First published in 1996 shortly after Nick Pope left his three-year posting as head of the UFO desk but whilst still employed by the Ministry of Defence, "Open Skies, Closed Minds" is a thoughtful, literate and occasionally amusing summary of the author's tenure as a full-time, government-paid researcher into the UFO phenomenon. He turns out to be a good writer, and although there may be few new revelations here for the serious student of the subject, Nick's unique official position and his fair-minded, diligent approach make for an original and valuable contribution to the field. It's the impartiality, the outsider parachuted into the job with no previous interest and no preconceptions who then undergoes gradual conversion to realize there is real substance to the UFO issue that makes for a compelling read. The level of commercial success and subsequent publicity for the UFO phenomenon gained by this book in the UK has only to date been equaled by the best work of Tim Good.
This review is of the original hardback edition, which has a good 8-page monochrome photo section in the middle and a comprehensive index.
Quote from the author: "One of the first things I did on taking up the UFO post was to read into the subject...there were also things called `close encounters'...where people saw a UFO and then arrived home much later than expected unable to account for a lost period...I had responsibilities both to the MOD and to the public as a whole to investigate all sightings and experiences in a totally impartial way, irrespective of my own views about a witness...
...many in the world of UFOlogy regarded me as just `the man from the ministry' as likely as not up to my eyeballs in crashed UFOs, dead aliens and cosmic cover-ups. But as I began to deal on a daily basis with people who had experienced events which appeared to go beyond human understanding, I formed working relationships with UFO researchers and a mutual trust developed." Has this trust been maintained and built on by Nick's successors? Alas, no.
The book is written with a broadly chronological narrative which proves to be a more engaging style than the fragmented listing of sighting reports. The author shares his discoveries opening up the MOD's existing UFO files and his own evolving conversion from admitted ignorance and skepticism to an appreciation of the reality of a mysterious, multi-faceted phenomenon of some complexity. He comes to the conclusion that the ETH best fits the facts, and that the evidence is that the ETs in the main do not appear to have humanity's best interests at heart. This is a remarkable public admission from someone working at a high level in the MOD, and in the absence of any official denial or disclaimer represents the nearest thing we're likely to get for the moment to a government acknowledgement that there is an ET presence and that it ain't friendly.
A whole chapter on attitudes to the subject begins: "There can be few subjects other than ufology for which government policy is dictated so much by attitudes and so little by facts or hard evidence. Many of these attitudes have been created by the media." Indeed. Nick writes about the main UFO groups and researchers in the UK and his personal investigations into multi-witness sightings, crop circles, cattle mutilations, the Rendlesham Forest incident (all given their own chapters), the notorious Santilli "autopsy" film and many other well-known cases. He expands the content to a more global perspective in the final chapters. His reputation for taking reports from the public about UFO encounters and other paranormal happenings seriously, and investigating them thoroughly and openly led to "maverick" status inside the MOD and thus to the media's term "The UK's own Fox Mulder."
So in summary, a good introduction to the subject for the casually interested reader, and even for the avid UFOlogist an interesting excursion into the workings of government and how the subject was managed during this period. Above all the author comes across as balanced, intelligent, grounded, sensible and good-humored - and that alone, many would admit, is something of a rarity in this field.
A fortuitous career move inside the MOD led eventually to Nick carving out a whole new life in the UFO field outside government service in the real world, and achieving minor celebrity status as a recognizable face on TV. He's a professional, and has proved to be consistently effective at bringing the UFO subject more respectability and serious treatment by the mass media. Good for him, and good for the field.