The Advanced Research Projects Agency, or ARPA, was created by Dwight Eisenhower as part of the Cold War space race. Inter-agency squabbles resulted in the agency losing that original charter very quickly, and it re-focused on defense related projects.

In the Vietnam era the agency conducted research on counter-insurgency, as well as direct action such as spraying defoliating agents (“Agent Orange”) from aircraft. By the time the military again needed expertise in counter-insurgency, after the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the agency’s focused had changed yet again toward technology.

The agency’s most significant contribution to society was ARPANET, a precursor to the modern internet. It was designed as a way to share information that would be robust to nuclear attacks (p. 116). After the end of the Cold War, the agency began financing research that was almost purely scientific in nature. For example, it makes the news most often these days as the organizer of the Grand Challenge competitions that launched contemporary autonomous vehicle research.

This book is an engaging account of what could otherwise be a very dry subject: the history of a secretive bureaucracy and its impact on both the military and civilian worlds.