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The Plutonium Files: America's Secret Medical Experiments in the Cold War
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The Plutonium Files: America's Secret Medical Experiments in the Cold War

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  349 ratings  ·  40 reviews
When the vast wartime factories of the Manhattan Project began producing plutonium in quantities never before seen on earth, scientists working on the  top-secret bomb-building program grew apprehensive. Fearful that plutonium  might cause a cancer epidemic among workers and desperate to learn more about what it could do to the human body, the Manhattan Project's medical d ...more
Paperback, 592 pages
Published October 20th 2010 by Delta (first published 1999)
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Mar 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I need to preface this review by saying a couple things about myself moreso than about the book: For one, I grew up wanting to either be a fighter pilot or work for the Department of Energy in one of the fabled national labs. I always saw the military and the DOE as leading the way in many areas of the most advanced of high technologies and I wanted very badly to be part of that. So I have respect for these institutions, possibly more than many readers who will pick up this book. Secondly, when ...more
Apr 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing
The Plutonium Files by Eileen Welsome garnered her a Pulitzer Prize for its writing. This is a part of our country's history that so many people know very little about - yet it continues to impact us today. This book should be required reading by any Civics or history class studying the second world war and the Cold War. The interestingly applied approach to ethics during this time in history, which resulted in thousands of unsuspecting American citizens being injected with Plutonium, Uranium, a ...more
Jan 27, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
First and foremost, this book is LONG, so don't attempt it unless you have the time to dedicate to it. I was debating if Welsome could cut any of the background on the Manhattan Project, Los Alamos, the Japanese bombings, etc. but after much reflection I've concluded she probably cut as much as she probably could without losing the narrative for the uninitiated. Of course, if you're already well-versed in the historical background, much of it will be repetitive, but in the context of human exper ...more
Sep 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book was an incredibly disturbing account of classified experiments associated with the Manhattan project. Many of the experiments were performed on patients without their consent or knowledge. However disturbing, it's an important read for those interested in history, ethics, and medicine.
Aug 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
Documents excellent grounds on which to be suspicious of both the US government and the US scientific establishment.
Jul 05, 2011 rated it it was ok
OMG it's a long read with a lot of information that seems to get redundant, but the topic is interesting.
Stephanie Foster
Required reading. Take away, for one thing, that the nuclear program and its prolific exploding of warheads has tainted millions of human beings...which is not to say we have all been exposed to deadly levels, but that the excuse and the representation were the tests were necessary; thus our government chose to mark us all down as assuming the risks for security's sake. But this became a begged question, under a shroud of secrecy that allowed any experiment or test to be green-lighted, "for nat ...more
May 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very comprehensive book about the secretive testing of the “atomic” age

This is a very compelling and complete book regarding some of the secret experiments that went on during the early days of the atomic age. Unconscionable testing on patients, healthy subjects, the poor, military pilots, sailors, soldiers, healthy subjects, pregnant women, animals, children, orphans, mentally incapacitated, local residents, prisoners, cancer patients and patients suffering from various diseases, without their
Jul 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is essential reading. Welsome has written a thoroughly researched book documenting the complex array of criminal research projects supported by the US government after World War II. Thousands of people- cancer patients, reform school children, military personnel, the poor, the uneducated, the vulnerable- were deliberately exposed to plutonium, uranium, and other radioactive materials in the name of science and national security. There were times when I found myself turning away in ange ...more
Dec 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
This book was insanely well-researched and in-depth, and the length of it showcases that well. There is a large cast of characters, and the stories are dense, which makes it sometimes easy to get lost. Having said that, it details a very important piece of US history that gets little attention despite major impacts on people and the practice of ethical medicine.
Peg Price
Jul 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Outstanding book on a subject that will make you uncomfortable, make you very angry, and make you question authority, especially if it’s the federal government. So well written factually and a tribute to those who were victims. I will never forget this book.
Eugene Mah
Sep 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the first emotions this book elicits from readers is indignation and shock that physicians and government agencies could let the kind of experiments described in this book occur, and the treatment the patients received. This book will no doubt attract significant attention because of the radiation experiments described, but the book seems be more about the prevailing attitudes of physicians and scientists towards patients and research at the time. The activities that take place in the boo ...more
Dec 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Having just finished this book, it's easy to see why Welsome received a Pulitzer Prize for it. Typically, I enjoy historical analyses regarding our atomic age, but this one blew me away. In the aftermath of the WWII, post-Nuremberg, the revelations of American scientific research are cold and stark - not just revelations of science, but of ethics and humanity. Have just limped away from the horrible crimes committed by Nazi scientists, we can see just how little America learned.

While not titilla
Sep 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Wow - this should be required reading.

Welsome exposes and intricately details the medical experiments that were done on unwitting and unknowing American citizens during the Cold War. It is absolutely amazing what was done, and it blows my mind that more people don't know about this.

This book is far from perfect. A huge number of people are described here, and I had a hard time keeping up with them all. Welsome also goes too far into techno-jargon and I found myself sometimes unable to understand
Jan 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Written with understanding offered to a non-technical reader, this book is the culmination of one journalist’s exploration into the shadowy world of America’s secret nuclear program. Eileen Welsome brings the detail and history of Richard Rhode’s The Making of the Atomic Bomb but uses a fresh, engaging voice.

The chapter I’m currently reading tells of earliest observations to radiation health concerns. Women working in New Jersey in the early twentieth century who painted the dials of radium watc
Judith Cartisano
Jul 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I could only read this book a little bit at a time. I found myself becoming emotional and nauseous while reading about the disgusting, immoral plutonium injections and other "treatments" given to innocent folks and to the experiments conducted on all the rest of us, via nuclear bomb testing. The book is disturbing but well worth reading, if only to be warned about what the minds of sociopaths are capable of creating when they are allowed to run amok. There appeared to be no discussion of the mor ...more
wow. the true story behind tests condoned and conducted by the u.s. government on unsuspecting and uninformed citizens. tests that all involved exposure to different types of radioactive material so that the government would be able to ascertain/understand the effects of radioation on the human body. (i guess hiroshima & nagasaki weren't graphic enough evidence that radiation does terrible things to humans...) people were injected with plutonium, mentally handicapped children were fed radioa ...more
Tai Stith
Jul 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This was an absolutely jaw-dropping account of early tests involving plutonium. It reveals the extremely naive scientific thinking/process at the time. Nuclear science was, of course, in its infancy at the time, and I believe that only a few scientists at the time knew the true power and destruction of nuclear isotopes. Having said that, it's incomprehensible the pain and suffering brought on by the things brought to light in this book. I absolutely loved every minute of it, despite the heavy su ...more
This is the book that prompted an unprecedented presidential inquiry under Bill Clinton into Cold war human radiation experiments. A chilling expose of one of the most disturbing set of medical experiments ever performed on unsuspecting subjects. Based on groundbreaking reporting by Albuquerque journalist Eileen Welsome, this book is an invaluable addition to the literature of both Cold War history and medical ethics. It offers a stark reminder of the corrosive combination of the cult of nationa ...more
Jun 15, 2008 is currently reading it
Eileen Welsome first broke the story on the U.S. government's secret radiation experiments on humans during the Cold War at the now-defunct Albuquerque Tribune, in a series which won her a Pulitzer. Since my family has considerable roots in Los Alamos and LANL, and since New Mexico's history is inextricably bound with that of the Manhattan Project, I picked this book up at the library. It's chilling and fascinating, although sometimes the vast cast of characters are hard to keep straight.
Oct 16, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: socialscience
Wow. We really did inject unsuspecting Americans with plutonimium to study the health effects of radiation. This book lays it all out, going through fifty years of documents, and interviewing survivors and their family members. If you ever question the need for human subjects projection in medical research, read this book.
Jul 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
I was interested in this one because we live near a nuclear site as well as the fact that I had cancer that was treated with a medical isotope. It is very disturbing to discover the kinds of tests that AMERICANS performed on AMERICANS without their knowledge. It was slow and wordy at times but interesting all the same.
Mar 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: health
Ahhhh....I forgot I read this book! This book reminds me that it is very important for me to think for myself and be aware of the smoke and mirrors that are often used in big business and government. The testing done on pregnant women is particularly disturbing, seeing how the women had no idea?!!
Sep 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Although very long and filled with a lot of medical jargon...this book talks about the secret medical experiments that were done here in the United States and else where during the Cold War. It's pretty crazy and quite scary!!!
Jul 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
It's amazing to see how many scientist who were involved in these experiments were also at the fore front of cancer treatment. Enjoyed reading this novel but it made me question the bases of modern medical treatment today and if these types of experiments continue in the name of medicine.
Kaeleigh Forsyth
what da fweak
Jul 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Wow. This book is amazing. Some scary history here.
Nov 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
May 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
fascinating and frightening.
PEN Center USA
Aug 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
2000 PEN Center USA Award Winner for Research Nonfiction
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