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Radiation: What It Is, What You Need to Know

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  207 ratings  ·  33 reviews
The essential guide to radiation: the good, the bad, and the utterly fascinating, explained with unprecedented clarity.

Earth, born in a nuclear explosion, is a radioactive planet; without radiation, life would not exist. And while radiation can be dangerous, it is also deeply misunderstood and often mistakenly feared. Now Robert Peter Gale, M.D,—the doctor to whom concern
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published January 29th 2013 by Knopf
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Average rating 3.72  · 
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Jul 31, 2013 rated it it was ok
One almost needs a science background to understand this book. And even if you tough it out and hang in there until the end, there are few take aways. Many times, the authors simply say "well, it's a complicated issue and there are pros and cons." Well, gee thanks - I already knew that. So, allow me to save you some time. Basically, the authors conclude that food irradiation is harmless, and you also don't need to be concerned about the radiation from microwaves, tv screens or computers, cell ph ...more
Apr 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
Radiation: What It Is, What You Need to Know by Robert Peter Gale, M.D., and Eric Lax

“Radiation” is an even-handed, educational and accessible book on radiation. The book covers many forms of radiation like microwaves and radio waves which have insufficient energy to alter cells to the more energetic forms known as ionizing radiations that can alter the structure of atoms. Scientist, physician, and author of twenty-two medical books, Robert Peter Gale, has teamed up with accomplished author Eric
Aug 14, 2022 rated it it was amazing
This was a terrific read that was filled with great information in an easy-to-read style. I thoroughly enjoyed deepening my understanding on this topic.
Anders Rasmussen
Oct 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Since the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima radiotion has achieved an even worse reputation than it had previously. To what extent is this reputation deserved? Speaking more broadly, how great a risk does radition pose to us, and in what ways does it help us?
Robert Gale and Eric Lac, the authors of Radition, starts by stating a few facts that everyone should know but which many people probably do not know. First, radiation is present everywhere. It is in the ground, in the air, in the food that we e
James Prentice
Mar 22, 2014 rated it it was ok
I appreciate the effort and the writing isn't bad, but the assumptions made by the author and the lack of understanding how to address their audience are stunning.

I'm a registered professional engineer who continues to study science, regularly. I've been reading about how the mind works since I graduated college.

Never mind that the author sweeps aside reasonable and scientifically rigorous arguments about the issues associated with radiation.

On page 208 or so the author explains away most people
Jul 29, 2013 rated it liked it
This book read more like a public pamphlet on radiation than a book. It is clear and well explained and is much more broadly focused. It does a good job of explaining cesium-137 and iodine-131 and how they affect us during a possible fallout scenario. The main gist is that we are surrounded by radiation be it through background (cosmic/terrestrial) or man-made ( medical screenings(x-rays,PET,CT)/airplane flights) and so radiation via nuclear power plants is not as dangerous as perceived. There i ...more
Apr 16, 2016 rated it liked it
My general rule is that if a book's author feels the need to list their credentials (MD, PhD), the book is not worth reading, so I was pretty dubious about this book, co-authored by Such and Such, MD. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the balanced approach and decent coverage of the topic.

That said, while this was probably as as good a coverage of the topic as could be done, I didn't find it particularly necessary information for me. I'm not one of the worry-warts who freak out over the ide
Feb 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The title sounds kind of alarmist but the insides aren't so bad. It had a lot of food for thought and refreshed my memory about what we learned in school about nuclear energy and radiation in general. It's pretty up to date as well, talking about as recent events as the Fukushima Daikii accident. ...more
Jul 18, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
Maybe it was the narrator, but it felt rather patronizing.
Also weren't you paying attention in your college science class?
Otherwise, information was decent, there were some parts that weren't in my science class, such as the different ways radiation is used to treat cancer.
Jan 30, 2013 rated it liked it
Informative and well presented, I just realized I don't have a book length fascination with radiation. ...more
Mar 11, 2019 rated it liked it
Everything is radioactive. People are concerned about accidents at Nuclear power plant facilities but also with taking X-Rays of teeth, chest, injured limbs, CT scans of chest and abdomen; sunlight and tanning booths; and also, radio waves from cell phones. And, also we humans are concerned about irradiated foods.

We should be aware that Radon-222 is found everywhere on earth, trapped in un-ventilated basements and is linked to lung cancer in non-smokers.
You can get a radon test kit for $10 to $1
Andrew Skretvedt
Jan 09, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: seen-at-library
This book is reasonable at addressing commonplace radiophobia and addresses radiation from all sources, natural and man made, especially medical. A lesser amount of attention was given to accidental radiation releases from nuclear power, and given it was for primarily this reason I chose to read the book, I was slightly disappointed. In all though, I found it worthwhile.

I am one of those people who are of the opinion that if we wish to maintain and enhance our standard of living for the future,
May 15, 2017 rated it liked it
A book that begins by presupposing what it is we need to know that we don't already is setting itself up as a disappointment for readers whose expectations differ. A more fitting title would be along the lines of "Radiation: How it works and what it does to the human body." Radiation is, well, science-y and complex, but I have a better grasp of its mechanisms under manipulation by man and its sources and behavior where it occurs naturally. Weapons, testings, and bomb blasts figure heavily. The l ...more
J Henderson
Feb 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Dry, but interesting book that discusses the benefits and risks of radiation. The authors discuss natural radiation, nuclear medicine, food irradiation, and radiation sickness. The book comes across more as a series of lectures on how radiation affects you, the difference between radiation dosage and exposure, what typical annual radiation dosage is, and how some radiation exposures compare to the recent radiation disasters like Fuakashima and Chernobyl. Not everyone will appreciate this book as ...more
Alicia Goldstein
May 06, 2021 rated it it was ok
The more I read this book the more I dislike it. The author's tone of voice is incredibly condescending. He provides statements throughout without providing any evidence all while using words like: likely, probably, barely, minimally. "Possible slight increase"

The author also likes to back up his arguments by providing examples of worse things. "Although there was, and continues to be, considerable debate and concern over the 80% of atmospheric releases from Fukushima Daiichi that were deposited
Alice Huynh
Aug 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book generally gives us the overall knowledge of what radiation is and how it works and affects the environment as well as human health. Occasionally, there is excessive technical information which can confuse readers with no basic science background. This book might be a useful reference for anyone who wants to study medical imaging such as radiology or just wants to understand radiation.
Parker Brennon
May 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Exactly what I was looking for. Many radiological topics are covered, and the content isn't too difficult to understand. The book claims it's neither an opponent or proponent of nuclear power, yet I find it leans in nuclear energy's favor. I do as well, while also acknowledging its dangers and risks. I feel much better informed and far less frightened after reading. ...more
J.R. Batz
Feb 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Not an easy read. Be prepared to read thoroughrly and look up a lot of definitions, if you are not already familiar with radiology.

However, the book was very insightful to both the risks and benefits of radiation. I finished the book with a broader and deeper understanding of the subject.
Oct 11, 2020 rated it liked it
An interesting read. Focused a lot on nuclear energy and weapons. Much preferred the stories and discussion of non-nuclear radiation.
Alex Shrugged
Dec 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
"Radiation" is not exactly a science book. It is an attempt to make a science-based issue understandable. It is written by a scientist so it gets lost in the weeds occasionally, but the book is interspersed with examples of the dangers of exposure to radiation.

For example... when a scanning machine that uses radioactive material became the object of an ownership dispute, the machine went unused for years (presumably as lawsuits dragged on). In the meantime, the machine was placed under guard in
Jul 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: physics
This book if a gem, I'm fairly surprised it gets such a low rating here.
While it is definitely not an encyclopedic source of information on radiation, it does what the title conveys sufficiently well.

Unlike other reviewers, I don't think one needs a science background in order to understand the subject as presented by the authors; the tone is very conversational, and never patronizing. No formulas, very few charts and graphs. Easily digestible.

If I were to divide the book in two parts: "What is
Jan 15, 2017 rated it liked it
This is a very interesting review of what is really know today about the harm caused to humans by radiation from nuclear plants. It also provides a tutorial on what exactly is radiation for those who have not studied physics at a university level.
The big issue has been the assertion by some that any level of radiation, no matter how small, will cause some cancer. The author says this is not a settled issue, but it really is. First, workers at nuclear power plants, who receive more radiation than
Aug 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
I meandered between studiously reading and skimming the information offered in this book, but I did enjoy it and thought it was fairly enlightening. I did assume there was going to be more on the science of radiation (yanno, as the title suggests: 'Radiation, What It Is') but there was definitely a lot of info on radiation's effect on the body's cells and the medical use of radiation, which were interesting topics in their own right, but I guess I wanted to know more about the formation of the d ...more
Walt Heenan
Aug 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Good:
Very informative book explaining almost anything a non-expert might want to know about radiation.
Written by one of the world's foremost experts on radiation.

The Bad:
The writing was often confusing or rambling. If you are writing a book about a complex, controversial, and often incorrectly represented topic (like this), it is critical that the writing, editing, examples, etc. be rock solid and crystal clear. Sadly, sometimes they weren't.
This isn't a page-turner; but it isn't a dry pedan
Jul 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
I thought this was a very interesting book. Some parts were a little technical, but not too much. It really highlighted how much people are misinformed about radiation and don't realize that many things are naturally radioactive (bananas and granite countertops, for example). It's interesting how people focus on certain perceived dangers, while not realizing there are much bigger dangers they are exposing themselves to. For example, you will be exposed to much more radiation actually flying in a ...more
Sep 22, 2016 added it
Shelves: 2016
FINALLY I AM DONE WITH THIS BOOK. I am not a good book-quitter. I read it mostly to learn more about radiation, after reading about Chernobyl. The author put forth reasons why Chernobyl didn't really increase most cancers all that much. Not sure I believe it. The science seemed shaky to me, in a way that I couldn't explain. Also he suggests that solar panels can emit what are I believe carcinogenic levels of background radiation, and I had never heard that before. So..I dunno. I finished it, but ...more
Jul 30, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science-medicine
I read this hoping to get a leg up on future radiobiology coursework. The writing is disorganized and goes into frequent, though thankfully brief, tangents. There are also a lot of badly-phrased passages that are potentially ambiguous or downright wrong: "If a neutron or proton is emitted, the atomic number will change, and we have a new element." [p. 67, emphasis mine] There are some interesting bits of trivia, but on the whole it seemed very dumbed-down to me. ...more
May 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I actually really liked this book. It's very informative about everything that covers radiation. Although some of the chapters are dense, it's written well. I wish there were decisive paragraphs in which things were summed up simply, but if you get into it, it isn't hard to process and understand the information. This book told me everything I wanted to know, with enough technicality to help me understand the hard bits, but not too confusing. I might just get my own copy to make notes in :) ...more
Garry Alexander
Feb 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Literally amazing. Take a look back.. Earth, born in a nuclear explosion, is a radioactive planet; without radiation, life would not exist. And while radiation can be dangerous, it is also deeply misunderstood and often mistakenly feared..
Aug 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Explaining atoms and physics to dummies like me is no small achievement and these guys do a great job. Notice to science writers: you can't make things too simple or child like for most of us. Entertaining, must reread at some point... ...more
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