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Nuking the Moon: And Other Intelligence Schemes and Military Plots Left on the Drawing Board

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The International Spy Museum's Historian takes us on a wild tour of missions, schemes, and weapons that were planned, but ultimately deemed too dangerous, expensive, ahead of their time, or even certifiably insane In 1958, the US Air Force nuked the moon as a show of military might. In 1967, the CIA implanted recording devices in live cats and sent them into Russia as spies The International Spy Museum's Historian takes us on a wild tour of missions, schemes, and weapons that were planned, but ultimately deemed too dangerous, expensive, ahead of their time, or even certifiably insane In 1958, the US Air Force nuked the moon as a show of military might. In 1967, the CIA implanted recording devices in live cats and sent them into Russia as spies. In 1942, the British built an aircraft carrier made of ice and sawdust, impervious to German torpedoes. Of course, none of these things ever happened. But in Nuking the Moon, intelligence historian Vincent Houghton shows us that what didn't happen is just as illuminating, and every bit as engrossing. WWII and the Cold War were periods of desperation and innovation, a combination that led to brilliant missions and technological advances. But for every Argo or Operation Mincemeat, there were countless abandoned plans. Some are laughable, like the US Navy's plan to train pigeons to pilot missiles; some are implausible, like the Kennedy administration's plan to build a command center 4,000 feet underground; and some are legitimately terrifying, like the cornucopia of US plans to justify attacking Cuba. Through extensive archival research and expert interviews, Vincent Houghton has dug up more than thirty of these fascinating abandoned plans, and recounts the story behind each one in vivid, captivating detail, revealing not only what might have happened, but also what each one tells us about the history and people around it. The first-ever book to bring these historical episodes together, this wholly original work--alternatively terrifying and hilarious, but always riveting--is the unique story of history left on the drawing board.


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The International Spy Museum's Historian takes us on a wild tour of missions, schemes, and weapons that were planned, but ultimately deemed too dangerous, expensive, ahead of their time, or even certifiably insane In 1958, the US Air Force nuked the moon as a show of military might. In 1967, the CIA implanted recording devices in live cats and sent them into Russia as spies The International Spy Museum's Historian takes us on a wild tour of missions, schemes, and weapons that were planned, but ultimately deemed too dangerous, expensive, ahead of their time, or even certifiably insane In 1958, the US Air Force nuked the moon as a show of military might. In 1967, the CIA implanted recording devices in live cats and sent them into Russia as spies. In 1942, the British built an aircraft carrier made of ice and sawdust, impervious to German torpedoes. Of course, none of these things ever happened. But in Nuking the Moon, intelligence historian Vincent Houghton shows us that what didn't happen is just as illuminating, and every bit as engrossing. WWII and the Cold War were periods of desperation and innovation, a combination that led to brilliant missions and technological advances. But for every Argo or Operation Mincemeat, there were countless abandoned plans. Some are laughable, like the US Navy's plan to train pigeons to pilot missiles; some are implausible, like the Kennedy administration's plan to build a command center 4,000 feet underground; and some are legitimately terrifying, like the cornucopia of US plans to justify attacking Cuba. Through extensive archival research and expert interviews, Vincent Houghton has dug up more than thirty of these fascinating abandoned plans, and recounts the story behind each one in vivid, captivating detail, revealing not only what might have happened, but also what each one tells us about the history and people around it. The first-ever book to bring these historical episodes together, this wholly original work--alternatively terrifying and hilarious, but always riveting--is the unique story of history left on the drawing board.

30 review for Nuking the Moon: And Other Intelligence Schemes and Military Plots Left on the Drawing Board

  1. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    This book is of some interest to those interested in science, the cold war, espionage, or historical oddities. However, it could have been a better book than it is if the author hadn't tried quite so hard to be so "cute". I actually struggle to categorize the writing in this book. Some people call it "dumbing down" but I don't think it's that. Rather, it is the kind of writing that is trying too hard to "reach" people who otherwise hate to read by throwing in all kinds of snarky comments, pop-cu This book is of some interest to those interested in science, the cold war, espionage, or historical oddities. However, it could have been a better book than it is if the author hadn't tried quite so hard to be so "cute". I actually struggle to categorize the writing in this book. Some people call it "dumbing down" but I don't think it's that. Rather, it is the kind of writing that is trying too hard to "reach" people who otherwise hate to read by throwing in all kinds of snarky comments, pop-culture references, and other efforts at "lightening the mood". I'd include an example, but it would be too much work to transcribe and not really worth the effort. Perhaps I am a snob on this, and certainly I am persnickety, but I just loathe this kind of effort to "win readers" by appealing to what I think is the lowest common denominator type of intellectual referent. I think there are plenty of authors out there who write very accessibly, do not engage in such low-brow tricks, and yet who are avidly followed by hordes of readers. As a case in point, the highly accessible and thrilling book BLIND MAN'S BLUFF, which relates some of the hidden history of Cold War US submarine operations, is very straightforwardly written and is readable and popular. Luckily this volume was a short read, and I do wish it had been better.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Shane Hawk

    Spook history from a spook historian Some very laughable moments when one realizes the full potential of our [clandestine] overseers’ incompetence. Houghton’s humor was not for me but made for an easier and informal read. It would’ve been more enjoyable for me if it weren’t for his giddiness for spies and arms, and his random tangents on Russian collusion and climate change. One can wholeheartedly feel the intelligence agencies’ input in this production and I should have figured that going into i Spook history from a spook historian Some very laughable moments when one realizes the full potential of our [clandestine] overseers’ incompetence. Houghton’s humor was not for me but made for an easier and informal read. It would’ve been more enjoyable for me if it weren’t for his giddiness for spies and arms, and his random tangents on Russian collusion and climate change. One can wholeheartedly feel the intelligence agencies’ input in this production and I should have figured that going into it.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy Hunter

    Nuking The Moon was an entertaining book about various military and intelligence plans that never got off the drawing board. Most of the schemes discussed fell into the categories of too expensive or ridiculous. Houghton writes about CIA plans to use housecats as listening devices, unsupervised nuclear weapons floating out at sea, and spray painting foxes in dayglo colors to scare the Japanese people. At times, this book runs the gamut of frightening and hilarious.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Matthew J.

    A whole bunch of really, really bad ideas (and a few interesting ones that just didn't work out) are explored in this book of failures. From exploding bats, to giant space mirrors, to the titular nuking of the Moon, Dr. Vince Houghton takes us on a guided tour through the drawing boards (and frighteningly the test sites) of some strange ideas. For History and tech buffs, this one is a must read. But it's also just fun (and scary) if you want good stories well told. Dr. Houghton's style is conver A whole bunch of really, really bad ideas (and a few interesting ones that just didn't work out) are explored in this book of failures. From exploding bats, to giant space mirrors, to the titular nuking of the Moon, Dr. Vince Houghton takes us on a guided tour through the drawing boards (and frighteningly the test sites) of some strange ideas. For History and tech buffs, this one is a must read. But it's also just fun (and scary) if you want good stories well told. Dr. Houghton's style is conversational and filled with humor. (I actually know Vince, and the book reads just like he talks, which is great, because he's an excellent storyteller). He doesn't drown you in technobabble. He doesn't talk down to you or past you. You don't need to be an expert to 'get' it. You'll recognize some of the names of folks who get wrapped up in these bad ideas. You'll remember a few of the headlines that came from them...at least the ones that made a public splash. A few ideas were more victims of timing than of conception, but many should never have been considered, and certainly not funded for any amount of time. I can't promise this book will help you sleep better, 'cause you know bad ideas are still out there.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Dayna

    What a marvelous dinner guest Mr. Houghton must be! This book was highly informative & written in a witty, down-to-earth manner. I received an ARC from a Goodreads giveaway shortly after paying my taxes & had to laugh at the follies financed by my sweat & blood. I actually prefer having my money go toward such lunacy than to our corrupt mayor who is running the city into debt (while collecting 200K/year for a 2 hour consultation from a bank) or our useless governor with the voice - b What a marvelous dinner guest Mr. Houghton must be! This book was highly informative & written in a witty, down-to-earth manner. I received an ARC from a Goodreads giveaway shortly after paying my taxes & had to laugh at the follies financed by my sweat & blood. I actually prefer having my money go toward such lunacy than to our corrupt mayor who is running the city into debt (while collecting 200K/year for a 2 hour consultation from a bank) or our useless governor with the voice - but not the charisma - of Kermit the Frog.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mal Warwick

    Imagine you've just wandered into the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC. You run into the museum's historian in the hallway, and for some reason he opens up to you. In the coffee shop downstairs, he starts telling you about all the crazy stuff that never made it off the drawing board at the CIA and the Pentagon. And it's hard not to listen, because he speaks in a breezy, conversational style, and he's often funny. These are comic misadventures that are sometimes, well, comic. And that's Imagine you've just wandered into the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC. You run into the museum's historian in the hallway, and for some reason he opens up to you. In the coffee shop downstairs, he starts telling you about all the crazy stuff that never made it off the drawing board at the CIA and the Pentagon. And it's hard not to listen, because he speaks in a breezy, conversational style, and he's often funny. These are comic misadventures that are sometimes, well, comic. And that's exactly what you'll find when you open up Nuking the Moon. The author is Vince Houghton, and, yes, he's the museum's historian and curator. Now, that's actually Dr. Houghton. He holds a PhD in Diplomatic and Military History from the University of Maryland. He's an Army veteran besides. But there's nothing in Nuking the Moon that's suggestive of Pentagon bureaucracy or wooden academic jargon. Houghton relates a long list of cockamamie schemes—some of them silly, even downright stupid, and some dangerous beyond belief—that ostensibly serious and intelligent men (it was almost always men) dreamed up in the name of national security over the past three-quarters of a century. As the author explains, "Most history books are full of stories of things that happened; this is a history book full of stories behind things that didn't happen." The comic misadventures in national security that you never heard about Along the way in this recitation of comic misadventures, you'll meet a smattering of name-brand individuals: Ronald Reagan, Edward Teller, Werner von Braun, and Carl Sagan, as well as others who were equally accomplished but less well known. And every one of them at some point in his storied career got behind some unbelievably stupid (and usually expensive) plan to do something like embedding a listening device in a cat or exploding a nuclear weapon on the moon. The CIA actually field-tested what they called Acoustic Kitty (it got run over by a car) and that nuke was never rocketed to the moon because the Cold War ended. Yes, as Houghton notes, "all of these stories should have you saying, 'What were they thinking?'" And believe me, you'll be saying that.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Read Ng

    I saw the title and immediately wanted to read this. I love the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC. How can an Historian from this museum not write an entertaining and informative book? Houghton does deliver. I was really fascinated and enjoyed the first part of this book. Houghton's writing is very conversational. His writing somewhat parallels my own. I was immediately captivated. Up to the end of Part II, everything was shiny, new, and outlandish. Just my type of book, filled with inter I saw the title and immediately wanted to read this. I love the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC. How can an Historian from this museum not write an entertaining and informative book? Houghton does deliver. I was really fascinated and enjoyed the first part of this book. Houghton's writing is very conversational. His writing somewhat parallels my own. I was immediately captivated. Up to the end of Part II, everything was shiny, new, and outlandish. Just my type of book, filled with interesting tidbits of life and the thought process reflective of the times. But starting at the tail end of Part II, I started to discover that most of the rest of the book I already knew about the existence of a majority of the programs discussed. My expectations where not met, but I had set a pretty high bar. For those naive to the subject, you will love this book. It is a great series of stories told in a friendly bar table manner. For me personally, I would have liked more obscure information and trivial of facts I wasn't already aware of. This was a GoodReads. I hope it leads to a sequel, uncovering more wacky projects that I wasn't expecting.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jc

    Nuking the Moon is lighter and funnier [hilarious even] than I was expecting. But Houghton, the International Spy Museum's (DC) historian seems to have a more serious purpose in mind than just telling funny anecdotes about how ridiculous government and the world of spying/intelligence can be. He also seems to be warning us all that the sort of lunatic-fringe thinking that was behind these bizarre and terrifying almost-missteps in American intelligence is still with us. We remain in constant dang Nuking the Moon is lighter and funnier [hilarious even] than I was expecting. But Houghton, the International Spy Museum's (DC) historian seems to have a more serious purpose in mind than just telling funny anecdotes about how ridiculous government and the world of spying/intelligence can be. He also seems to be warning us all that the sort of lunatic-fringe thinking that was behind these bizarre and terrifying almost-missteps in American intelligence is still with us. We remain in constant danger of new, just as ambitious, and just as stupid, covert actions destroying our life-styles, our safety, and possibly even our very existence. One of the funniest yet quite sobering books about bad ideas you will ever read. Plus, you will learn why cats do not make good spies.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Todd

    This book was fascinating and bonkers! It is pretty crazy all the things governments have done, tried to do, or contemplated doing. If stories about implanting recording/transmitting devices into cats to spy on the Russian embassy or attempting to attach immolation devices on bats to use in world war II sounds interesting; then this book is for you. Sometimes these plans work well and other times they don't like when the U.S. tested the bats with the immolation devices only to release the bats f This book was fascinating and bonkers! It is pretty crazy all the things governments have done, tried to do, or contemplated doing. If stories about implanting recording/transmitting devices into cats to spy on the Russian embassy or attempting to attach immolation devices on bats to use in world war II sounds interesting; then this book is for you. Sometimes these plans work well and other times they don't like when the U.S. tested the bats with the immolation devices only to release the bats from the plane too early and have them catch the military base on fire rather than the test field.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mathieu Gaudreault

    A funny and fascinating book to read. From killing or humiliating Castro(losing his beard) to building a nuclear spacecraft(project Orion). The authors uses popular culture to help understand those wack projects. Its not a contrefactuals. There 21 chapters in 4 différents sections(Animal,wack operations, extraordinary technology (including Nazi mirror satellite) and the last section is about nuclear projects. A must have book about secret projects unless you are from Florida(read the book and know A funny and fascinating book to read. From killing or humiliating Castro(losing his beard) to building a nuclear spacecraft(project Orion). The authors uses popular culture to help understand those wack projects. Its not a contrefactuals. There 21 chapters in 4 différents sections(Animal,wack operations, extraordinary technology (including Nazi mirror satellite) and the last section is about nuclear projects. A must have book about secret projects unless you are from Florida(read the book and know why).

  11. 4 out of 5

    David

    I'd already heard about several of the stories in this book via other sources but not all and not in as much detail generally. A fascinating read, though much like a collection of short stories, some are more interesting than others. Written in an engaging and very humorous style, it was well worth reading for anyone with any interest in espionage or military history or just curious as to WTF were they thinking??? Seriously??? The glow in the dark foxes particularly seem to have amused several f I'd already heard about several of the stories in this book via other sources but not all and not in as much detail generally. A fascinating read, though much like a collection of short stories, some are more interesting than others. Written in an engaging and very humorous style, it was well worth reading for anyone with any interest in espionage or military history or just curious as to WTF were they thinking??? Seriously??? The glow in the dark foxes particularly seem to have amused several friends and family members as it continues to be brought up randomly in conversation now.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sean Kottke

    Entertaining overall. The author has a conversational style that is welcoming, although a snarky streak occasionally reminds me of a writing style I associate with the self-published. The most outrageous stories are in the first and final thirds, with some (by comparison) mundane secret military projects in the middle. This was an especially good read to accompany Independence Day weekend binging of the third season of "Stranger Things" and of "Chernobyl."

  13. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Shawn

    An incredibly fun look at half-baked, abandoned, top secret, and off-the-wall ideas that have come to pass through the military and intelligence arms of the US and others. From using a cat as a listening device, to literally nuking the moon as a show of force, to using glow in the dark foxes to scare Japanese civilians, these stories are enough to make you question the "intelligence" part of our spy agencies. Quick, breezy reading, perfect for digesting a chapter or two at a time.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Terzah

    Houghton is a historian at the Spy Museum in Washington D.C. This book documents some of the military and espionage schemes that the government considered but (fortunately) abandoned. A lot of it was funny, and the author has a nice light touch, but it was also sobering, especially the stuff involving animals, which was often downright cruel. It makes you wonder....what wild plans are in the works right now? And will we be smart enough to abandon them?

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sherry

    These were think tanks? Bombing bats to fight the Japanese in WWII or covert cats retrofitted to spy during the cold war. A fascinating read, though much like a collection of short stories, some are more interesting than others. Written in an engaging and very humorous style, it was well worth reading for anyone with any interest in espionage or military history or just curious as to WTF were they thinking??? Seriously???

  16. 5 out of 5

    Nissa

    What a fantastic book. I literally could not put this book down, read it straight through. Very informative, and humorous. Not dry at all! I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in military history. I want to thank Penguin-Random House for sending me a free copy of this book for an honest review.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ian Hamilton

    This is a remotely entertaining and quick read for the espionage nut but probably has little or no appeal beyond the niche reader - too much redundancy in content; could have been half the length and included more oddities around the non-technical side of all things espionage; needlessly quirky in many areas.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sean

    Pop history of crazy ideas put forward by various Western (read US) intelligence and military agencies over the years. A fun read but very much pop history with the author talking directly to the reader and pop culture reference liberally sprinkled through. Contrary to the very serious historian tone taken in the introduction, he is often very judgemental of the projects involved. Also he took a totally unnecessary swipe at counterfactual history in the introduction which I found very annoying. Pop history of crazy ideas put forward by various Western (read US) intelligence and military agencies over the years. A fun read but very much pop history with the author talking directly to the reader and pop culture reference liberally sprinkled through. Contrary to the very serious historian tone taken in the introduction, he is often very judgemental of the projects involved. Also he took a totally unnecessary swipe at counterfactual history in the introduction which I found very annoying. Still, an amusing read.

  19. 5 out of 5

    David

    This book made me laugh and made me wonder, "What?!?!?!?!" A fascinating look at some of "outside the box" plans that, thankfully, never made it beyond planning -- we wasted lots of money and time, but at least we didn't nuke the moon.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Beard

    Houghton is a good history writer and a good storyteller. His sense of humor is probably more effective in person than it is in writing, and his effort to make jokes often undermines the effectiveness of his prose. But overall enjoyable.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Brian DeVries

    If Vince Houghton was a high school STEM teacher, every one of his students would grow up to be a scientist. It's a good thing that Mr. Houghton shares these stories with a such a great sense of humor, otherwise they would scare the reader to death.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

    This was a quick, entertaining and informative book. I found myself laughing out loud at some of the absurd plans considered by various government agencies. The snarky writing has me laughing at some things that were actually quite cringeworthy (Operation Acoustic Kitty).

  23. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    Utterly enthralling and entertaining and with a sense of humor to boot. Could not put this down!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Donna Foster

    Hard to believe this is a nonfiction book. The wild ideas are told in a positive and humorous way despite the fact that they are extremely bizarre and outrageous.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Darren Thornberry

    Very entertaining read. Some seriously zany shit went down or almost went down in defense of the U.S.A. in the 20th century. Wow.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sandra

    I won this book off Goodreads. Awesome read. Highly recommend.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mark Blei

    I loved this book. I didn't so much read it as devour it

  28. 5 out of 5

    Marcia

    Very interesting.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Brendan Carr

    A bit too much snark but still interesting.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Roger

    I am looking forward to reading this book! Thank you Goodreads for this opportunity to read something in a new genre! I will post a proper review when I have completed this book.

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