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Profile Image for Petra on hiatus, really unwell.
2,457 reviews34.4k followers
July 24, 2016
It's hard to know what to say about this book as it's a light-hearted, somewhat mocking look at the various nefarious schemes of the American Military, or at least of some of the specialised recherche departments of Intelligence. However, the subject is deadly serious and what seems funny on the surface - bombarding Iraqi prisoners with an endless loop of the Barney song, 14,000 renditions over three days - really isn't when you consider that this 'information' was probably released deliberately so the media could do a nice, feel-good, hahaha piece and be put off delving deeper, at least for a while.

It's an interesting, perhaps even necessary, book for all Americans, and citizens of its allies and satellite countries, who want to know of the less-obvious methods used in the defence of the US and free world. We all know about military offensives, about assassinations and torture, both always denied, but really though, what do we know about psychological warfare?

It seems to have developed from the original barmy colonel whose thought-process went something like this: this wall is primarily composed of atoms, and atoms are primarily composed of space. I am primarily composed of atoms, and therefore I should be able to walk right through that wall if I only have the right frame of mind. Result: bruised nose and the development of a new Intelligence unit for the US Military and a new way to divert tax dollars into the hands of the less-than-mentally competent who had such seniority no one could question one or their methods. Including staring at goats.

It's a fast read, well-written in a journalistic style with plenty of moments when you'll want to look up from the book and share what you've just read with anyone around.

Rewritten 24 July, 2016 on rereading Them: Adventures with Extremists
April 8, 2019
Some stuff makes, actually, way too much sense for such a lightweight and lighthearted volume:
‘People have been so brainwashed by fiction… so brainwashed by the Tom Clancy thing, they think, ‘We know this stuff. We know the CIA does this.’ Actually, we know nothing of this. There’s no case of this, and all this fictional stuff is like an immunization against reality. It makes people think they know things that they don’t know and it enables them to have a kind of superficial quasi-sophistication and cynicism which is just a thin layer beyond which they’re not cynical at all.’ (c)

The rest is better than a lot of sci-fi stuff!
I laughed my head off. Totally hilarious account of psychic escapades that either happened or didn't (but got dreamed up by a mass of people anyway!). Entertaining as Remote Viewing of 'goat-related military activity'!

The covert nature of the goats was helped by the fact that they had been de-bleated; they were just standing there, their mouths opening and closing, with no bleat coming out. Many of them also had their legs in plaster.
This is the story of those goats. (c)
Goat Lab, which exists to this day, is secret. (c)
Some of them were in there, trying to be psychic, from 1978 until 1995. (c) Okay, I can't help wondering how they distinguished between goats that died from all the stress from being debleated, plastered up and having all the creepy dudes staring at them for hours at a time?
Or, as the author put it: Q:
Perhaps the master sergeant had been staring at a particularly sickly goat? (c)

Defying all known accepted military practice—and indeed, the laws of physics—they believed that a soldier could adopt a cloak of invisibility, pass cleanly through walls, and, perhaps most chillingly, kill goats just by staring at them. (c)
General Stubblebine is confounded by his continual failure to walk through his wall. (c)
‘Physicists go nuts when I say this!’ (c)
You have access to animals, right?’
‘Uh,’ say Special Forces. ‘Not really…’ (c)
Some nights in Arlington, Virginia, after the general’s first wife Geraldine had gone to bed, he would lie down on his living-room carpet and try to levitate. (c)
I just haven’t figured out how my space can fit through that space. I simply kept bumping my nose…. Same with the levitation.’ (c)
The way I saw it, the truth lay in one of four possible scenarios:
It just never happened.
A couple of crazy renegades in the higher levels of the US intelligence community had brought in Uri Geller.
US intelligence is the repository of incredible secrets, which are kept from us for our own good; one of those secrets is that Uri Geller has psychic powers, which were harnessed during the Cold War. They just hoped he wouldn’t go around telling everybody.
The US intelligence community was, back then, essentially nuts through and through. (c)
For all our cynicism, we apparently still invested the intelligence services with some qualities of rigour and scientific methodology. (c)
‘What’s a Jedi Warrior?’ I asked.
‘You’re looking at one,’ said Glenn. (c)
One such power was the ability to walk into a room and instantly be aware of every detail; that was level one.
‘What was the level above that?’ I asked.
‘Level two,’ he said. ‘Intuition. Is there some way we can develop you so you make correct decisions? Somebody runs up to you and says, ‘There’s a fork in the road. Do we turn left or do we turn right?’ And you go’—Glenn snapped his fingers—‘We go right!’
‘What was the level above that?’ I asked.
‘Invisibility,’ said Glenn. (c)
‘By understanding the linkage between observation and reality, you learn to dance with invisibility,’ said Glenn. ‘If you’re not observed, you are invisible. You only exist if someone sees you.’ (c)
The goats weren’t covertly herded into these buildings just so the Jedi Warriors could stare at them. (c)
Additionally, several thousand goats are currently being transformed—on a US air force base—into a weird kind of goat⁄spider hybrid. ‘ (c) I hope they aren't. Or I'm getting huge nightmares.
‘Glenn,’ I said, ‘are goats being stared at once again post-September 11?’ (c)
Maybe they simply wanted the glory for themselves in the event that staring an enemy to death became a tool in the US military arsenal … (c)
Is this the kind of idea that people routinely have in those circles? (c)
‘If you have to be by a wall with horizontal brickwork, don’t stand vertically,’ he’d tell his Green Beret trainees. ‘In a tree, try to look like a tree. In open spaces, fold up like a rock. Between buildings, look like a connecting pipe. If you need to pass along a featureless white wall, use a reversible piece of cloth. Hold up a white square in front of you as you move. Think black. That is the nothingness.’ (c)
Who would have believed that the soldier who helped inspire the jingle had such a fabulous idea of what ‘All You Can Be’ might include? (c)
The conclusion—in the words of Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman of the Killology Research Group—was: ‘there is something about continuous, inescapable combat which will drive 98 per cent of all men insane, and the other 2 per cent were crazy when they got there’.) (c)
It got so paranoid that UFO speakers would start by asking all the government spies to stand up and identify themselves. (c)
The first line read, ‘The US army doesn’t really have any serious alternative than to be wonderful.’
A disclaimer at the bottom read, ‘[This] does not comprise an official position by the military as of now.’
This was Jim Channon’s First Earth Battalion Operations Manual. …
In Jim Channon’s First Earth Battalion, the new battlefield uniform would include pouches for ginseng regulators, divining tools, foodstuffs to enhance night vision and a loudspeaker that would automatically emit ‘indigenous music and words of peace’.
Soldiers would carry with them into hostile countries ‘symbolic animals’ such as baby lambs. These would be cradled in the soldiers’ arms. The soldiers would learn to greet people with ‘sparkly eyes’. Then they would gently place the lambs on the ground and give the enemy ‘an automatic hug’. (c)
… fall in love with everyone, sense plant auras, organize a tree plant with kids, attain the power to pass through objects such as walls, bend metal with their minds, walk on fire, calculate faster than a computer, stop their own hearts with no ill effects, see into the future, have out-of-body experiences, live off nature for twenty days, be 90%+ a vegetarian, have the ability to massage and cleanse the colon, stop using mindless cliches, stay out alone at night, and be able to hear and see other people’s thoughts.
Now all Jim had to do was sell these ideas to the military. (c)
Nowadays he does for corporations what he did for the army: he makes their employees believe they can walk through walls and change the world, and he does it by making those things sound ordinary. (c)
‘First of all, they wouldn’t call it a meditation retreat, because retreat is a no-no word in the army. So it was called a meditation encampment. And it was hugely unsuccessful.’ (c)
Then there are the Race-Specific Stink Bomb and the Chameleon Camouflage Suit, neither of which has got off the ground yet, because nobody can work out how to invent them. (c)
‘We’re great friends. We used to have metal-bending parties together.’ (c)
‘Last week I killed my hamster.’
‘Just by staring at it?’ I asked.
‘Yes,’ confirmed Guy. ...
‘So you knew it was a healthy hamster,’ I said.
‘Yes,’ said Guy.
‘And then you started staring,’ I said.
‘Three days,’ sighed Guy.
‘You must hate hamsters,’ I said. …
Guy jumped in his car and went off to find his home video of the hamster
being stared to death. (c)
‘get those Martian ships under NATO command. Get those Martians in through
the proper immigration processes.’ (c)
‘Our most effective products are the ones which link an unfulfilled need on their part with a desired behaviour on our part,’ he said.
There was a silence.
‘And weapons of mass destruction were not used on American forces,’ the specialist added, ‘so this leaflet may very well have been effective.’
‘Do you really…?’ I started. ‘Oh, nothing,’ I said. (c)
Then Pete turned the music up loud and told me a secret, which I couldn’t hear a word of, so he turned the music back down and told me it again. (c)
This man seemed to have verified one of the world’s most enduring and least plausible conspiracy theories. For me, the idea that the government would surreptitiously zap heads with subliminal sounds and remotely alter moods was on a par with the idea that they were concealing UFOs in military hangars and transforming themselves into twelve-foot lizards. This conspiracy theory has persisted because it contains all the crucial ingredients—the hidden hand of big government teaming up with Machiavellian scientists to take over our minds like body snatchers. …
There is a very strong chance, given the history of the goat staring and the wall walking and so on, that they blasted Jamal with silent sounds and it just didn’t work.(c)
Midway through the siege—in the middle of March 1993—the sounds of Tibetan Buddhist chants, screeching bagpipes, crying seagulls, helicopter rotor blades, dentist drills, sirens, dying rabbits, a train and Nancy Sinatra’s ‘These Boots Are Made for Walking’ began to blast into the church. It was the FBI, in this instance, who did the blasting. There were seventy-nine members of David Koresh’s congregation in there, including twenty- five children (twenty-seven if you count the unborn ones). Some of the parishioners put cotton wool in their ears, a luxury that was later unavailable to Jamal at Guantanamo and the prisoners inside the shipping containers in al-Qa’im. Others apparently tried to enjoy it by ironically pretending it was a disco. …
Clive Doyle is one of the very few survivors of the fire that ended the
siege. … ‘Sometimes,’ said Clive Doyle, ‘I think that the FBI were just like idiots, and it was just chaos out there.’
The CIA also told the Olsons that in 1953 they created an MK-ULTRA brothel in New York City, where they spiked the customers’ drinks with LSD. They placed an agent called George White behind a one-way mirror where he moulded, and passed up the chain of command, little models made out of pipe cleaners. The models represented the sexual positions considered, by the observant George White, to be the most effective in releasing a flow of information.
When George White left the CIA his letter of resignation read, in part, ‘I toiled wholeheartedly in the vineyards because it was fun, fun, fun…Where else could a red-blooded American boy lie, kill, cheat, steal, rape and pillage with the sanction and blessing of the all-highest?’ (c)
What a brilliant cover story, he thought. In a success-obsessed society like this one, what’s the best rock to hide something under? It’s the rock called failure. (c)
Not even the most imaginative conspiracy theorist has ever thought to invent a scenario in which a crack team of Special Forces soldiers and major generals secretly try to walk through their walls and stare goats to death. (с)
Profile Image for Kemper.
1,390 reviews6,965 followers
June 15, 2010
After watching the movie version of The Men Who Stare At Goats, I figured that there must be a kernel of truth to it coated with several layers of Hollywood bullshit so I read the book to get an idea of what the real story was. I thought I’d get a funny story about some stupid things the military did once upon a time. Instead, the book turns into a template for starting conspiracy theories that really pissed me off.

Oddly enough, the really weird stuff that happened in the film version is the stuff that probably actually happened, but I understand why Hollywood had to wrap that in a fictional storyline because the book wanders around and becomes just a series of odd anecdotes and wild speculation about weird things that the U.S. military and intelligence communities may or may not have done.

An army officer named Jim Channon went to Vietnam and realized that most soldiers really don’t want to kill anyone. On returning home after the war, he somehow talked the army into financing a research project where he experimented with several new age movements and techniques. He wrote a manual based on his experience calling for a new type of unit, the First Earth Battalion.

Channon’s manual called for incorporating several flower child ideas into the army. For example, when approaching natives in occupied territory the soldiers would have speakers hanging around their necks that played peaceful music, and hold flowers and small animals to show good intentions. Channon also theorized that the FEB could become a class of Warrior Monks, complete with psychic powers like remote viewing, walking through walls, and invisibility.

Amazingly, Channon was taken somewhat seriously and offered a small command to implement his ideas. Channon refused because he now claims that he didn’t actual believe any of the psychic power ideas were really possible, that he was just trying to get the army to open its collective mind to some new ways of doing business. (I think that Channon may have conned the army into funding an extended vacation and then turned in something he never dreamed would be taken seriously.)

However, the FEB manual eventually found it’s way into the hands of General Stubbelbine, the head of army intelligence in the early 80’s and a believer in the paranormal. Stubbelbine was a proponent of it and tried to interest the Special Forces in it, but they were already aware of it and trying to adapt some of the techniques without all the hippie crap. One of their big experiments was trying to stop the hearts of goats by staring at them. Stubbelbine had to settle for setting up a small office with several soldiers trying to develop remote viewing and other psychic powers.

The author interviewed Channon, Stubbelbine and several other folks who participated in several programs related to the FEB manual, and all of them freely admit that this happened and provided a lot of the material in the early chapters. That’s a pretty amusing story, but it comes across that these were just some loopy ideas that the military tried on a very small scale but were eventually phased out.

Where the book goes off the rails is when the author tries to say that Channon’s FEB ideas were possibly more widely adopted and in use today. That’s where it turns into a collection of oddball stories related by a variety of unreliable sources, with no other research done that is documented in the book.

The author gets obsessed with the notion that Channon’s idea of using music as part of the FEB was modified and used as torture techniques in Iraq on prisoners by playing songs from the Barney kids show over and over at high levels or that the military/intelligence community is experimenting with subliminal messaging. He also notes how the government has used loud music at other times to try and drive people out of siege situations and ties that back to the FEB. Then he theorizes that the FBI bombarded the Branch Davidians in Waco with subliminal messages based on pure speculation.

First, I don’t think that the idea of playing really loud music is an offshoot of the original FEB manual. I think the military and government, like most of us, realize that playing annoying music at really loud levels makes people crazy. You just have to live in an apartment with thin walls and have a heavy metal fan for a neighbor to figure that one out. And I’m more than willing to believe that the government has fooled around with subliminal messaging, but saying that it was used at Waco without a shred of proof is the kind of reckless speculation that starts a lot of the conspiracy theory nonsense that floats around today.

It isn’t the only things in the book that seem like blue-sky bullshitting. There’s a section where the author outlines how one of the former recruits in Stubbelbine psychic program started going on the Art Bell show after retirement, blabbed about the whole thing and then became a regular guest by making a series of wild predictions about the end of the world.

The author ties some of the comments that this guy made to comments that other guests made regarding the Hale-Bopp comet that were then linked to the Heaven’s Gate suicide cult. Uh….why? Just because one nutjob who used to be in a military program went on a radio show hosted by a nutjob who interviewed some other nutjobs that might have influenced some other nutjobs isn’t really a link to anything. It’s ironic that the author mocks Art Bell and then uses Art Bell methodology for the rest of the book.

There’s a lot of this kind of crap with various people making claims about how some of the old psychic spy programs are still being used, but again, there isn’t a shred of proof. The only thing close to a fact is that he notes how much Bush increased the intelligence budget. Duh. I’m not a Bush fan but a country that suffered a devastating terror attack and then got into two wars is going to increase its intelligence budget. It doesn’t mean the money is going to psychic spy programs.

Adding to the conspiracy theory vibe, there’s a long story at the end of the book that tries to tie the documented MK-ULTRA program the CIA ran where it doped unsuspecting people with LSD in 1950-60s to even darker claims about murder and potential torture techniques used by the military/intelligence community today. It’s certainly within the realm of possibility, but again, there’s no real proof presented, just interviews and theories of a couple of people who claim to have researched it.

This whole book left me baffled. I wouldn’t be surprised if the U.S. does look into using new age or psychic spy ideas in military or intelligence programs today, but trying to tie it all back to the FEB is a stretch. Especially since he doesn't prove that anything like it does actually exist today. Here you’ve got a story about the military doing something kind of crazy, but then the author went off on these even crazier and unsubstantiated tangents that make trying to kill goats by staring at them seem rational by comparison.
Profile Image for Melki.
6,031 reviews2,385 followers
March 27, 2017
. . . America, the great superpower, needed to be defended by people who actually had superpowers . . .

When it comes to cockamamie plots and plans to make America great again, nothing our government and the US military cooks up should surprise you. Experiments in mind control, and yes, even "psychic assassins" seem pretty much par for the course. Ronson, a British journalist who has made his name exposing the weird and the wacky, here presents several of the more hare-brained schemes once considered, and/or implemented in the war against our enemies.

Warrior Monks, brown notes, the horrors of Celine Dion and Barney are all covered here.


My favorite line?
I couldn't decide if Jim was being delightfully naive, infuriatingly naive, or sophisticatedly evasive.

One side note: Fort Bragg's Goat Lab is no more -

At least that's the official story . . .

My four-star review should in no way be taken as a recommendation. It seems as though plenty of people actively hate this book. And, indeed, much of the information presented exists in a purely believe-it-or-not realm; evidence is scant, eyewitnesses shadowy. (Well, would you admit to participating in any of this crap?) I, however, found it to be an entertaining read that left me shaking my head while reaching for a bottle of gin, mumbling aloud something along the lines of "Our tax dollars at work . . ."
Profile Image for Nandakishore Mridula.
1,255 reviews2,297 followers
April 14, 2018
This started out as a hilarious read but soon degenerated into an unfocused ramble. Did not finish it.
Profile Image for Diane in Australia.
668 reviews791 followers
November 16, 2018
Very good book about psychic spies in the U.S. military. I happen to know one of the remote viewers mentioned in the book, and he's the real deal. He just blew me away with his ability.

4 Stars = It gave me much food for thought.
Profile Image for brian   .
248 reviews3,119 followers
November 13, 2008
during the cold war the cia was engaged in some strange strange shit -- psychic spies and remote viewings and lots more: agents staring at goats all day long trying to make their hearts explode (some of the higher ups claim to have seen it happen), agents (with badly scuffed noses and foreheads) trying to walk through walls, dosing people with lsd, playing music with subliminal messages, entering the bad guy's lair while cradling a baby lamb in one's arms as a means to overpower the enemy with symbols of pure kindness & goodness... but this was all dropped in the 90s and then - surprise! - picked up again in our War on Terror. uh-huh. where do you think naked pyramids and forced listenings to the theme song from Barney comes from? the marriage of cold war psyops and blackops with a sprinkling of 70s new age nuttiness. gotta love it. a fascinating book.
Profile Image for Fátima Linhares.
519 reviews118 followers
April 12, 2021
Já toda a gente sabe que os norte americanos são um povo um pouco excêntrico, para não dizer mesmo doido chalado da cabeça - ups, já disse! :D (Só espero que a CIA não esteja a monitorizar o Goodreads, mas dado o acreditarem em psíquicos, não me parece que estejam. :D)

Este livro só demonstra o nível de excentricidade que podem atingir. Caberia na cabeça de alguém criar uma unidade de espiões psíquicos? Pessoas que, supostamente, com o poder da mente e do olhar matariam cabras e fariam com que pessoas em interrogatório vomitassem todos os segredos que sabem? Parece que sim, os americanos fizeram-no. Tanta terra para cavar e esta gente investe dinheiro em supostos psíquicos! E pior, deixa cabrinhas inocentes mudas! Balha-me Deus!

Também temos um programa da CIA da década de 1950 em que dariam LSD e outras dorgas às pessoas fazendo com que elas, devido à dependência e às alucinações, estivessem dispostas a revelar o que sabiam. Tanto livro para ler e esta gente a dar trips às pessoas!

A parte que eu achei mais séria foi a situação dos inimigos da América capturados no Iraque, após a invasão devido às supostas armas de destruição, que foram sujeitos a torturas e humilhações, e eu isto lembro-me de ver nas notícias. Prisioneiros nus, com trelas e outras alarvidades. Confesso que não estava à espera desta parte mais séria num livro com um título tão curioso.

Nesta leitura ficou também provado que ouvir músicas infantis é uma excelente forma de tortura e que os pais dos rebentos têm razão se à conta disso cometerem um homicídio. O facto deveria servir como atenuante, pois parece que é uma coisa que existe. Os americanos usaram o Enter Sandman dos Metallica em altos berros como forma de tortura aos prisioneiros iraquianos, mas também usaram uma canções de programas infantis - do dinossauro Barney e da Rua Sésamo. Parece que é mais eficaz do que choques elétricos!

Claro que a opinião pública norte americana ao tomar conhecimento desta parte levou o caso como uma piada e o autor das músicas da Rua Sésamo preocupou-se foi com os royalties das músicas, já que as mesmas tocadas em loop durante dias renderiam uns bons trocos.

Não foi uma grande leitura esta pois acho que o autor começa a escrever sobre a unidade das cabras e outros assuntos sem uma introdução, pelo menos a mim fez-me falta um preâmbulo qualquer que explicasse o porquê deste livro, o que iria abordar. Em certas alturas senti-me um pouco perdida, pois saltava de assunto e de pessoas sem um enquadramento prévio, mas também não se pode esperar muito de um livro que aborda estas situações absurdas.

- O que é que vai acontecer?
- Vamos todos morrer! Disse o Ed. Riu-se

A única coisa acertada lida neste livro!

#circulalivros Obrigada, Cristina! :)
Profile Image for Russell.
306 reviews15 followers
November 10, 2009
So here's my problem with this book. The author manages to string together a long series of random tidbits in what appears to be a coherent manner, but ultimately there was no point to anything we as readers have learned. "Hey everyone, look at all of the weird things our armed forces experimented with during the war on terror! They played a Barney song over and over! They played a Sesame Street song and the composer tried to sue for royalties! Maybe the CIA killed someone once or maybe they gave them LSD in an experiment and they lost their shit."

It's all sort of fascinating in its premise (did the secretary of the armed services really believe that he could walk through walls? can you really kill gerbils with your impure thoughts?) , but when I was done reading I wasn't sure what the point was. Sometimes the author is praising the idea of alternative battle methods. Sometimes he's mocking. Sometimes he's indifferent as a reporter. Sometimes he is actively goading people into delivering absurd information.

It was entertaining, but by and large it didn't really deliver on its promise as an absurdly entertaining collection of information with a defined message of some sort.
Profile Image for Mitch.
693 reviews17 followers
August 26, 2011
This book worked hard to earn, decisively, its crop of zero stars.

It is about what supposedly happens when new age super-abilities (flying, invisibility, the power to stop a goat's heart by staring at it...) meet the oh-so-impressive military mind.

Since the military exists to destroy people and property, guess what they experiment with in attempts to gain these powers and apply them?


All kinds of names, dates, people and conversational bits are used to 'verify' the wildly gyrating content of the book. As with all new age material, though, nothing at all is verified. Not only that, but I resent the author's ham-fisted attempts to tantalize the reader with scraps of information followed by a quick "I can't tell you any more." Completely and obviously manipulative.

The greatest mystery here is that this type of idiotic garbage ever got made into a movie. I hear it bombed and that just feels so very, very right.

I'd write more about the book, but I'm absolutely convinced they're monitoring my goodreads account...
Profile Image for Mizuki.
3,000 reviews1,207 followers
August 26, 2018
I think this book actually is very funny, with a lot of 'maybe it's true, or maybe not so true' interesting information and details in it.

The book also points out how easily it can be for us to fall under the control of powerful suggestions, mind-control and other shit. People, be alerted!

added thoughts after re-reading@14/01/2015

I still think the author has a healthy sense of humor and the story is funny, but once the author starts telling us how music can be used to torture war-prisoners and terrorism-suspects, and how the army/government would assassinate people/eyewitnesses in order silence them...things really become very un-funny. *shivers*

re-reading@25/08/2018: I still really enjoy this book very much!!! And...just look at this trailer!!!!
Profile Image for Alexandru.
258 reviews18 followers
February 6, 2023
I've been wanting to read 'The Men Who Stare at Goats' for ages, mainly because i love the title and also because i really enjoy Jon Ronson's work.

This is my second Ronson book after 'The Psychopath Test' and I feel that it is a bit weaker. The book is part research, part speculation and part conspiracy theory. There is also a lot of funny, goofy and outright ridiculous stories such as military people trying to walk through walls, killing goats by staring at them or psychics trying to predict future terrorist attacks. The narrative goes everywhere from the psychic experiments in the army in the 1970s to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and to Project MK Ultra.

The book is pretty much based on interviews with four people: Lieutenant Jim Channon the author of the First Earth Battalion Operations Manual, the martial arts instructor Guy Savelli, military intelligence general Albert Stubblebine and Eric Olson, the son of chemist Frank Olson who died in mysterious circumstances as part of a CIA related incident. Other people are mentioned but these are the main ones.

All in all the book is quite funny and an enjoyable read but jumps around quite a bit. It feels like there are about 3-4 different narratives thrown in together and the connections between them are strenuous at best. It's probably deserves 2 stars but I bumped to 3 stars due to the quirkiness.
Profile Image for Jim.
248 reviews81 followers
September 15, 2008
Jon Ronson looks at army intelligence experiments in psychic phenomena. One of these experiments, refered to in the title, was to try to kill goats by concentrating on them, real hard. Ironically, much of this stuff had its origins in the army's post-Vietnam funk, when esprit de corps was at its lowest ebb. A young colonel convinced his chain of command to allow him to study hippy philosophy as a potentially new ethic for a revived Army. All that came of this was a field manual for something called the "First Earth Battalion," which emphasized peace and love, empathy and psychology, over force; it also incorporated the new age psychic and therapeutic practices which had entered the popular culture of the 60s and 70s.

While top commanders took a pass, a few people, mainly in intelligence and special operations circles, were fascinated. This interest was indirectly given a boost by George Lucas. Some of the soldiers and veterans Ronson spoke with likened themselves to Jedis.

Like a lot of Ronson's work, this book uses humor to draw the reader into some serious areas. The general who practices walking through walls (with predictable results) is amusing. Military interrogators, playing the Barney theme song ("I love you, you love me...") to Iraqi detainees is surreal. It's funny, but things get subtly and progressively disturbing, until we find ourselves in Abu Ghraib, and suddenly it's not funny at all. Ronson relates how the hippy-dippy approach to winning hearts and minds evolved into an emphasis on interrogation and brainwashing, using loud music, subliminal messages, psychological humiliation, psychotropic drugs, and far, far worse.

One might ask, if a self-described British humor journalist can ferret out this stuff, why can't the big-time, serious journalists do it, too? Granted, some of Ronson's story is wide open to interpretation. Some of it is just beyond bizarre, and in that may lie the answer to the question. Reporting on intelligence and national security matters is difficult. Legitimate intelligence is not conducted in the open, and so-called black ops, even less so. Plus, there are laws governing the dissemination of classified material. Yet, some of the awfulness of Abu Ghraib was photographed by the perpetrators and splashed all over the media; some of the unpleasantness at the detention center at Guantanimo has been hinted at. It makes a sensation, and then goes away.

Part of the difficulty in reporting this is the problem of defining torture. Are stress positions torture? Loud music? Solitary confinement? The fact that we use these techniques to train our own special forces soldiers further complicates the question. Also, given the past actions of some captives, it's sometimes tempting to deny pity for them. It's relatively easy to label as torture the infliction of pain and write about it. But what about a feeling of hopelessness arising from not knowing whether one will ever be released? That's harder to convey in a soundbite.

Ronson brings up a particularly insightful point when he states that, when confronted with challenging revelations, we fit it into what we already know (or think we know); what doesn't fit, we discard. We all do it to some extent, and journalists are no exception. Many of the journalists I have known are a little lazy in their jobs (like many of us), and would prefer to go for the easy cliche than anything challenging a preconceived worldview.

Ronson points out that we already accept the concept that the CIA does nasty things, that war brings out the worst in some people. We "know" this because we've already read Tom Clancy and John LeCarre. We are appalled by the idea of torture, but we've seen it on 24 with that hunky Jack Bauer, so it doesn't appall us that much. This demonstrates that a story will be subsequently shaped by the way in which it is first spun. Also, when reporters found out that the Barney song was part of the supposed torture, it all seemed too funny to be taken seriously. We like the idea of terrorists being subjected to the purple dinosaur; after all, our kids have made us sit through it.
Profile Image for Nicole.
Author 5 books41 followers
February 23, 2018
I had this book on my radar because of a review I saw soon after it came out, long before they made the movie. But I saw the movie before I got around to buying the book. I like the movie a lot; it makes me laugh.
[later] I felt compelled to do some research while reading this book. I looked at Jim Channon's and Lyn Buchanan's websites; got Google pages full of results for "remote viewing", "PsyOps", and other terms and people; and saw that Amazon sells copies of Lyn Buchanan's and Joe McMoneagle's books, as well as what's supposed to be a printout of Jim Channon's "First Earth Battalion" report to the Army.
Any good idea can possibly be warped into something dangerous. There are always people within any large group who are willing to try anything, so I believe that people within the government and the military have considered an idea like remote viewing for their arsenals. I know how certain sounds I consider unpleasant affect me, so I believe that prisoners have been subjected to sounds or music. But there are a lot of things that no one can prove or disprove in the book. Channon, Buchanan, and others may be sincere...or they may be crazy...or they may be con artists. While there is a weird fascination factor to reading the stories of people far out in left field, we can't know if they're true; and many of the folks featured in the book are downright shifty. There are people who believe in remote viewing even though none of the visions they, or people they know, have had ever came true. There is no proof that anyone ever stared a goat--or even a hamster--to death. It's like any other matter of faith--it requires faith, because you can't prove it.
While Ronson's attempt to tie certain events to Channon's "FEB" writings is interesting, I think he spent too many pages on the mystery of what happened to Eric Olson's father. Ronson certainly showed how Eric's life had been taken over by the mystery; but the teenage bike trip story and some of the rest of it seemed more like a tangent. The end of the book sort of fizzles out.
About the movie: Consider the movie "inspired by" the book. Certain parts of the book--mostly the funnier incidents--were incorporated into the movie's plot. People's names were changed in some way; people's actions and attributes were blended to create movie characters; and events were created to further the plot. Ronson never got to tag along with anyone on a trip to Iraq and never engaged in any daring escape attempts.
Profile Image for Ensiform.
1,370 reviews139 followers
June 30, 2014
The documentarian examines how the US military intelligence community has attempted to make use of paranormal and extra-sensory techniques and how this has impacted the war on terror today. Ronson shows how Jim Channon, a US Army colonel, who wrote the “First Earth Battalion” manual which attempted to reorganize the military along non-lethal, New Age ideals such as pacifying the enemy with indigenous music, positive energy, or discordant sounds. He interviews people such as Guy Savelli, martial arts teacher who claims to have the Death Touch and to be able to kill goats by staring them to death, and who works with the US military. He talks with former members of the Stargate Project, a US-funded program that attempted to develop telepathy. He interviews General Albert Stubblebine, who apparently firmly believes that walking through walls is possible with the right mindset. He talks with guards at Abu Ghriab, and with detainees who have been blasted by US officials with inane pop songs and strobe lights, and possibly with music with subliminal messages (the “torture lite” that Tony Lagouranis details in Fear Up Harsh). He looks into the very dark secrets of MK-ULTRA (specifically Operation Artichoke, which attempted to subvert wills through forced drug use and hypnosis), and interviews a man who believes his brother, Frank Olson, was murdered over fears he would reveal it to the press.

Like Ronson’s previous book, Them: Adventures with Extremists, this is an alternately hilarious and deeply disturbing book; if even half of the things Ronson details are true (and there’s no reason to think that any part is false of exaggerated), America’s intelligence community was or is festooned with people who are not only amoral – that’s to be expected – but passionately ignorant. Basically, despite Ronson’s smooth prose, dry wit, and chummy writing style, this is a damn scary book.
Profile Image for Pink.
537 reviews502 followers
June 4, 2013
So many emotions. This book wasn't quite what I thought it would be...a humorous account of crackpot guys doing crazy things, such as trying to stop a goat's heart by the power of the mind. Okay well it was that. It also detailed events surrounding Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, 911, Waco, MK-ULTRA and the 'War on terror'. Jon Ronson wrote this in 2004 at a time when Iraq was just being handed back from coalition forces to the new Iraqi government (which of course has been a great success on all sides and everyone has moved on rapidly since then) This was also a time when recent press stories had circulated photos showing U.S. soldier Lynndie England parading an Iraqi prisoner naked by a dog leash. This book delves a little deeper, not so much into the rights or wrongs of the war, or the conspiracy theories, but into the bizarre tactics used by special forces within the U.S. Army, which may have led to such events. All of which is of course highly hush hush and top secret. However Jon Ronson has interviewed many people for the book, from several retired military servicemen to an innocent Guantanamo Bay detainee, as well as others and they all have incredible stories. Obviously some were more tight lipped than others.

For me this book ended up not being the amusing read I was expecting, but it was definitely intriguing, shocking and fascinating. On the whole though it has left me feeling quite angry (but take note, if your allegiance is more right wing and pro war on terror, this book may annoy you for completely different reasons than it does me)

It has also increased my understanding of why so many people develop conspiracy theories.

I'll leave this review with a great quote from near the end of the book -

'Remember that the crazy people are not always to be found on the outside. Sometimes the crazy people are deeply embedded on the inside. Not even the most imaginative conspiracy theorist has ever thought to invent a scenario in which a crack team of Special Forces soldiers and major generals secretly try to walk through their walls and stare goats to death'
Profile Image for Ross Blocher.
432 reviews1,387 followers
September 6, 2022
Jon Ronson takes us on a wide-ranging look at the U.S. military's various dalliances with the paranormal: from remote viewing to cloudbusting to subliminal messaging to... yes, trying to stop the hearts of goats by staring at them. I first listened to this as an audiobook, because Ronson's delivery is entertaining and dryly comedic. His voice also imbues his journalistic questions with a plaintive, beseeching cast that one might not perceive while reading. However, when I went to write a review, I realized that I couldn't explain how these various stories were connected, and I wanted to embed them more indelibly in my head anyway, so I re-read the physical book.

The narrative is structured around a wild cast of characters that Ronson manages to corner: mostly former but also current members of the U.S. military and intelligence. There's a pattern: Ronson gets someone to share freely until they hit some wall of "I shouldn't be telling you this" or accidentally share something they didn't want to tell him. He'll then press, perhaps squeeze another detail or two, and hopefully catch the name of someone else involved that he can similarly pursue. The person who starts him on this journey is the unlikely (and yet, irritatingly likely) Uri Geller. You may remember him as a famous [and fake] spoon bender, who had bragged in various outlets about aiding the U.S. military as a psychic spy in the early 70s. When Ronson presses him in 2001, soon after 9/11, Geller admits that he's been "reactivated" by someone named Ron.

When Ronson talks to Major General Albert Stubblebine III (the guy who tried to walk through a wall as depicted by George Clooney in the film adaptation) about this, Stubblebine simply admits, "Yeah, I know Ron", and laments that psychic spies should keep their damn mouths shut. We never get to the bottom of who Ron is, but Stubblebine mentions Mike Echanis, supposedly the guy who can stop a goat's heart by staring alone, and who was also behind the ubiquitous "Be all that you can be" recruitment jingle. Ronson can't talk to Echanis because he's dead, likely from being run over by a jeep in a display of bravado.

He does find Jim Channon, a retired Lieutenant Colonel who founded the "First Earth Battalion", a group tasked after Vietnam with finding non-lethal ways to win over enemies and usher forth a hippie's vision of world peace and unity. The group produced an illustrated operations manual that taught such techniques as "sparkly eyes" for disarming others with a gaze, and mystifying enemies with noises and holograms. Its super soldiers would be vegetarians, sense plant auras, walk through walls, bend metal with their minds, and walk on fire. This vibe clashed as much as you might imagine with military culture, but the program's efforts would yield wide-ranging and unexpected effects.

Another source for Ronson is the well-connected Col. John Alexander. He wouldn't answer about Ron, but denied that Echanis was the goat-starer: he said that honor went to Guy Savelli. Ronson tracks down Savelli, who is teaching martial arts and dance in a strip mall. He agrees to having killed the goat, but his only evidence is a VHS tape of him momentarily disorienting a hamster. Supposedly the other tape of a hamster dying is too intense to show. So much of this reminded me of tests of the paranormal I've participated in: the reality never quite matching up to the bold claims. In a similar story, one vaunted soldier is rumored to have psychically drawn a key to a long-bolted door. Ronson finds out that the soldier actually just picked the lock, but didn't want to ruin a good story. As far as I can tell, that's the real common thread in all these tales: the eternal motif of people buying into hype. These just happen to be military people, so their beliefs shape life-and-death situations... and world events.

For example, Stuart Heller, another top "First Earth Battalion Guy", unknowingly trained two of the 9/11 hijackers. Military psychic and remote viewer Ed Dames went on Art Bell's show to make drastic claims about cataclysmic events (none of which, thankfully, came true). One of his students, Courtney Brown, also appeared on Coast to Coast and promoted a doctored image of a Saturn-like object accompanying the Hale-Bopp comet, warning of an alien intelligence that inhabited it. Little did he know this hoax would inspire 39 members of the Heaven's Gate cult to kill themselves in anticipation of ascending to join the object.

"PsyOps" also played a significant role in the Iraq war, especially when it came to interrogation techniques. Most of us remember the news story about Barney the Dinosaur's "I Love You" song being played on loop as a form of torture. Another major news item, the horrendous photos of U.S. soldiers sexually abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib, is revealed here to have been directed by PsyOps folks "higher up", and was not just the result of bored soldiers getting their jollies. Similarly, devout Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo were smeared with the menstrual blood of prostitutes, or exposed to subliminal sounds accompanying a playlist of contemporary music. This last piece of information becomes a real mystery for Ronson, who has a really hard time getting anyone to be specific about whether subliminal audio messages were used (let alone how they would work). This also played out in world events, with the siege at Waco featuring blasted music inspired by PsyOps and the work of a Russian experimenter named Igor Smirnov, who was recruited to transmit the "voice of God" directly into David Koresh's head. This last plan was scrapped, but Charlton Heston would have played God. All of this was quite dark, often disastrous, and a far cry from the hippie-like intentions of the First Earth Battalion.

The U.S.'s experiments with torture and undue influence had a darker antecedent: MK-ULTRA. The stuff of conspiracy theories (but actually true), MK-ULTRA (and its torture-focused sister project, Artichoke) was a 1953-1963 program that sought to create super soldiers (à la The Manchurian Candidate) and to exert mind control and elicit forced confessions. MK-ULTRA experimented with drugs, and the program's director Sidney Gottlieb even recruited magician John Mulholland to teach his agents how to slip substances into peoples' drinks and food. This happened to one of the agency's own agents, Frank Olson, who was unknowingly given LSD in 1953 (that's right, we have the CIA to thank for introducing LSD to the U.S.) in order to extract a confession. He knew too much about Project Artichoke and was threatening to tell the press: he was killed soon thereafter. The cover-up involved in this murder became the obsession of his son, Eric Olson. Ronson connects with Eric and tells his story in the order it was revealed to him. I was very impressed by the concise and cohesive delivery of this complicated take, having read much about it elsewhere. For an incredibly thorough treatment, read Poisoner in Chief by Stephen Kinzer, and for a tediously drawn-out documentary telling, see Wormwood on Netflix.

Reading The Men Who Stare at Goats drove me to finally watch the 2009 star-studded film adaptation. It's fine, but not a replacement for the book. It doesn't share any of the interesting real-world connections, though it preserves fun elements such as walking through walls, cloudbusting, goat-staring, "sparkly eyes", and even a menacing plastic weapon called "the predator", through characters loosely based on the ones in the book following a newly invented plot line. One particularly fun nod is the mention of a "real-life Obi-Wan Kenobi" (Ed Dames is called this in the book) by Ewan McGregor, who had recently played Obi-Wan in the Star Wars prequels.

The book is a worthwhile read, full of humor and fascinating stories-behind-the-stories I'll be telling at many cocktail parties to come.
Profile Image for Hillbilly.
469 reviews19 followers
September 24, 2016
Jon Ronson is a bloody mad man willing to research the most interesting topics. He will go from telling a Grand Wizard of the KKK to the head of intelligence for US Army to shove it up his jacksy. Throughout this book I once again realized why I became a social worker and not a soldier. I do not deal well with pain or super jocks who like to wrassle to prove their virility. I'm more like a nebbishy nerd who would rather read than inflict PSYOPS, physical torture and kill people in the name of freedom. However I would like to get down on the Jedi Warrior program. I am pretty sure I could cloud burst and drop goats with my mind already and growing up taking mail order ninja classes I have mastered invisibility.
Profile Image for George Ilsley.
Author 12 books237 followers
November 22, 2021
There's a wasp in your house—surely I'm not the only one who uses hidden powers to direct the wasp back out through the open window!

I know, I know. Most of you just ask politely, please wasp, please go away.

This book is jocular and serious. It is a little astonishing to realize the range of opinions held within a vast organization such as the U.S. military, but that is surely a strength. Or it can be.

Having grown up on sensational tales of ESP experiments "Behind the Iron Curtain!" and then, later, the "remote viewing" practices in the U.S., this book did not seem all that fantastic. And yet it does have a surreal aura, a feeling of life in an alternate universe.

Three stars because while interesting, and at times fascinating, I wanted a little more.
Profile Image for Nigeyb.
1,243 reviews280 followers
June 26, 2020
I'm a confirmed Jon Ronson fan. Somehow I'd not got round to reading The Men Who Stare at Goats until now.

It's slightly less coherent than his best work but still contains Jon's customary knack of uncovering stories which hold up a mirror to just how bizarre life on planet Earth can be. Jon insists all that this book contains is true, and frankly it's too bizarre to be invented.

By way of example, early on we meet Major General Albert Stubblebine III in Arlington, Virginia, who is convinced he can walk through walls despite repeated failure, and a secret unit in which psyops soldiers stare at goats with the aim of killing them.

If that sounds improbable, wait until you read about Lieutenant Colonel Jim Channon who, post Vietnam, set up the First Earth Battalion whose soldiers, it was proposed, would greet people with sparkly eyes and give the enemy an automatic hug. Jon Ronson draws a line from this idealism to the techniques employed at Guantanamo Bay, and the torture and prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.

It's depressing, jaw dropping, sporadically funny, and plain bizarre.


Profile Image for Atila Iamarino.
411 reviews4,384 followers
July 14, 2016
Esse livro tem tanta coisa bizarra que parece mentira, mas o pior é que é verdade, pelo menos em grande parte. Um relato sobre as várias tentativas do exército e da CIA americanos de fazer soldados com habilidades além das normais. Como atravessar paredes, fazer projeção astral (eles chamam de visão remota) e matar cabras com o poder da mente (daí o título). O que realmente aconteceu. O que não parece ser verdade é que a cabra morreu. Mas o ponto todo do livro não é de longe se dava certo ou não (Ron Jonson não parece dar muita atenção para o quão plausíveis são os poderes), mas sim o que e como tentaram, o que só reforça o tom bizarro da situação. Rápido de ler (ouvir pelo menos) e bem curioso. Só preciso ver o filme para saber o quão bem adaptado foi.
Profile Image for Elena Papadopol.
496 reviews37 followers
June 15, 2022
Foarte interesant subiectul si foarte fain documentat, mi-a placut mult mai mult decat ma asteptam.

In dragoste si in razboi totul e permis - autorul ne arata concret cum se poate aplica si in realitate aceasta expresie.

Recomand si filmul, desi sunt cateva abateri de la actiunea din carte :).
Profile Image for Razvan Banciu.
1,085 reviews64 followers
April 7, 2023
One of the poorest books I've ever met. Tons of crazy and clumsy (even idiotical...) characters, a teased tepid action, an awkward sense of humor, I've felt punished reading it. Perhaps ecologists should take a stand in order to defend the forests...
Profile Image for Becky.
411 reviews80 followers
June 17, 2021
this is the third book of jon ronson’s that i’ve read and it didn’t disappoint! i love how accessible his writing is because non-fiction is often pretty dense and daunting. i flew through this, and its focus on the military - a topic i’m not naturally drawn to - was the only thing which prevented me from giving this a five star
Profile Image for Erik Graff.
5,030 reviews1,164 followers
January 18, 2012
Every year a friend of my roommate comes here from Canada to attend a bookseller's convention downtown and every year he brings the two of us books from his store in Manitoba. One of them this year was Ronson's The Men Who Stare at Goats.

Even though I'd seen the movie, I hadn't known there was a book behind it nor that its author, Jon Ronson, had also authored the book on political extremism that Mike Miley had had me read a couple of years ago while visiting him in California. Like Them: Adventure with Extremists, The Men Who Star at Goats skirts serious issues with humor and irony. Like the former, this recent book is an historical account, not of its ostensible subject, bur of the author's own investigation.

The subject of this book is PsychOps, the substantially black-budget governmental experiments with mind control and psychological warfare which extend back as far as the early CIA in the fifties and which continue today, most notably in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Ronson's particular foci are the persons and events featured in the much truncated movie based on this book, events going back to the seventies, and on U.S. Army PsychOps in Iraq at the time of composition. The book begins with silliness, with attempts to walk through solid objects and to become invisible, but ends with the very serious business of contemporary torture and mass-manipulation practices. In between there is considerable discussion of actual remote viewing studies, of subliminal attitude adjustment techniques, of crowd control methods, of the governmentally sanctioned murder of an Army/CIA agent in the mid-fifties, of the mass murder of the families in Waco in the nineties and of the dubiously sophisticated torture techniques employed by the United States in Iraq and Cuba. While often funny, Ronson does occasionally reflect upon the material he uncovers with earnest intention, particularly as regards how the enormity of many governmental practices is concealed even when it is revealed.

Having read many books about the subjects Ronson covers, I found little that I didn't already know. Yet in some cases Ronson, who conducted many interviews of principals, comes up with details I'd not seen previously published.

This book is strongly recommended as an easy-to-read introduction to the topics discussed. I finished the thing in two sittings and could have finished it in one, finding it actually much more "entertaining" than the motion picture and, while equally funny, much more provocative.
Profile Image for Thomas Edmund.
937 reviews58 followers
July 25, 2011
The Men Who Stare at Goats is a 'mockumentry' claiming to expose the exploits of the American Government's attempts to ultilize psyhic phenomenon to further their war efforts.

The book is journalist/biography style with the author making contact with numerous military figures all somehow linked to 'psy-ops'. Rather than covering a coherent story format this book reads as a series of gags and irony ridden tales of the military's attempts to train their own X-men.

Ronson crafts a bizarre conspiracy, linking 'psy-ops' to the Abu Gharib prison photos, the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Vietnam. And while I respect his quircky semi-intellectual humour, I couldn't help but consider Ronson's book mildly insensitive. Certainly I realise that I'm not meant to take these ideas seriously, but I can't help feeling Ronson has had some half-baked ideas that are propped up by adding a bit of real life tragedy.

The Men Who Stare at Goats is a good airplane, or bus stop read, but without a real central story, and lacking real depth it might be better spending your time reading Bad Science or The Daily What for the same level of material, with some genuine learning involved.
Profile Image for Rohith.
32 reviews5 followers
October 21, 2020
Ronson was always ahead of the curve investigating topics before they became mainstream. Extremism, conspiracy theories, military overreach, among others. It's good to be reminded of what journalism used to be like.
Profile Image for Nick Davies.
1,530 reviews44 followers
February 27, 2018
This fell a little flat for me. Despite Jon Ronson's writing being approachable and not without humour, despite here him investigating an apparently interesting subject and putting in a lot of research, despite having enjoyed two other books of his about psychopathy and social media shaming, this was a bit disappointing.

I put this down to the subject, not the author. A book about the US military/authorities attempts to harness psychology in terms of warfare and covert operations etc. did 'on paper' sound interesting to me. However I am not that concerned about conspiracies, about the morality or immorality of authority, and I don't waste much effort assuming there are things being hidden from me by those in power. A lot of the aspects of what is discussed here just sound utterly misguided and stupid when examined, and in the end it all came over like the author wrote a book about a small number of people who for a time believed crackpot theories. A bit like someone telling you about this thing they once heard from a bloke down the pub...
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