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Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats

3.99  ·  Rating Details ·  2,133 Ratings  ·  502 Reviews
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--unkn ...more
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published June 5th 2012 by Crown (first published January 1st 2012)
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Moira Russell
Bought this after hearing about it, because I love the West and the nuclear power stories set in it (think Desert Bloom), and especially after reading this NYTBR review. I should have remembered Dwight Garner is FUCKING USELESS when it comes to actually recommending books. Book bloggers all suck, right? Well, Garner didn't mention the prose style of this book is painfully cliched from the start (yes, of course it is written in the first person present tense, it's apparently illegal to publish a ...more
Jul 26, 2012 Lindsey rated it it was ok
Shelves: medical, journalism
Hmmm, so all the other reviews are singing this book's praises, but I thought it was lacking. The book features two inter-connecting stories: a rather typical coming-of-age story and the terrible history of contamination by a facility making plutonium buttons for nuclear weapons. The coming-of-age story is well written but something you've read a hundred times before (title character feels isolated, different; her father is an alcoholic and her mother suffers from regret and depression). The pie ...more
Having lived for more than 40 years in Colorado, but thankfully, not in the shadows of Rocky Flats, I was both interested in and woefully uninformed about what went on at this facility for producing plutonium "triggers." Now that I've read the book, I know that the "woefully unaware" part is not entirely my fault - great effort was made to keep me and everyone else unaware and misinformed.

Full Body Burden is both an expose of Rocky Flats and a memoir of someone growing up almost literally in its
Bonnie Brody
Jun 11, 2012 Bonnie Brody rated it it was amazing
Be prepared to be terrified, amazed and astounded as you read this book about the Nuclear horror of Rocky Flats near Denver, Colorado. Like Los Alamos, it is a research facility, builder of plutonium triggers and this site was initiated to fight our part of the cold war. Right in the back yard of this nuclear test site and plutonium harvester, were homes where children played in the smudge of plutonium, rode horses across contaminated land, and drank water from poisoned wells.

Kristen Iversen int
Jul 09, 2012 John rated it it was amazing
Excellent read, illustrates how self-interest (above-average pay for the workers and production quota bonuses for the managing corporation), employee fear (of being fired), management fear (of being found out), led to the regional population surrounding this nuclear facility never asking hard questions - even as the cancers (in adults and children) mounted to abnormal levels and as scientists who reported their findings of abnormally high plutonium readings were fired. Anyone who spoke out again ...more
Becky Trombley
May 06, 2013 Becky Trombley rated it really liked it
"God in heaven, what have we done?" was my response to the book. Not for the feint of heart.

The residents around Rocky Flats spend decades pretending that the plutonium processing plant in the vicinity really just makes cleaning solutions, "scrubbing bubbles." The truth is too terrifying. Plus, the pay at the plant is good. You can even earn fifteen extra cents an hour for working in the "hot zone". When Iverson visits a doctor as an adult and wonders if her health condition could be connected t
Everyday eBook
Jan 31, 2013 Everyday eBook rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Everyday by: John Abrahams
Kristen Iversen had what many would consider an idyllic childhood, in a suburban house with avocado appliances, a horse, and parents who liked each other. Each afternoon after school, she would ride out to the edge of town. There, at the barbed wire, kicking the metal "No Trespassing" signs with the toes of her cowboy boots, she would look to the west. There: where the chinook winds came racing, swirling dust, past the eerie lights of the plant that made … something secret. In Full Body Burden, ...more
After conducting meticulous and solid research, Kristen Iversen has compiled an outstanding, eloquent, haunting and shocking work that should be read by each and every one of us.

Iversen’s powerful narrative interweaves the story of her family life with the story of the establishment and operation of the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant near Denver, Colorado. Kristen’s family home bordered the property on which the Rocky Flats facility was built. She exposes the secret of her father’s alcoholis
Apr 26, 2012 JDK1962 rated it really liked it
(Disclaimer: 20+ year resident of Boulder, Colorado, just up the road from Rocky Flats.)

I'm conflicted about this book: I enjoyed reading it very much, but the Rocky Flats story, with which I was unfamiliar, was appalling on pretty much every level. While I can certainly understand taking national defense seriously, I cannot understand the idea that national defense, during a time of peace, can be used as an excuse for slipshod production practices and--not to put too fine a point on it--to inad
Jul 08, 2012 Christina rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, 2012, memoir
Excellent recounting of the complexity and dangers associated with the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons manufacturing facility located just outside Denver, CO. The author grew up in a Denver suburb just two miles downwind from the site, unknowingly playing outside in plutonium-contaminated soil, air, and water. She very effectively weaves the history of the Rocky Flats site with memoirs of her own childhood and family, which was troubled by her father's alcoholism. The theme linking both narratives i ...more
Nancy Kennedy
Jun 06, 2012 Nancy Kennedy rated it it was amazing
Kristen Iversen's story of growing up hard by a government facility that made plutonium "triggers" for nuclear bombs is a fascinating and well-written story of both deceit and naivete.

The radioactive nightmare of Rocky Flats was forced by the government onto the booming towns of Arvada, Golden, Wheat Ridge, and ultimately Denver, Colorado. The facility had hundreds of buildings, some so contaminated you could not enter without authorization. Radioactive waste seeped into the ground, spewed into
Max Carmichael
Apr 08, 2013 Max Carmichael rated it really liked it
A must-read for all U.S. citizens, this book really tells it like it is. Government, science, and industry: they all do unspeakably evil things and lie about them afterward, from Washington officials and corporate executives to county commissioners and real estate developers. Rocky Flats wasn't the first and it won't be the last. And as Ms. Iversen so poignantly shows, the perpetrators go unpunished, the damage is irreversible, the victims have no recourse, and the majority of citizens don't wan ...more
Aug 13, 2016 Holly rated it it was ok
Shelves: audio, 2013-reads
After a day of reflection I changed my 3 stars to 2. I had stopped listening to the book a few times, questioning whether I should continue - I suppose I continued only out of inertia. The entire time I listened I had been put off by Iversen's use of present tense (she used present tense for her family memoir and also in her recounting of the history of Rocky Flats). That and the repetitions gave the book a stilted, limited perspective and a monotony. (People! Present tense isn't always appropri ...more
Claudia Putnam
As an expose of what went on at Rocky Flats and is not going on with the cleanup even today, this book rocked. Many found it beautifully written, but I would just say it was well written. Clean, even sparkling in places, but nothing to knock your socks off. It's not Refuge, for instance.

The thing is, this book is supposed to be a bilateral exploration of secrets--cultural/national secrets + family secrets. While it was great on the first thread, the second thread lacked depth. Her father was an
May 06, 2012 Peggy rated it it was amazing
Kristen Iversen is a brave whistle blower, the Erin Brockovich of plutonium pollution. And she's a hell of a good writer, making the nonfiction account of government and corporate cover-up of Colorado’s Rocky Flats secret nuclear weapons plant activities a compelling, frightening, and personal story. She is a literary investigative reporter, weaving her family’s story with convincing scientific data that authorities ignore. She contrasts the mysterious cancer deaths of childhood friends and Rock ...more
Read this book. It is so well written, and if you're looking for gripping non-fiction, it's the perfect choice. It's heartbreaking and enraging and it will have you talking the ears off anyone around you as you share what you learn in its pages.

The only reason I'm not giving it 5 stars is because I was really hoping for some infomation on current activism or steps you could take after reading. Essentially, it gets you furious and then gives you no outlet for what you can do about the things des
Feb 11, 2014 Cymiki rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio, nonfiction
Fascinating story of Rocky Flats.....and the manufacture of plutonium triggers for many years in the name of national security. The story of the plant is interspersed with the author's personal story which offsets everyday life with something that is rather a horror. Interesting to see the recent article in the paper about the new housing development and residents' reaction to finding out the history of the Flats. This also marks my first completed nonfiction audiobook!
Sep 21, 2014 Gina rated it really liked it
This book is absolutely stunning. Denver was very nearly wiped out by a nuclear meltdown, averted only by a serendipitous interaction of three mistakes (including someone driving a truck into a pole and inadvertently cutting off the power supply), and pretty much nobody knows about it. I certainly did not. All the plutonium triggers in the entire nuclear arsenal of the United States were manufactured just a few miles outside the Denver suburb of Arvada (which is upwind from the population center ...more
Feb 16, 2013 Em rated it it was amazing
Ok, you know how in old movies the people smoke and drink constantly? You find yourself thinking, isn't it amazing what we didn't know back then? And also, aren't we lucky that we know better now?

In this true story, Kristen Iversen tells the story both of her childhood and of the Rocky Flats Nuclear weapons plant. I found myself again and again thinking, wait, this happened during my lifetime! This period that she's talking about during which plutonium was being released into streams, ground wa
The publisher sent me this book free; otherwise, I probably never would have come across it, but I"m so glad I did! The author is a journalist and writer who just happened to also grow up in the 1970's very near Rocky Flats, which at the time was the top producer in the world of plutonium disks that activate nuclear war heads--although that's not what the government said it produced, nor did it acknowledge that shockingly large amounts of radioactive elements were regularly being dumped into the ...more
Jill Hovey
Feb 25, 2016 Jill Hovey rated it really liked it
An important read for anyone who lives in or is planning to move to Colorado. The history of Rocky Flats should be taught in schools. I found this book to be very informative and haunting. At the minimum there should be signs warning residents of the contamination ay Standley Lake and the areas surrounding Rocky Flats.

Listening to the book made it difficult to follow the timeline but that's my only criticism of the book.
Sarah Wells
Sep 11, 2013 Sarah Wells rated it it was amazing
This is such an important book. The general public must make itself aware of the threats to our environmental health and personal health and well being, and maintain a healthy level of skepticism about what we are told is "safe." Iversen's work to uncover the history and consequences of the nuclear weapons plant, Rocky Flats, is tremendous. Her ability to communicate complicated science and political policy in terms that make for smooth reading is admirable. You've heard "don't believe everythin ...more
Aug 23, 2012 Dawn rated it it was amazing
Anyone who ever lived in west Arvada or worked at Rocky Flats needs to read this book! I grew up in the same area as the author about 10 years behind her and likewise never knew this was going on.
The complete lack of accountability for the danger we were all put in is infuriating and terrifying.

Notwithstanding, the book is a very good read on multiple levels. The author takes what could be a very technical, dry subject and makes it easily understandable and relate-able.
Apr 27, 2016 Marie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, history, colorado
"Production takes precedence over safety." Everyone in Colorado or near any other nuclear site needs to read this book. And any official who tries to discount the levels of plutonium still present in the areas around and within the Rocky Flats "National Wildlife Refuge" needs to have a special glass of water offered to them, Erin Brockovich style. A most distressing, but informative read.
Sep 30, 2013 Pamela rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
EVERYBODY living in Colorado should read this book. In fact anyone, anywhere, living near a nuclear plant or production facility, should read this book. I couldn't put it down, and finished wanting to DO SOMETHING. The story of Rocky Flats, not that far from where I live, is not finished. Thanks to the author for exposing facts the government has kept secret for too long.
Jun 25, 2016 Melle rated it liked it
Recommends it for: everyone in the United States
Recommended to Melle by: Book Riot Community
Eye-opening, horrifying, and it didn't even cover the whole "why the what are we still doing with nukes -- weapons and power -- in this country, when we can't even safely and securely figure out to do with the radioactive waste, never even mind preparing for inevitable accidents or worse?!" and the even bigger "do we even give a flying fuck for life -- human or otherwise -- on this planet?!" questions. Before reading this, I knew next to nothing about nuclear weapons production in this country o ...more
Oct 19, 2014 Julie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
WOW! This memoir is nothing short of alarming. Having gone to school in Boulder just several miles away from the Rocky Flats sight, I recall only a smattering of news stories. And yet, Iversen details the naivety that surrounded the plutonium plant for years. When run by Dow Chemical, the locals believed Rocky Flats was simply making cleaning products. Later, Rockwell took over the plant and the belief was that "the government would let people know if there was cause for concern." What little in ...more
Jason Roth
Mar 04, 2014 Jason Roth rated it really liked it
A must read for anyone who lives, or has lived, in the vicinity of Denver and/or Boulder. Interesting details of growing up near a secret government facility in the cold war era. Chock full of piss poor government planning and subsequent negligence, corruption, ignorance, cover-ups, denials, and lies. Also, a good laymans interpretation of the devastating and long term environmental effects related to the use of plutonium and the associated nuclear bomb manufacturing process. It is downright sca ...more
Jun 08, 2016 Paul rated it really liked it
There's a scene in Woody Allen's movie Sleeper in which W0ody asks Diane Keaton, "Do you believe in God?" She briefly considers and replies, "Well, I believe there's someone out there watching over us."

To which Woody replies, "Yes, unfortunately it's the government."

This seems like a fairly apt summation of this excellent book Full Body Burden (the title describes how much plutonium a person is allowed to ingest before they get to call in sick--or something like that). The entire population outs
Aug 22, 2012 thewestchestarian rated it liked it
More about growing up than nuclear shadows. Very similar to Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting in that it essentially a personal memoir organized around a topic area which it revisits in the text from time to time. Iversen details her Colorado upbringing in an area dominated by a nuclear bomb factory. The "Shadow" of the subtitle is well-chosen in the sense that the installation always hovers in the background of her memories of family, horses and boys ...more
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Around the Year i...: Full Body Burden, by Kristen Iversen 2 14 Jun 05, 2016 11:24AM  
Read It Forward: * FULL BODY BURDEN by Kristen Iversen 1 18 May 17, 2012 07:59AM  
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Kristen Iversen is the author of Full Body Burden Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats, a finalist for the Barnes & Noble Discover Award and the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence, and Molly Brown Unraveling the Myth, winner of the Colorado Book Award and the Barbara Sudler Award for Nonfiction. Full Body Burden was chosen by Kirkus Reviews and the American Library Association as ...more
More about Kristen Iversen...

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“I adore my mother, but I fear for her. She seems helpless, caught in the vortex of my father's dark moods and unpredictable behavior. I try never to displease her. I love the scent of Juicy Fruit gum on her breath and the hint of Joy perfume on her neck, the crisp crinkle of her hair stiff with aerosol spray and the chipped pink polish on her nails.” 2 likes
“My family never talks about feelings, and we certainly never talk about plutonium. It's hard to take something seriously if you can't see it, smell it, touch it, or feel it. Plutonium is a cosmic trick. The invisible enemy, the merry prankster. Can it hurt you or not? None of us know.” 2 likes
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