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Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats Hardcover – Jun 5 2012

4.9 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Crown (June 5 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030795563X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307955630
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 3.3 x 24.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 Kg
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #533,876 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


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."
--Denver Post

"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."
--Portland Mercury

"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."
--Booklist (starred)

"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

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Format: Hardcover
Though I've been an anti-nuclear activist (in Canada) for a few years now, I'd not heard the story of Rocky Flats. Or rather I'd heard about Rocky Flats from a brief skimming of the Wasserman & Solomon book "Killing Our Own - The Disaster of America's Experience with Atomic Radiation" -- but had not heard the Rocky Flats story from the inside. Reading "Full Body Burden - Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats" made me mad, made me sad, made me incredulous. How could such a story be true?? Author Iversen is articulate & detailed, soul-baring & factual, as she tells by turns the inside story of her family & her childhood & that of the shocking history of a secret weapons facility built much too close to citizens of the Denver area. Plutonium fires, leaking barrels, winds carrying pollution far & wide, polluted lakes & streams. Silent health authorities, invisible politicians, greedy developers. And deadly silence. And, of course, cancer. All very reminiscent of Canada's Port Hope, Ontario story. Another well-kept secret. I'm very glad to have read the book. It made my blood boil - but as Elizabeth Cady Stanton said, "Truth is the only safe ground to stand on." Read a more detailed review on my blog, here
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Format: Hardcover
In her book, "Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats", Kristen Iversen tells two stories, one about growing up in a family where her father was an alcoholic and the other about the growing up in Arveda, CO near Rocky Flats, a secret nuclear weapons plant. Both deal with denial of dangerous situations. In her family nobody talked about her dad's drinking, even when he left empty bourbon bottles around the house, drove drunk, causing accidents and she and her siblings were afraid to bring friends home because they never knew where they might come upon empty bottles. In the case of Rocky Flats, most of the people in her town and surrounding towns worked at the plant or had a family member who did. Few people knew exactly what was being produced there and since the pay was good and produced a good standard of living, it was easy to believe what they were told about it being a safe place to work, and to deny that there was any danger. After all, there were thousands of people employed there, and many more thousands of families living in the subdivisions nearby. Denver was only about 15 miles away. If there was any real danger, the government would warn them, right?

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?
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Is any amount of radiation or plutonium or tritium safe? Why did the American government (defense department) allow factories in a number of states to produce parts for nuclear bombs from 1959 to the 2000s? And why is the landscape around ALL of these sites highly polluted with all of these substances. This is a very personal story of one family's experiences and the constant threat of cancer and other radiation induced diseases. This book certainly makes one think about what we have done by releasing these substances into our environment.
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I was riveted from the very beginning at how Kristen Iversen interweaves the story of her young life growing up in the shadow of an atomic bomb factory with the equally dark shadow of her father's alcoholism. The damage that both of these dark secrets causes is all encompassing, yet the light she throws on them is powerfully bright and ultimately, healing. Her decades of research and interviews about Rocky Flats reveal a diabolically chilling story that is gripping to the end. It's also a story that everyone living in country involved in the nuclear industry (whether nuclear power of nuclear bombs) should read.

As a side note, I lived in Boulder, Colorado, in the early 80s when Rocky Flats was in full force, making nuclear bombs less than half an hour from my house. I knew about it at the time but had no idea they had zero regard for the environment or for contaminating such a vast area where so many thousands lived. It's simply incredible that nobody went to jail for these appalling crimes. Even more alarming is the fact that the land is now called "Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge". Not a single sign warns hikers that the grounds were a nuclear bomb factory for decades, that the land beneath their feet and the air they breathe will be contaminated for hundreds of thousands of years.

Everyone should read this book.
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