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A Fierce Radiance

3.55 of 5 stars 3.55  ·  rating details  ·  1,654 ratings  ·  459 reviews
From the New York Times bestselling author of City of Light comes a compelling, richly detailed tale of passion and intrigue set in New York City during the tumultuous early days of World War II.

Claire Shipley is a single mother haunted by the death of her young daughter and by her divorce years ago. She is also an ambitious photojournalist, and in the anxious days after P
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Hardcover, 530 pages
Published June 15th 2010 by HarperTorch (first published June 1st 2010)
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169th out of 448 books — 344 voters


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Community Reviews

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Sandi
I won this through First Reads and thought that it would be really interesting. As far as I can tell it's a historical romance about a doctor who is trying to find a way to mass-produce penicillin and an up-and-coming photographer who wants to tell the story. The divorced photographer lost her young daughter to blood-poisoning caused by a small scrape several years later. I learned that it was really easy to die from stupid stuff like skinned knees. I also learned that the military conscripted t ...more
Linda B
A Fierce Radiance crosses genres as a historical novel, a love story, a crime thriller, and a murder mystery. It captured my attention from the very beginning and held it throughout. Claire Shipley is a fascinating character as a photo journalist dealing with situations in her job, her family, and her relationships. Claire is assigned to a local hospital to report on a still experimental drug, penicillin, but her interest was more than professional. Penicillin could have saved the life of the da ...more
Audra (Unabridged Chick)
This solid historical novel (and I do mean solid, it's a very satisfying brick of a paperback!) has a yank-you-out-of-your-chair awesome first line, a fascinating premise, and enough historical details to educate as well as enthrall. At times.

Sadly, I didn't love this novel as much as I wanted to. This story suffers a bit from over research, in that it felt to me like the author tried to stuff in all the interesting details she'd discovered, unable to resist all the tempting tidbits. As a result
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Barb
I was very disappointed by this novel. I rate Lauren Belfer's first novel 'City of Light' among my all time favorites and often recommend it. Never in a million years would I have guessed that this novel was written by the same author.

Mrs. Claire Shipley is a photographer for 'Life' magazine in the 1940s. She's given an assignment to cover the experimental use of penicillin by medical researchers at the Rockefeller Institute in New York City. Through this assignment she meets the handsome Dr. J
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Renee
Despite the dreadful title, which sounds like a raunchy, erotic novel, I was drawn to this book because of it's cover. I then read the back and discovered that this is my favorite type of historical fiction - WWII era. I was even more intrigued when I read that the premise of this novel was the discovery and mass production of penecillin, something that I know little about. Combine that with a love story and a murder mystery and needless to say, I had high hopes for this book. But it definitely ...more
Michelle
I just could not get into this book. I loved the setup – it takes place in the US during WWII and the deals with the advent of penicillin. It’s unique, I think, to find a WWII era book that takes place in America. Plus, with the penicillin angle it was a completely unique premise. However, something about the writing style really put me off. The prose was robotic in a way. Also, it’s like she always used 2-3 sentences to express something that could’ve been stated in one. Opening to a random pag ...more
Agatha
Recommended by a friend, and, once I picked it up, I realized I had read (and really loved) this author’s previous book, City of Light (about Buffalo at the turn of the century). So I was eager to get into this one, and it did not let me down!

Historical fiction about the first mass-production of penicillin during WWII. It had of course been previously discovered by Alexander Fleming but it was notoriously had to produce and to replicate until the U.S. government got behind it during WWII in ord
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Jana
This was a really long and overdramatic story which couldn't decide if it was a romance or a mystery. However, the history in here about the development of penicillin (and the way people dropped off like flies before it) was fascinating.
Nancy
Jun 22, 2010 Nancy rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those interested in a different perspective on WW II
Thank you Goodreads--another First Reads win!

Belfer is a great story teller. I loved the protagonist, Claire Shipley, a photojournalist with Life magazine, caught up in the scientific world of penicillin research during World War II, and the political intrigue of the early 1940s. She was definitely a woman ahead of her time—strong and career oriented.

The book is well researched and well-told. I was intrigued from beginning to end. The details surrounding World War II and life at the time in New
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cheryl
A Fierce Radiance opens in the days following Pearl Harbor but the more immediate historical context is the development of penicillin and similar drugs. With this background, the novel develops both a love story and a murder mystery among a photographer, her family, and players in science and government looking for a medical breakthrough.

I'd give this 3.5 out of 5 if I could. I really enjoyed the background story much more than the feature plot. It feels unimaginable that just 70 years ago a sim
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Paul Pessolano
The city is New York, the time is the Second World War, and the issue is Penicillin.

"A Fierce Radiance" is a well told story that uses th above three items to weave a story, true or untrue, about the emergence of penicillin into the medical world.

Prior to penicillin one of the deadliest conditions for man was an infection. Even a small cut could mean death within days if infected with a staphylococci strain.

CFlaire Shipley, a Life photographer, has lost a daughter to an infection and finds herse
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Jessica
I wanted to like this book because the topic is fascinating, but I just could not deal with 500 pages of Belfer's writing style. She repeats things. She also says things over and over, in a repetitive manner. She uses four sentences when only one is required. She will take an idea and write it four ways and include all four of them. She says things multiple times.

Kudos to Belfer for doing her research. If you want to read about suppurating wounds in the days before antibiotics, this is your nove
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Lorin Cary

Lauren Belfer, A Fierce Radiance

Lauren Belfer’s novel is stunning–in pacing, characterization and setting. Set during the trans formative era of World War II, it captures a period in more ways than I can satisfactorily say. From people listening to radio reports on war developments, to larger issues such as the Federal Government’s critical role in medical research.

There are several principal characters. Claire Shipley is a single Mom, and a photographer for Life magazine. James Stanton is a ph
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Alison
To win a SIGNED copy of A Fierce Radiance visit:


REVIEW:
A front-runner for my #1 book of 2010!!

A Fierce Radiance is an extraordinary novel which comes along once every few years. I absolutely fell in love with this book and can't stop talking about it!!

A Fierce Radiance is set in the early 1940s during the first days following the attack on Pearl Harbor. The story follows the life of Claire Shipley, a beautiful and talented photojournalist for Life magazine, whose boss sends her to cover the te
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Bonnie Brody
A Fierce Radiance' by Lauren Belfer is a compelling novel. Comprised of several genres, this is a book to pick up and savor. I was kept riveted by a combination of history, romance and mystery. This mix makes for athrilling ride that kept me enthralled throughout.

The era is 1941 through 1944. The book opens just after Japan has bombed Pearl Harbor. Our country has declared war and young men are being drafted or
signing up for the military. Some of us can still picture this era. For those of you w
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Karen
Great story and I loved learning about the development of penicillin and its "cousins". It is really astounding that 70 years ago people died from infections that one application of Neosporin would probably curtail. The story moves well and the writing is fine with one notable exception, the dialogue was so stilted and trite. Every time Claire "spoke" I cringed. Her thoughts were fine, it was just the dialogue that did not ring true. She comes across as a real stiff. However while Claire was not ...more
David Mcphee

It’s a about the production of penicillin after the outbreak of the WWII. The story deals the clinical awakening to the effect of this new drug, and the commercial dynamics of the pharmaceutical industry racing to perfect mass-production of the drug all the while struggling while governments came to grips with the military consequences of the drug. But what makes this really gripping for me is the way the author inter weaves the clinical, long term commercial and short term military and governme
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Emilia
I really enjoyed the premise of this book. Very fascinating topic. Life magazine, and it's reporters was not even something I would have thought about. Add to that the development of penicillin and it had the makings for a very good book. The information was very well done, presented in an interesting way, but just didn't like the story. It was a bit jumpy time wise, then the randomness of developing of characters as well as changing of voice was weird. When it came to the ending, I was just fru ...more
Elizabeth (Alaska)
Very readable and had me wanting to turn the pages. The story has much more plot and a lot less characterization than I would prefer, keeping me from rating it even 4 stars. However, it fit right into the easy and quick read I was wanting. To be fair, the book is set in good historical context, which I appreciated, and I learned something about the reasons for penicillin coming to market at the time it did. Coupled with a bit of romance and a bit of cloak and dagger work and it makes for a satis ...more
Karen
I liked Lauren Belfer's first book, City of Light, and while I can't say that I enjoyed A Fierce Radiance as much as City of Light, I can say it was an intriguing read.

A Fierce Radiance begins during the days that follow the attack on Pearl Harbor and takes the reader into the world of American medicine -- more specifically the world of an experimental medicine called...penicillin! The main character is a woman named Claire Shipley, a single mother who is divorced in a time when divorce was tabo
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Kristin
I really waffled between a 3.5 and a 4 star rating for this book, but I finally went with the 4 because I really enjoyed the science and story of the development of penicillin combined with the historical context of World War 2. (It is really unimaginable to me that in my parent's early childhoods there were no antibiotics for strep throat, ear infections, or simple scrapes that became infected and could lead to blood poisoning! Kind of explains a lot about how neurotic older people can be about ...more
Kelly
The reason why I belong to three book clubs is so that I will be compelled to read books that I might not otherwise have selected on my own. This is such a book. Just when I thought I've read any storyline that can be written about WW2, along comes this book which looks at the medical aspect of the war, specifically the development of vaccines to prevent so many soldiers from dying from infection.

Vivid descriptions of NYC and the front lines of the war mimic Claire's keen perception. A photogra
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Amy
I was intrigued by the synopsis of this book - a murder mystery/love story set during WWII and revolving around the discovery of penicillin. I was a little skeptical that the author could successfully pull off the love story and the murder mystery, but it actually worked pretty seamlessly. I loved the setting and the fact that it centered around a real historical event.
Laura
This novel contained some beautiful writing, great historical detail and characters I really enjoyed. I loved learning about the development of penicillin and it gave me pause to recognize what an advancement that was - and what a security it (and its antibiotic cousins) affords us.

The reason my rating is not higher is that I found some of the romantic storyline to be too much "telling" for my taste. I don't mean that the scenes were overly sexual, just that the descriptions of falling in love
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Carol
This was named an NPR Mystery of the Year, but I don't think it succeeds very well as a mystery (or as a love story). That being said, the story takes place against the historical backdrop of the U.S. push to develop pencillin as a viable drug in mass quantities during WW2, and this is fascinating. The fictional story of Clair, a photographer for Life magazine, is grafted onto the history, and I really enjoyed learning about this. However, the mystery part was not that great -- it really takes s ...more
Kathryn
Loved the beginning, but it lost steam for me. The characters stopped doing anything and that is the death knell. I might go back and try again ala Cold Mountain, but only after I finish all the other stuff I want to read.
Cynthia
Read this in second book group (Women) in Oct 2010.
Really enjoyed it.
Set in NYC mostly, in 1940s - wartime.
Maine character, Claire, photographer for Life magazine. Divorced, one young son.
Her parents had been divorced - father estranged but comes back into her life - wealthy, powerful - great NYC apartment.
Romance with James, doctor doing penicillin research.
Love the history, the setting, the discussion of development of drugs, etc etc.
I felt personal resonance: my mother had been a nurse in N
...more
Cate
A mystery, a historical public health topic, a woman's struggle for a career in the 1940's - whichever lens you read this novel through it will engage your heart & mind from start to finish.

From the NYTimes review, "Lauren Belfer’s death-haunted medical thriller begins in December 1941, just three days after the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor. Claire Shipley, a photojournalist working for the phenomenally successful Life magazine, has come to the Rockefeller Institute in New York to recor
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Maggie
Recommended by Jeanne
KarenLee
I won this book on First Reads. I have just started it and am really enjoying it. I have read a lot of novels set during World War II, but this one has a different spin on it than most.

Copied synopsis:

As a determined nation mobilizes for war in the anxious days after Pearl Harbor, beautiful, talented Life magazine photojournalist Claire Shipley finds herself on top of one of the most important stories on the home front. In the quiet labs of New York City’s renowned Rockefeller Institute, some o
...more
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Lauren Belfer was born in Rochester, New York, and grew up in Buffalo, where she attended the Buffalo Seminary. At Swarthmore College, she majored in Medieval Studies. After graduating, she worked as a file clerk at an art gallery, a paralegal, an assistant photo editor at a newspaper, a fact checker at magazines, and as a researcher and associate producer on documentary films. She has an M.F.A. f ...more
More about Lauren Belfer...
City of Light

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