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Full Body Burden GROWING UP in the NUCLEAR SHADOW of ROCKY FLATS

Full Body Burden by Kristen Iversen

Winner, Colorado Book Award & Reading the West Award. A Best Book of 2012 by Kirkus Reviews & American Library Association. Best Book about Justice by The Atlantic. Finalist, Barnes & Noble Discover Award & Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence.

More than 20 universities around the country have chosen Full Body Burden for their First Year Experience/ Common Read Programs, including Virginia Commonwealth University, St. Bonaventure University, Fort Lewis College, California State University at Sacramento, Madison Community College, and Michigan Tech University.

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.

Pro­found­ly shocking”

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 … 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

Inti­mate… Powerful…”

Intimate…Powerful…A potent exam­i­na­tion of the dan­gers of secrecy…A seri­ous and alarm­ing book [that] has its share of charm­ing moments.”

—Dwight Garner, The New York Times

Exquis­ite­ly researched”

Gripping…exquisitely researched…A superbly craft­ed tale of Cold War America’s dark underside.”

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Per­son­al and powerful”

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 … an essen­tial and unfor­get­table book.”

—REBECCA SKLOOT, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Pow­er­ful and beautiful”

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 Falter

Tremen­dous suspense”

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 review)

Shock­ing and infuriating”

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 review)

Ter­ri­fy­ing­ly brilliant”

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.