A review of Garrett M. Graff's UFO odyssey

It was refreshing to read a fact-based book on UFOs. Written by a journalist who diligently researched a wide variety of sources, it remains objective and leaves his personal opinions and judgments out of the story. Despite the complexity of it, it’s still a page-turner. At least, it was for me.

Garrett M. Graff’s book, UFO. The Inside Story of the US Government’s Search for Alien Life Here – and Out There, came out in December, 2023. And whether you’re into space exploration or not, I suggest you check it out.

The book is written by a professional journalist, and you can tell. Talking about hunting for extraterrestrial life is a slippery slope, and the whole topic is surrounded by conspiracy theories and a lot of prejudices.

However, Graff navigates through tons of material, from studies to committee hearings, seemingly without belittling anyone he’s talking about – neither people allegedly abducted by aliens nor shams who simply capitalized on the topic for decades.

“Science and astronomy are more and more pointing to the fact that there is other life out there. Here's why we haven't seen it yet,” Garrett M. Graff wrote for the Rolling Stones last November.

His book, which could work as a textbook on the history of humanity's hunt for UFOs, certainly left me with that impression. Graff opens the book by describing just how small our planet is when set against the scale of the universe. The chance that Earth is the only habitable planet in the universe is one sextillion, given the estimates that a thousand trillion planets could be habitable.

“Life has existed on Earth for 3.7 billion years, and for only about 1/925,000th of that time have we been able to look to the stars and recognize the world beyond,” the book reads.

Extraterrestrial life either exists or not, but we can neither prove nor deny it. Anyways, as Graff notes, quoting Philip Morrison, one of the inventors of the SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence), either possibility boggles the mind.

A lot of the discourse around extraterrestrial life, in fact, has nothing to do with other planets, and Graff will tell you all about it if you just keep reading.

Naturally, some of the flying saucers or other objects can and probably are adversarial in nature – fears that spiked during the Cold War. No one really knew to the full extent what was happening behind the Iron Curtain and what the Soviets were up to when it came to new technologies. Fears of secret Russian weapons escalated quickly.

There have been a lot of conspiracies around government cover-ups, for example, men in black (MIB) visiting people who allegedly saw UFOs and making sure that they forgot what they saw.

The US government wasn’t too open about its military experiments, either, and so any unknown and previously unseen object observed in the sky would prompt witnesses to think of extraterrestrial nature.

“You can cover up knowledge, and you can cover up ignorance. I think there was much more of the latter than the former,” Josef Allen Hynek, an American astronomer, professor, and ufologist, wrote in the 70s.

Some of the UFOs could be explained by meteorological phenomena, and scientists indeed managed to rule out extraterrestrial origin in many UFO sightings.

Graff’s book is enriched with numerous examples and relies on the work of prominent ufologists, astronomers, and other scientists. One of them was John Mack, a Harvard psychiatrist who became famous within wider circles after publishing Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens and appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

While seeing and reporting a flying object that can’t be immediately identified by either regular citizens or scientists is nothing out of the ordinary, hundreds of people claim they’ve experienced something that does not have an obvious logical explanation. They were/are alien abductees, claiming to have had sex with aliens. Graff dedicates a whole chapter to this curious phenomenon that’s probably up for psychiatrists to crack.

Controversies surrounded Mack and other experts looking into the phenomena, who tried to explain it by calling it “extraterrestrial sadomasochism, a fantasy world where victims could escape the day-to-day pressure of modern life and give over their self-control to imagined beings – beings that appeared regularly to offer bondage, sexual gratification, or humiliation experiences.”

The curious thing about self-declared abductees, as with other UFO witnesses, is that experts believed those people had nothing to gain from telling those stories to the public. On the contrary, many of them put themselves up for ridicule.

If you’re intrigued, check Sex with Aliens, Chapter 41 in Graff’s book, to learn more. After reading this chapter, I understood just how great the book was – Graff talked about different controversies without projecting any opinions of his own, not judging or diminishing people whose experiences we don’t understand. And, honestly, we’re probably not that eager to even try and comprehend.

The book, which, again, is a wonderful summary of humanity’s hunt for extraterrestrial intelligence, doesn’t give a definitive answer as, unfortunately, so many books on science and history these days try to do.

On the contrary, it sparks an interest to learn more and only raises more questions.

“I think they enjoy the anticipation more than actually finding answers,” Graff quotes Alex Dietrich, one of the Nimitz fighter pilots from the 2004 UFO encounter.