Much of the fuel for conspiracy theorists comes from the U.

S. government's childish refusal to tell the truth until spanked. Again and again, military officials claimed that reconnaissance balloons were weather balloons and denied the existence of secret aircraft. Of course, that doesn't mean aliens are visiting us, but somehow many people think it does. Phil Patton addresses these issues, and many others, in his new book, Dreamland: Travels Inside the Secret World of Roswell and Area 51. You may be familiar with Patton's popular book, Made in the USA: The Secret History of Things That Made America. Nothing like the word "secret" to perk up a subtitle.

Although officially it doesn't exist, Area 51, in the dry lakes of Nevada and California, is a top-secret test site. Patton argues that a great many of the reported flying saucer sightings were actually glimpses of secret Air Force vehicles, from the U-2 through current UAVs unmanned aerial vehicles, or robot planes. Dreamland is also a tour of the alien subculture, from Area 51 to Roswell to the rest of the country. Along the way, Patton tells many fascinating stories, from how Gary Powers of U-2 fame wound up a traffic helicopter pilot in L.

A., to the fad for airship sightings in the mid-1890s, when balloons were becoming common and flight experiments were rampant.

Reviewed by Michael Sims.

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