Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats Hardcover – Jun 5 2012
|New from||Used from|
Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought
No Kindle device required. Download one of the Free Kindle apps to start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, and computer.
To get the free app, enter your e-mail address or mobile phone number.
One of Kirkus Reviews’ Best Nonfiction Books of 2012
"Intimate…Powerful…A potent examination of the dangers of secrecy…A serious and alarming book [that] has its share of charming moments."
--Dwight Garner, New York Times
"Beautifully fuses Iversen's personal saga of maturation with the profoundly shocking history of the Rocky Flats site that few bothered to inform themselves about...Iversen writes her 50-year account in the present tense, a choice that lends her narrative a crackling immediacy. She writes with an eloquent precision, surprises frequently with personal anecdotes and abrupt, savory transitions. The result is fiercely non-polemical, nuanced and ultimately fully convincing...Iversen's account of two fires at the plant separated by 30 years, one of which nearly went critical, sears with first-person, real-time immediacy...Resonates with deep personal honesty...When she writes about the historical actors outside her personal orbit it is with a clarity of purpose and an economy of motion...Iversen has left us a beautiful memoir that recognizes the inevitable intrusion of greater social forces in all our lives and the risk we take in ignoring them."
"Iversen's carefully pruned memoir layers the story of the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant in Colorado, a cold-war darling that made plutonium triggers, over her life in its 'nuclear shadow.' Her greatest feat, beyond her clear exposition of decades of scientific mismanagement, is to explain our capacity to ignore what seems too deeply embedded to fix."
"With honesty and dignity, Iversen explains how her increasingly troubled father and ineffectual mother created a fragile home life that depended on silence and secrets...The intimately personal passages of the book, seamlessly interwoven with the cold, hard facts of Rocky Flats, speak most eloquently and movingly about what it's like to watch the unfolding of painful events over which one has no control...Iversen reminds readers that the tragedy of Rocky Flats is not only the terrible effects of the radiation itself but also the knowledge that deliberate harm was done, can never be undone, and should never be forgotten."
--Memphis Commercial Appeal
"Gripping...exquisitely researched...A superbly crafted tale of Cold War America’s dark underside."
--Kirkus Reviews (starred)
"In this powerful work of research and personal testimony, Iversen chronicles the story of America’s willfully blinkered relationship to the nuclear weapons industry through the haunting experience of her own family in Colorado…The grief was ongoing, as Iversen renders in her masterly use of the present tense, conveying tremendous suspense and impressive control of her material."
--Publishers Weekly (starred)
"Iversen seems to have been destined to write this shocking and infuriating story of a glorious land and a trusting citizenry poisoned by Cold War militarism and 'hot' contamination, secrets and lies, greed and denial....News stories come and go. It takes a book of this exceptional caliber to focus our attention and marshal our collective commitment to preventing future nuclear horrors."
"With meticulous reporting and a clear eye for details, Iversen has crafted a chilling, brilliantly written cautionary tale about the dangers of blind trust. Through interviews, sifting through thousands of records (some remain sealed) and even a stint as a Rocky Flats receptionist, she uncovers decades of governmental deception. Full Body Burden is both an engrossing memoir and a powerful piece of investigative journalism.”
"Full Body Burden is one of the most important stories of the nuclear era--as personal and powerful as "Silkwood," told with the suspense and narrative drive of The Hot Zone. With unflinching honesty, Kristen Iversen has written an intimate and deeply human memoir that shows why we should all be concerned about nuclear safety, and the dangers of ignoring science in the name of national security. Rocky Flats needs to be part of the same nuclear discussion as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. So does Full Body Burden. It's an essential and unforgettable book that should be talked about in schools and book clubs, online and in the White House."
--Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
"What a surprise! You don't expect such (unobtrusively) beautiful writing in a book about nuclear weapons, nor such captivating storytelling. Plus the facts are solid and the science told in colloquial but never dumbed-down terms. If I could afford them, I'd want the movie rights. Having read scores of nuclear books, I venture a large claim: Kristin Iversen's Full Body Burden may be a classic of nuclear literature, filling a gap we didn't know existed among Hersey's Hiroshima, Burdick and Wheeler's Fail-Safe and Kohn's Who Killed Karen Silkwood?"
--Mark Hertsgaard, author of Nuclear Inc. and HOT
"This terrifyingly brilliant book--as perfectly crafted and meticulously assembled as the nuclear bomb triggers that lie at its core--is a savage indictment of the American strategic weapons industry, both haunting in its power, and yet wonderfully, charmingly human as a memoir of growing up in the Atomic Age."
--Simon Winchester, author of The Professor and the Madman and Atlantic
"Why didn't Poe or Hitchcock think of this? Full Body Burden has all the elements of a classic horror tale: the charming nuclear family cruising innocently above the undercurrents of nuclear nightmare. But it's true and all the more chilling. Kristen Iversen has lived this life and is an authority on the culture of secrecy that has prevented the nation from knowing the truth about radioactive contamination. This is a gripping and scary story."
--Bobbie Ann Mason, author of Shiloh and Other Stories and In Country
"Kristen Iversen has written a hauntingly beautiful memoir that is also a devastating investigation into the human costs of building and living with the atomic bomb. Poignant and gracefully written, Iversen shows us what it meant to come of age next door to Rocky Flats--America’s plutonium bomb factory. The story is at once terrifying and outrageous."
--Kai Bird, co-author of American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer
"The fight over Rocky Flats was and is a paradigmatic American battle, of corporate and government power set against the bravery and anger of normal people. This is a powerful and beautiful account, of great use to all of us who will fight the battles that lie ahead."
--Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and Eaarth
"Kristen Iversen's ingenious fusion of these two tales: her family's ongoing denial of her father's alcoholism with one of the most successful cover-ups in the history of the U.S. military machine, increases the half life of her story's power to affect our lives exponentially. More than the sum of its well-made and riveting parts, Full Body Burden asks us to take a fresh look at our complicity in the lies we've been told, as well as the ones we are telling. As a Coloradoan, as a U.S. citizen, I can't imagine a more effective lifting of the shroud of Rocky Flats."
--Pam Houston, author of Contents May Have Shifted and Cowboys Are My Weakness
"Part memoir, part investigative journalism, Full Body Burden is a tale that will haunt your dreams. It's a story of secrecy, deceit, and betrayal set in the majestic high plains of Colorado. Kristen Iversen takes us behind her family's closed doors and beyond the security fences and the armed guards at Rocky Flats. She's as honest and restrained in her portrait of a family in crisis as she is in documenting the incomprehensible betrayal of citizens by their government, in exposing the harrowing disregard for public safety exhibited by the technocrats in charge of a top-secret nuclear weapons facility. For decades the question asked by residents living downwind of the plant was 'Would my government deliberately put my life and the lives of my children in danger?' The simple and irrefutable answer was 'Yes, it would . . . in a Colorado minute.'"
--John Dufresne, author of Louisiana Power & Light and Love Warps the Mind a Little
“This is a subject as grippingly immediate as today's headlines: While there is alarm about the small rise in radioactivity in the food chain, one reads in these pages about how a whole region lived in the steady contaminating effects of nuclear radiation. Kristen Iversen's prose is clean and clear and lovely, and her story is deeply involving and full of insight and knowledge; it begins in innocence, and moves through catastrophes; it is unflinching and brave, an expose about ignorance and denial and the cost of government excess, and an intensely personal portrait of a family. It ought to be required reading for every single legislator in this country.”
--Richard Bausch, author of Peace and Something Is Out There
"Iversen's reporting, extensive interviews, and review of FBI and EPA documents, shows how classifying a toxic nuclear site led to the ruin of hundreds of lives--and continues to pose ever-escalating threats as the legacy of what we know about such nuclear contamination is being swept under the rug by developers, energy lobbyists and government agencies colluding with them, at the risk of exposing more of us, more severely."
--Naomi Wolf, Guardian (UK)
"Kristen Iversen’s Full Body Burden is a book that both dazzles with its literary versatility and astounds with its revelations about the nexus of greed, fear, and indifference that created, and continue to create, a culture of silence surrounding the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant. Iversen has paid the price for this silence, and her ethos is unquestionable. Her ultimate refusal to be silenced makes Full Body Burden nothing short of heroic. Painstakingly researched for over ten years--but arguably a lifetime in the making--this book subverts expectations of genre by combining elements of memoir, journalism, physics, environmentalism, history, social activism, and politics--all artfully fused in Iversen’s fluid and beautiful prose.'"
--Joshua McKinney, PhD, Professor of English and Creative Writing Coordinator, CSU Sacramento
About the Author
KRISTEN IVERSEN grew up in Arvada, Colorado, near the Rocky Flats nuclear weaponry facility and received a Ph.D. in English from the University of Denver. She is director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of Memphis and editor-in-chief of The Pinch, an award-winning literary journal. During the summers, she serves on the faculty of the MFA Low-Residency Program at the University of New Orleans, held in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and in Edinburgh, Scotland. She is also the author of Molly Brown: Unraveling the Myth, winner of the Colorado Book Award for Biography and the Barbara Sudler Award for Nonfiction. Iversen has two sons and lives in Memphis. Visit her website at KristenIversen.com.See all Product Description
Inside This Book(Learn More)
What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item?
Top Customer Reviews
I don't know if the most frightening thing about Rocky Flats is that it was covered up both literally and figuratively or that the radioactive plutonium will still be around 24,000 years from now. Iversen talks in her book about how it is now closed and is in the process of becoming a National Wildlife Preserve where the plan is to open it to people as a recreation area one day. But what about all of the plutonium that's mixed with the dirt and dust and is still measurable? How can you cover it all up with concrete when it's in the dust and the air while it's being poured?Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Kristen Iversen follows silence throughout this very important book: the silence within a fractured family; the silence of the wind-swept high plains reaching toward the Colorado rocky mountains; and the worst silence of all, that knowing silence putting hundreds of thousands of lives at risk as our own government lied to further its own ends.
As a historian this book shames me. Nearly forty years after the Mississippi summer it dawned on me I could have joined in that effort. I was 18. I knew about it. It didn't make the connection. Not so many years after that, living about 20 miles south of Rocky Flats, I knew but didn't make the effort to understand what was happening. And this book shames me.
For the most part the local news media was silent, as were our elected leaders. Only too few "kooks" recognized some of the dangers. However, they thought it building nuclear weapons was immoral and wrong. Not until the FBI raid and the heroic and still silenced grand jury, did we all learn of the real danger--the vast careless contamination of the air, water and soil affecting so very many.
Silence is the true enemy of this country.
Reading Full Body Burden is one way to break the silence. It is a very strong addition to the history of the cold war and the nuclear industry in this country.
The 'villain' of the piece is of course the government and the private companies - Dow Chemical, for example - that willfully kept secrets from the close-by Denver population, pretending the facility was much safer than it was, and that the health effects were minimal. A grand jury's recommended criminal indictment was ignored, and at the book's conclusion, an appeals court overturns a mammoth legal judgement in resident's favor.
None of this is really a surprise. But it's depressing to see how local communities are ignored - or worse, how decent jobs are considered more important than long-term health. Thousands of perfectly content workers are at the plant; had they up and quit one day in protest, maybe they could have changed things. But that never happens; in fact, Iversen shows several cases where whistle-blowers were threatened by their fellow workers, scared the plant would close and take away their jobs. So it's easy to blame the companies and the government, but we're the ones who sit idly by.
This part of the story should anger and disgust readers, but we should not be surprised that a nuclear program designed to try and protect the entire country would have been unwilling to sacrifice the health of a few towns.
The book's parallel thread is Iversen's childhood in the community, and dealing with an alcoholic father. Her personal memoir does not connect that closely with her nuclear narrative, but it's an interesting look at the real lives going on in the "shadow" of the nuclear facility.
I liked how she kept going back and forth between her research and her memoir. It kept the story from falling too much into impersonal reportage - but also from being too personal, without a larger story. She shifts between these "big" and "small" aspects very often, usually every few pages. I liked the book's quick pace.
For me, her personal story wasn't quite as meaningful, especially stacked against the epic sprawl of legal cases, revelations and citizen-led protests. Her memoir was necessary for this to be a compelling "human" story, but I was much more interested in her reportage than her life. Her decade-plus of research is very clear on the page, and this book's earned its credibility. It has an anti-nuclear agenda, but facts are facts, and her narrative raises important questions.
I read a lot of books about Iraq, where I embedded as a journalist a few times. I believe that citizens should read books about Iraq not even just to enjoy them, but to see what they helped fund and support - that was a trillion dollars and then some that we spent there, and people should know where that money went.
I feel the same way about this book. The missiles and weapons that "protected" us during the Cold War did not come for free. People had to build them, using the most poisonous materials on Earth. We might look at Japan and Chernobyl and say, "oh, good thing it didn't happen here." But - events DID happen, just not as dramatic as a meltdown.
So readers owe it to themselves to seek out a book like this, and read about choices and compromises that are required to live in a free society. These are the choices the government made, but it certainly didn't put the decision up to an open vote with all the facts on the table. "Full Body Burden" gives a look behind that curtain, and it isn't very pretty. People will give up a lot for a steady paycheck; maybe too much.
Although I was not brought up in the near vicinity of Rocky Flats, my own childhood was indeed overshadowed in more ways than one by "The Bomb". I was a six-year-old living in Gallup, NM, at the time of the Trinity Test. My mother was pregnant with my younger sister at the time. The pre-dawn concussion of that blast woke her out of a sound sleep, and she always swore that it was the first time she felt the baby kick. The commandant of Ft. Wingate Ordinance Depot where my father worked as a civilian employee was panicked because he thought the explosion must have occurred on-site in some of their munitions bunkers. I remember the ongoing nightmares of a child with the threat of nuclear weapons being discussed on the radio (we didn't have a TV). Of course, with Sandia National Labs in Albuquerque where my parents lived after the war, and Los Alamos only 70 miles or so to the north, we always knew we'd be in one of the primary target areas in case of attack.
But - and this is the crucial point made so brilliantly in Iversen's magnificent narrative - there was no inkling of the incredible cover-up of the dangers of simply BUILDING the bombs that were meant to provide our deterrent capability. Although I lived in New Mexico and Arizona during a good part of the time so carefully described in this story, I had no clue about anything of significance occurring at Rocky Flats. Even the massive demonstrations in 1978 seem to have completely escaped my notice, although I was tuned in to many of the other politically significant events in that time-frame.
A number of years ago I read a book about the Hanford site and was completely appalled by the stupidity, negligence, and deceptiveness that occurred there. Obviously, though, Rocky Flats is in the same category, perhaps even more deplorable. While Iversen notes the two "worst" nuclear disasters to date are the Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi power plant accidents, she cites the "third worst" as the explosion of an underground storage tank for nuclear waste in Khyshtym, near the Kayak plant in Russia. She points out that in all these instances, there has been "the same troubling pattern of government silence and misinformation." I would comment that clearly a major threat has always been and will continue to be failure to deal with proper containment of nuclear waste, and even when plants are closed down this issue remains!
It is my profound belief that we as citizens need to know the truth about the real risks resulting from our burgeoning nuclear industry both for peaceful and for wartime uses. Only then can intelligent political decisions be made. For her contributions to the dialog, Kristen Iversen not only deserves a medal of honor, but also to have her book become a runaway best seller!
I have just heard a magnificent interview with the author on the Public Radio program "Fresh Air", broadcsst on my local public radio station, WABE, in Atlanta, Georgia on June 12. Kristen Iversen interviews as well as she writes, and as I said above, this book deserves to be a best seller and Iversen deserves all the recognition she can possibly receive for her work.
Kristen Iversen intersperses the history of Rocky Flats with the story of her Nordic Family - a family that keeps secrets and does not speak out of turn - and do they ever have a lot of secrets to keep. Kristen's father is an attorney who is heading down the deep slope of alcoholism, her mother refuses to acknowledge what is happening at Rocky Flats. She talks about cleaning agents being manufactured there.
Despite the workers coming down with epidemiological markers for cancer, the government just won't take the people seriously. There are more agencies of the government than I could have ever imagined and each one is there to protect another agency. They work in tandem to keep the public relations good and the people fooled.
Kristen has spent years writing this book, interviewing people, going over court cases and following the problems from the very start. She opens with the Manhattan Project which began in 1942 and closes with the classic poem, 'Plutonium Ode' by Alan Ginserg. I grew up listening to Ginsberg and he was a brave poet who knew when to speak up and how to do it. He feared nothing and told the truth. Even in the days when homosexuality was in the closet, Ginsberg was out of the closet.
Ms. Iversen has done a grand job, much in the tradition of Body Toxic and A Civil Action. Both of these non-fiction books about the impact of atomic waste sites have served to raise the readers' consciousness and have informed us of the danger of radioactivity.
It is just as dangerous to try and clean up nuclear waste sites as it is to build them. Where does one put all the supposed 'cleaned up' material. It can't just be buried under contrete because activity takes place underground where soil shifts and animals burrow. On top of the land, flowers and weeds bloom on the site and blow in the wind for some poor soul to inhale.
This is a poetic and heart-wrenching book, one that is eye-opening and frightening to the infinite degree. I recommend that anyone who has an interest in what is happening with atomic energy read this. It is written in an accessible way, much like the two other books that I cited. Ms. Iversen has a great way with words.
The book could use a bit of editing but what I read was an uncorrected proof and I expect that further editing will be done. Thank you Ms. Iversen for opening our eyes to Rocky Flats and the underworld of 'full body burden'.
Here is a small sample of the glaring errors, obvious to anyone marginally knowledgeable about Rocky Flats:
p. 3: Plutonium was never "smelted" at Rocky Flats; since plutonium is normally a man-made element, there is no ore to smelt.
p. 17: Bldg. 771 was not at the center of the plant as stated; it was on the far north end.
p. 18: The author implies Nagasaki was destroyed by a hydrogen bomb.
p. 18: While we had good benefits, Mother's Day was not a holiday at Rocky Flats; the plant was lightly staffed on the day of the 1969 fire because it was a Sunday, not because it was Mother's Day as stated.
p. 23: The 1969 fire wasn't in the "771 complex" as stated; it was in 776.
p. 48: The 903 pad measured 144,000 sq ft, not 260,000 as stated.
p. 170: Glovebox lines were operated under a vacuum, they were not "pressurized" as stated. And the air was sucked through filters, not pushed.
p. 170: Jim Stone did not design the "power plant" as stated. There was no power plant at Rocky Flats, we used commercial power.
p. 174: Plutonium was not discovered in 1934, it was man-made in 1940. Fermi's referenced 1934 "discovery" of element 94 was later discredited.
p. 203: Bldg. 371 never produced triggers as stated.
p. 208: Anybody in 1998 who didn't know what was going on at Rocky Flats was living under a rock; people in Boulder new exactly what was being made there when I hired on in 1970. Would there really have been organized protests starting in the 70's if Dow had been making household cleaning products as stated?
p. 209: The Hanford plant covers about 570 square miles, not 570 acres as stated.
p. 212: There never were surface-to-air missiles at Rocky Flats as stated. (Unless you classify bullets as "missiles".)
p. 224: The solar pond was "thermally active"? Of course, it was a SOLAR pond.
p. 249: The west access road was not gravel in 1994 as stated; it had been paved long before 1970.
p. 272: Bldg. 371 only had 2 underground levels, not 3 as stated.
p. 282: The sun doesn't rise over the mountains at Rocky Flats as stated, it rises over the plains to the east; the mountains are to the west.
p. 290: "Bldg. 371 (in 2003) is the most active plutonium building on site." Yet on p. 203 she states 371 was shut down in the mid-80's and "never reopened".
The list goes on. And on.
Does it really make any sense that the workers, most of whom lived downwind of the plant, would intentionally do anything to jeopardize themselves and their families? I think not. Yet the author makes the workforce out to be a bunch of careless, lazy and indifferent people. Yes, there might have been releases, but they were accidental, not intentional. And people are tending to forget about the tensions of the Cold War and the necessity for places like Rocky Flats.
The author, by her own admission, kept a notebook while she worked at RF and apparently jotted down everything she was told and heard and took it all as fact. She should have checked out her "facts" before writing this book. (And if she was so afraid of the place, why did she hire on?)
The sheer amount of erroneous information in this book makes me question all her comments and conclusions about Rocky Flats. As mentioned in another review, read An Insider's View of Rocky Flats: Urban Myths Debunked by Farrel D. Hobbs for an alternative (and much more accurate) view of Rocky Flats.
On the plus side, I really enjoyed the "growing up" parts.