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Chosen one of the Best Books of 2012 by Kirkus Reviews and the American Library Association and 2012 Best Book about Justice by The Atlantic
Finalist for the Barnes & Noble Discover Award and the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence
Selected for Common Reading at:
Virginia Commonwealth University
St. Bonaventure University
Fort Lewis College
California State University at Sacramento
Madisonville Community College
Michigan Technological University
Full Body Burden is a haunting work of narrative nonfiction about a Kristen Iversen, a young woman 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 growing up 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 secrets and government secrets. Her father’s hidden liquor bottles, the strange cancers in children in the neighborhood, the truth about what they 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. In her early thirties, she even worked at Rocky Flats for a time, typing up memos in which accidents were always called “incidents.”
Through intensive investigative work based on extensive interviews, FBI and EPA documents, and class action testimony, as well as the powerful telling of one woman’s deeply personal story, Full Body Burden engages a key issue of our time in a profoundly unique and compulsively readable way.
To view the author’s NPR interview, go to: http://www.kristeniversen.com/disc.htm
Praise for Full Body Burden:
"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
"When I heard Kristen Iversen read from Full Body Burden, I thought she’d chosen the most exciting, tension-filled moments to keep her audience gripped to their seats (because they were rapt). Then I read the book myself and realized she hadn’t been especially selective: it’s all exciting, it’s all gripping; even when you’re enjoying happy pastoral moments, racing along with the girl and her pony or watching her first romance develop, this chilling thread winds through, reminding you of dangers that can’t be seen. You get hooked on her family story, and then the narrative switches and you’re enthralled by the imminent disaster at Rocky Flats, and then it switches again–reading it is like being on a rollercoaster. I am planning to use the book for a course I teach on justice in literature, but because it’s so well written, because the way she embeds technical information and research into the storyline itself, it would be perfect as a selection for my creative writing classes."
--Janet Bowdan, Professor of English, Western New England University
"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."
"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)
"National security has always trumped transparency, but Iverson’s well-researched, firsthand account of the effects of growing up a few miles from Rocky Flats near Denver is a bombshell. The author’s parents chose the subdivision of Bridledale as the perfect place to raise their family as did many others in the rapidly growing Denver suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s. Most had no idea that plutonium triggers for nuclear bombs were being made just a few miles away. They preferred to believe that the plant was making household cleaners. Besides, the plant was a source of many high-paying jobs for the area. How could it be bad? As Iverson grew up, her family became more and more dysfunctional, which she weaves in, out, and around her discoveries of what was really going on at Rocky Flats. Think Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle (Scribner, 2005) with massive nuclear contamination and government secrecy. Ultimately, Rocky Flats was closed but the land is so contaminated that parts of it will remain unusable forever. Following in the tradition of Rachel Carson in her Silent Spring (Houghton, 1962), Iverson has bravely shown us things that we cannot ignore. Teens interested in environmental causes will be amazed at the enormity of this issue and its implications for the future."
–Vicki Emery, Lake Braddock Secondary School, Fairfax County, VA