“Imagineers of War”

Author Sharon Weinberger will give a talk about her new book on the history of DARPA, titled “Imagineers of War” on Monday, June 5, 2017 in Howell Auditorium at noon.



Based on exclusive interviews with senior Pentagon officials and previously unseen declassified documents, this is the definitive history of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency–the Pentagon agency that has quietly shaped war and technology for nearly sixty years.

Founded in 1958 in response to the launch of Sputnik, the agency’s original mission was to create “the unimagined weapons of the future.”Over the decades, DARPA has been responsible for countless inventions and technologies that extend well beyond military technology. Sharon Weinberger gives us a riveting account of DARPA’s successes and failures, its remarkable innovations, and its wild-eyed schemes. We see how the threat of nuclear Armageddon sparked investment in computer networking, leading to the Internet, as well as to a proposal to power a missile-destroying particle beam by draining the Great Lakes. We learn how DARPA was responsible during the Vietnam War for both Agent Orange and the development of the world’s first armed drones, and how after 9/11 the agency sparked a national controversy over surveillance with its data-mining research. And we see how DARPA’s success with self-driving cars was followed by disappointing contributions to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

Weinberger has interviewed more than one hundred former Pentagon officials and scientists involved in DARPA’s projects—many of whom have never spoken publicly about their work with the agency—and pored over countless declassified records from archives around the country, documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, and exclusive materials provided by sources. The Imagineers of War is a compelling and groundbreaking history in which science, technology, and politics collide.

Bio: Sharon Weinberger is the executive editor for news at Foreign Policy magazine. Previously, she was the National Security Editor at The Intercept, where she directed the publication’s defense and intelligence coverage. Her most recent book, published in March, is The Imagineers of War: The Untold Story of DARPA, the Pentagon Agency That Changed the World (Knopf, 2017). She was a Radcliffe Institute Fellow at Harvard in 2015-2016, a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT in 2008-2009, and she is currently a non-resident global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.  She has also been an International Reporting Project Fellow at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, an Alicia Patterson Fellow, a Carnegie Fellow at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, a Nation Institute Investigative Fellow, and a Carnegie Newhouse Legal Reporting Fellow. She received her B.A. from Johns Hopkins University, and holds an M.A. from the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and an M.A. in Russian and East European Studies from Yale University. Her writing has appeared in Nature, Discover, BBC.com, Slate, Wired, the Washington Post, Foreign Policy, and the Financial Times, among other publications



If you have heard of this Pentagon agency, you will know it as the place that brought you the internet, the laser and the stealth fighter. Sharon Weinberger’s groundbreaking book The Imagineers of War, however, reveals how that mythology is the result of some pretty tight PR control by DARPA, exposing as much as she can of a far more uncomfortable truth.

– New Scientist


– “The Imagineers of War …. explores the stories behind a slew of Darpa’s fabled research projects. Her chronicle is a more complex portrait of the agency than the admiring caricature of it that currently holds sway in the media.

– Jon Gertner, Wall Street Journal


“[A] fascinating and absorbing history… Weinberger’s account, based on extensive and meticulous research, reveals surprising twists in the recent history of the age-old entanglement between knowledge and power.”

—David Kaiser, Nature


“Her account is critical but not mocking…a well-researched contribution to the history of U.S. military technology.”

—Lawrence D. Freedman, Foreign Affairs


“[A] defining behind-the-scenes look at the confluence of defense politics and technological prowess. Exploring silly schemes as well as sensible ideas, distinguished military science and technology expert Weinberger profiles the crusaders who thought outside the box in service to their country and their own limitless creativity.”



“They are the wizards of war, the faceless scientists who fight the battles of the future in lab coats instead of body  armor, turning insects into remote control cyborgs and designing warships without crews.  In her new book, Sharon Weinberger has placed one of the government’s most secret laboratories, DARPA, under an electron microscope and discovered a world far beyond anyone’s imagination.”

—James Bamford, bestselling author of The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA, from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America.


“From the Internet of today to the robots of tomorrow, DARPA has shaped not just the technology of war, but our day to day lives. Sharon Weinberger’s The Imagineers of War lays out its untold history in an easy and informative read, along the way, reshaping the way you will look at events that range from the Vietnam War to the War on Terror.”

—P.W. Singer, author of Ghost Fleet and Wired for War


“A deep organizational history rather than a technological chronicle. [Weinberger] scours reams of archival material and interviews former officials…revealing a highly secretive organization with a fittingly mixed legacy.”

—Publishers Weekly