: November 14th, 2023
Pages: 544
Language: English