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Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  825 ratings  ·  98 reviews
While many transnational histories of the nuclear arms race have been written, Kate Brown provides the first definitive account of the great plutonium disasters of the United States and the Soviet Union.

In Plutopia, Brown draws on official records and dozens of interviews to tell the extraordinary stories of Richland, Washington and Ozersk, Russia-the first two cities in
Hardcover, 406 pages
Published April 5th 2013 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 2013)
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Start your review of Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters
Sep 02, 2013 rated it liked it
I found something about this book puzzling and troubling - but I am having difficulty putting it into words. Because of my background in Russian studies and a personal connection to Richland, Washington, I was interested in reading this comparison of these two unusual cities that served as the homes of the workers who manufactured plutonium for the Soviet Union and the United States.

I am not an academic Russian specialist myself, but I was an area studies librarian specializing in Russia for abo
Rebecca Huston
This is one of those books that stay with you, and not in a good way. The author looks at two 'nuclear' cities, built in the 1940's and '50's in Washington state and in the Soviet Union, to process the nuclear material -- plutonium -- for atomic bombs. How they were built, how the residents lived, and the terrible accidents that would have a long reaching effects on everyone. I found it a fascinating, but damn depressing. It's well written, but not for everyone. Four stars overall.

For the longe
Debbie Deerwester
Dec 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fascinating read about about two towns Richland, WA and Ozersk, Russia in a race to create nuclear bombs and the first two cities to create plutonium. The author interviewed hundreds of people and did a lot of research to tell the tale of these two towns with similar stories. In the race to be the first to produce and meet deadlines, safety was overlooked leaving workers and the community exposed to radioactivity.

Having been raised in Richland, WA, it was interesting to read about all that was
Mar 06, 2020 rated it liked it
Very sad. It was a tuff read.
Mar 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the declassification of studies (done over 60 years) where the US conducted 2,000 radiation experiments on as many as 20,000 US citizens, including pregnant women. That's only one fact mentioned briefly in the book. There is so much more to the story of plutonium manufacturing and the people who were used to make sure two nations would have more than enough of it to destroy the world several times over.

Essentially, the book explores how the US and Russia
Jun 20, 2013 rated it it was ok
This book was unsurprisingly subjective. I agree with the overall issue, that the American and Soviet governments have grossly overstepped their bounds during the Cold War with regard to nuclear weapon production. The concern Brown has for the communities around the nuclear sites is definitely warranted. Their homes, livestock, crops, and own bodies were contaminated by a source outside of their control. They were kept in the dark about the physiological harm that became them, which is unjust. S ...more
Feb 26, 2015 rated it it was ok
If you are going to write a non fiction book you should have real passion for the subject not just an axe to grind. I bought this book hoping to learn more about what went on at Hanford, how plutonium was manufactured, as well as the accidents that took place. Instead you get a book written by someone who seems to know nothing about science, nothing about how the world was in the 1940's during WWII. the first 8 or so chapters are all about how sleazy DuPont the company was in the way it operated ...more
The book covers important topic and a thesis that American and Soviet nuclear programs caused comparable social consequences is persuasive. Unfortunately, I can hardly stand author's writing style. ...more
Jarrod S
Tells the story of two plutonium-producing communities, one in the Soviet Union and one in the United States. They are remarkably similar in their design, oversight, fears, and biological and environmental consequences. These myriad risks were accepted by the population that worked in the plants because they were given an affluent lifestyle.

The book needs to be organized better and the author could more clearly show her argument throughout the book but, in general, these two intertwined histori
Apr 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
One of the best nonfiction books I've read recently. Well-written, fascinating, and every bit advanced the thesis. Great comparison/contrast of the Soviet and US nuclear weapons plant cities. The more I read on the history of nuclear weapons manufacturing, the more amazed I am that we haven't blown ourselves up and/or polluted the entire planet beyond repair. ...more
Francesca Calarco
Dec 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
If you are looking for a great environmental history read comparable to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, then I absolutely would have to recommend Kate Brown’s Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters. I think it’s safe to say that any community, be it in the United States or Soviet Russia, that was burdened with plutonium development inherently suffered from both health and social consequences. For as different as the two country’s governmen ...more
Oct 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 20s, to-read-2020
Well, I was not expecting this book to teach me about the history of the American suburb, or the etymology of the term "nuclear family," but there you have it. While I was previously aware of the problems that has plagued the nuclear industry - cancer clusters, indigenous environmental injustices, ecological degradation, (lack of) waste management, and more, my critiques of plutopia are now more specific and strengthened by data. Ugh, the failures of the American experiment are so abundant...

I b
Aug 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A great history of the way nuclear material made its way into the lives, bodies, environments, economies, and cultures of mid-twentieth century America and Soviet Russia. This is both work of journalism and a work of history; it's probing, inquisitive, interdisciplinary, and razor sharp. Having spend a good number of years in my youth not far from the banks of the Columbia River - and having never heard of its highly contaminated headwaters - much of Kate Brown's story came as a bit of a shock. ...more
Wendy Bousfield
Aug 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: chernobyl

Plutopia (2013) tells the shocking, utterly credible story of plutonium production in two nations and of the government-owned and administered towns that housed plant workers. Written in a clear, erudite, occasionally lyrical style, Plutopia is the result of Kate Brown’s historical and archival research, travels, and interviews in two countries. Equally fluent in Russian and English, Kate Brown “worked in more than a dozen archives in the United States and Russia” (8) and conducted interviews wi
Rachel Willis
Jun 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
A disturbing, eye-opening read. Highly recommended.
Ivan Grek
May 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing

Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters by Kate Brown is a fascinating comparative historical account of everyday lives of people who stayed beyond the curtains of the Cold War, producing uranium for nuclear weapons. Through the comparison of Soviet Ozersk (a town in the Urals) and American Richland (a town in the Pacific Northwest), closed cities populated by nuclear factory workers, Brown breaks the ground of classical conceptualization
Peter Sprunger
May 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nuclear-issues
This is a fun read for anyone interested in the history of nuclear weapons complexes. Kate Brown tells two stories in parallel - that of the U.S. plutonium production facility, Hanford, and the nearby city of Richland, and that of the Russian counterparts Maiak and Ozersk, respectively.

The two stories are told from the perspective of the workers and focus primarily on their long term health issues. She begins with an early history of both plants and the uncertainties the plant managers faced in
Mar 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
I gave this read four stars because it was so unsettling to me, not because it isn't worthy of 5 stars.
This information seems thoroughly documented, so it is distressing that so much cover-up went on during a critical time in our history. We lived and raised our family in the fall-out area of Hanford nuclear reactors. We are well acquainted with the health issues now suffered by many of our friends in this area, but our own family is now burdened with serious health issues that could be traced
victor harris
Nov 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Revealing work on the carelessness of the atomic energy industry in monitoring and regulating plutonium and its destructive effects on humans, animals, and the environment. The areas in question are the Hanford facility in eastern Washington during and after WW II, and the fits and starts in the Soviet chase to catch up. The chapters alternate focusing on each site. Very informative and horrifying.
Dec 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Very, very interesting book on the history of the Atomic cities of both the USA and USSR/Russia and the human costs of plutonium enrichment. The author has written a well researched book and expanded that research with many, many interviews and trips to the cities (or as close as possible since the Russian city of Ozersk is still a closed city). Highly recommended reading.
Forrest Link
Dec 11, 2013 rated it liked it
Not quite what I expected. The book feels like a re-worked dissertation and much of the prose is quite bland. While I get the overall premise that the pressures of cold-war arms-building resulted in settlements not in character with their culture where dodgy worker safety was compensated for with material rewards, the point was made early on and beaten to death.
Nov 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
In hyper-capitalist post-war Washington is a closed city where blue-collar workers live in government-funded housing they aren't allowed to own. Corporate secret police monitor everyone everywhere, from their workplaces to the public pools. Workers are given lessons on proper speech and proper etiquette. Complainers and dissenters, along with their families, are removed. Along the banks of the Columbia river, plutonium is produced, and more radioactive particles are released into the environment ...more
Philip Kuhn
Jul 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A very important and interesting book on the one American and one Soviet cities that produced the plutonium for the arms race. Very interesting the way the writer, Kate Brown, explores the similarities between the two cities. They were and still are a lot more alike than people from either country would like to admit.

I really loved the way Brown interviewed the people who used to work at both plants, as well as the truly unfortunate ones who lived near by either one.

You can not read the section
Nov 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
In the mid-20th century, two plutonium plants went up in eastern Washington and rural Russia. This is an exhaustive and thoroughly researched history of these plants, the insulated communities built to support them, and the contamination that will outlive them by tens of thousands of years. Their effects are larger in scale than the great known nuclear catastrophes – Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima – but relatively obscure because of intense secrecy from within and more hidden disasters ...more
Feb 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Brown provides a detailed and well cited historical overview of the race to produce nuclear material in the Soviet Union and United States. The author takes great care in providing a comprehensive comparison of the development, organization, and outcome of the Hanford nuclear site and the Mayak production site. In particular, the author frames the human side of the story, providing a clear and detailed narrative of the lives impacted, for good and for ill, by the production of nuclear material t ...more
Aug 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a well researched book and I bet it rubs a lot of people involved in the cities and the work the wrong way. She tells of hurried construction, unsafe working conditions, accidents covered up, experiments done on unsuspecting people, and nuclear waste that will never be cleaned up in the lifetime of humans.

I like that she places these cities and their inhabitants in their political milieu.

1. Russians = communists/socialists that build themselves a little bastion of capitalism/consumeri
Simon Dobson
Nov 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The all-but-unknown history of the US and Soviet nuclear weapons programmes contains some amazing parallels illuminated in this book. To get workers to agree to the claustrophobic and restrictive conditions in the plutonium plants, both sets of authorities created model cities that (in the US case) became models for a lot of later "gated" communities, but also gave residents a taste of an almost European social model they were reluctant to give up. The Soviet example is even more dramatic, almos ...more
Nov 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book was terrifying. But also extremely informative. But also terrifying...because it was so informative.

The amount of research that went into this work is staggering. But it's also something that weighs it down. Brown had so much crammed in that sometimes the pace and the stories of individuals suffer as a result of her needing to move on in order to share the next piece of mindblowing information.

I almost wish she had written this as a series of two to three books so she could linger lo
Dori Sabourin
Jul 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook, hoopla
In the aftermath of WWII, during the Cold War, in the arms race to develop an atomic bomb, both Russia and the U.S. installed fully subsidized atomic cities. These were Big Brother communities, sworn to secrecy. What better way to live thought the fully employed workers and their families. Time passed, nuclear accidents occurred endangering the health of the workers, their families, animals, land, and even rivers. When seeking restitution, they were accused of fake news,and in some cases, remove ...more
Dori Sabourin
Jul 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
In the aftermath of WWII, during the Cold War, in the arms race to develop an atomic bomb, both Russia and the U.S. installed fully subsidized atomic cities. These were Big Brother communities, sworn to secrecy. What better way to live thought the fully employed workers and their families. Time passed, nuclear accidents occurred endangering the health of the workers, their families, animals, land, and even rivers. When seeking restitution, they were accused of fake news,and in some cases, remove ...more
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Kate Brown is a Professor of History at University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), and a 2009 Guggenheim Fellow. She is the author of A Biography of No Place, which won the American Historical Association’s International European History Prize for Best Book.

Brown received her B.A. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and her Ph.D. from the University of Washington, Seattle.

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“In eastern Washington, the territory around the Hanford reservation is promoted as the last stand of original shrub-sage habitat in the Columbia Basin, yet periodically deer and rabbits wander from the preserve and leave radioactive droppings on Richland’s lawns.” 0 likes
“Radioactive isotopes, so readily combining with biological forms, had no discrete boundaries. In time, they were no longer distinct from the local environment, from scientists’ bodies, or from human evolution.” 0 likes
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