Recommended for Common Reading and Social Science Courses: Full Body Burden, Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats
Selected for Common Reading at Four Colleges & Universities: California State University, Sacramento; Fort Lewis College; Michigan Technological University; and Virginia Commonwealth University
Full Body Burden is a haunting work of narrative nonfiction about 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.” And as this memoir unfolds, it also reveals itself as a brilliant work of investigative journalism—a 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. 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 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
“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
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.
Author Website: www.KristenIversen.com
To read a Q&A with Kristen Iversen, click here.
Hear what NPR’s Fresh Air is saying about Full Body Burden.
And to read Maggie Koerth-Baker’s essay on Full Body Burden, go to: http://boingboing.net/2012/07/17/full-body-burden-memoir-about.html
Professors/Common Reading Directors: To request a complimentary examination copy, click here.