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Rated 4.00
1,108 ratings

Full Body Burden

By: Kristen Iversen

Publisher: Crown Publishing Group

Imprint: Crown

Format: Hardcover | ISBN: 9780307955630

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On Sale: | Pages: 416

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Full Body Burden is a haunting work of narrative nonfiction about a young woman, Kristen Iversen, growing up in a small Colorado town close to Rocky Flats, a secret nuclear weapons plant once designated "the most contaminated site in America." It's the story of a childhood and adolescence in the shadow of the Cold War, in a landscape at once startlingly beautiful and--unknown to those who lived there--tainted with invisible yet deadly particles of plutonium. It's also a book about the destructive power of secrets--both family and government. Her father's hidden liquor bottles, the strange cancers in children in the neighborhood, the truth about what was made at Rocky Flats (cleaning supplies, her mother guessed)--best not to inquire too deeply into any of it. But as Iversen grew older, she began to ask questions. She learned about the infamous 1969 Mother's Day fire, in which a few scraps of plutonium spontaneously ignited and--despite the desperate efforts of firefighters--came perilously close to a "criticality," the deadly blue flash that signals a nuclear chain reaction. Intense heat and radiation almost melted the roof, which nearly resulted in an explosion that would have had devastating consequences for the entire Denver metro area. Yet the only mention of the fire was on page 28 of the Rocky Mountain News, underneath a photo of the Pet of the Week. In her early thirties, Iversen even worked at Rocky Flats for a time, typing up memos in which accidents were always called "incidents."And as this memoir unfolds, it reveals itself as a brilliant work of investigative journalism--a detailed and shocking account of the government's sustained attempt to conceal the effects of the toxic and radioactive waste released by Rocky Flats, and of local residents' vain attempts to seek justice in court. Here, too, are vivid portraits of former Rocky Flats workers--from the healthy, who regard their work at the plant with pride and patriotism, to the ill or dying, who battle for compensation for cancers they got on the job. Based on extensive interviews, FBI and EPA documents, and class-action testimony, this taut, beautifully written book promises to have a very long half-life.
“Full Body Burden” is a simmering and sickening book that runs on two downward sloping tracks.... For a while you think these two narratives won't quite come together. But they do, in powerful ways.... “Full Body Burden” — the title refers to the amount of radioactive material at any time in a human body — becomes a potent examination of the dangers of secrecy.
—New York Times
Iversen, now a director of the MFA creative writing program at the University of Memphis, 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 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
"Full Body Burden" has an astounding story to tell, and for the most part, Iversen tells it well.... "Full Body Burden" reports on one of the most dangerous eras in our nation's history. It's told with the pacing of a thriller, with occasional longueurs of personal struggles and disappointments, but it is well-researched, well-documented and well-referenced. At a time when fewer and fewer resources are dedicated to the well-made book, "Full Body Burden" is one. It should be widely read.
—Portland Oregonian
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