Strange Angel, by George Pendle. This is a biography of John Whiteside Parsons, a chemist and pioneer rocket scientist who helped found the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Parsons was an occultist and an early disciple of Aleister Crowley; he was also a friend of L. Ron Hubbards, back when Hubbard was a struggling pulp sci-fi author. They conducted various mystical rituals together in the desert near Pasadena, until Hubbard swindled Parsons out of his life savings and ran off with his girlfriend, who he went on to found Scientology with.
(The official Scientology account of this is a little different:
Hubbard broke up black magic in America … L. Ron Hubbard was still an officer of the U.S. Navy, because he was well known as a writer and a philosopher and had friends amongst the physicists, he was sent in to handle the situation. He went to live at the house and investigated the black magic rites and the general situation and found them very bad. … Hubbard’s mission was successful far beyond anyone’s expectations. The house was torn down. Hubbard rescued a girl they were using. The black magic group was dispersed and destroyed and has never recovered.)
I commend this book to anyone who shares my interest in the history of science, cults, occultism and cold-war paranoia.