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Extended Audio Sample Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats, by Kristen Iversen Click for printable size audiobook cover
4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 4.00 (659 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Kristen Iversen Narrator: Kristen Iversen, Kirsten Potter Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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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 is the story of a childhood and adolescence in the shadow of the Cold War, in a landscape at once startlingly beautiful and—unknown to those who lived there—tainted with invisible yet deadly particles of plutonium. It’s also a book about the destructive power of secrets, both family and government. Her father’s hidden liquor bottles, the strange cancers in children in the neighborhood, the truth about what was made at Rocky Flats (cleaning supplies, her mother guessed)—best not to inquire too deeply into any of it. But as Iversen grew older, she began to ask questions.

She learned about the infamous 1969 Mother’s Day fire, in which a few scraps of plutonium spontaneously ignited and—despite the desperate efforts of firefighters—came perilously close to a “criticality,” the deadly blue flash that signals a nuclear chain reaction. Intense heat and radiation almost melted the roof, which nearly resulted in an explosion that would have had devastating consequences for the entire Denver metro area. Yet the only mention of the fire was on page twenty-eight of the Rocky Mountain News, underneath a photo of the Pet of the Week. In her early thirties, Iversen even worked at Rocky Flats for a time, typing up memos in which accidents were always called “incidents.” And as this memoir unfolds, it reveals itself as a brilliant work of investigative journalism—a detailed and shocking account of the government’s sustained attempt to conceal the effects of the toxic and radioactive waste released by Rocky Flats and of local residents’ vain attempts to seek justice in court.

Here, too, are vivid portraits of former Rocky Flats workers, from the healthy, who regard their work at the plant with pride and patriotism, to the ill or dying, who battle for compensation for cancers they got on the job. Based on extensive interviews, FBI and EPA documents, and class-action testimony, this taut, beautifully written book promises to have a very long half-life.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Ms. Iverson has delivered an intimate history of the environmental abuses at Rocky Flats…[Full Body Burden] becomes a potent examination of the dangers of secrecy.”

    New York Times

  • “Iversen writes her 50-year account in the present tense, a choice that lends her narrative a crackling immediacy. She writes with an eloquent precision, surprises frequently with personal anecdotes and abrupt, savory transitions. The result is fiercely non-polemical, nuanced, and ultimately fully convincing…Iversen’s account of two fires at the plant separated by 30 years, one of which nearly went critical, sears with first-person, real-time immediacy…Resonates with deep personal honesty…When she writes about the historical actors outside her personal orbit it is with a clarity of purpose and an economy of motion…Iversen has left us a beautiful memoir that recognizes the inevitable intrusion of greater social forces in all our lives and the risk we take in ignoring them.”

    Denver Post

  • “Iversen’s reporting, extensive interviews, and review of FBI and EPA documents show how classifying a toxic nuclear site led to the ruin of hundreds of lives—and continues to pose ever-escalating threats as the legacy of what we know about such nuclear contamination is being swept under the rug by developers, energy lobbyists, and government agencies colluding with them, at the risk of exposing more of us, more severely.”

    Guardian (UK)

  • “In this powerful work of research and personal testimony, Iversen chronicles the story of America’s willfully blinkered relationship to the nuclear weapons industry through the haunting experience of her own family in Colorado…The grief was ongoing, as Iversen renders in her masterly use of the present tense, conveying tremendous suspense and impressive control of her material.”

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  • “Iversen seems to have been destined to write this shocking and infuriating story of a glorious land and a trusting citizenry poisoned by Cold War militarism and ‘hot’ contamination, secrets and lies, greed and denial…News stories come and go. It takes a book of this exceptional caliber to focus our attention and marshal our collective commitment to preventing future nuclear horrors.”

    Booklist (starred review)

  • “Superbly crafted tale of Cold War America’s dark underside.”

    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

  • “With meticulous reporting and a clear eye for details, Iversen has crafted a chilling, brilliantly written cautionary tale about the dangers of blind trust. Through interviews, sifting through thousands of records (some remain sealed), and even a stint as a Rocky Flats receptionist, she uncovers decades of governmental deception. Full Body Burden is both an engrossing memoir and a powerful piece of investigative journalism.”


  • Nominated for the 2012 Barnes & Noble Discover Award for Nonfiction
  • One of the 2012 Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books for Nonfiction
  • A Finalist for the 2012 Carnegie Medal for Literature
  • A Finalist of the 2012 Colorado Book Award
  • A 2012 American Library Association Best Book

Listener Opinions

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Warren Perry | 2/18/2014

    " I added this book to the syllabus of the senior seminar I teach at Catholic University. It brings us forward from chapter 13 in Carl Sagan's Cosmos and shows us what living under the nuclear cloud for the past seventy years has come to entail. Iversen tells the story of the Rocky Flats community that sustains generations of problems as a result of the Rocky Flats nuclear production facility-- a plant that manufactures triggers for atomic bombs. The number of problems the plant brings to the community is stunning, as is the government's complicity in the long term damages which occur in this little suburb. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Honey | 2/11/2014

    " This was an interesting read. Hard to imagine no one knew (or wasn't honest about) the damaging affects of the plutonium... "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Stephanie | 2/5/2014

    " This book artfully weaves memoir, investigative journalism, and science writing. It's a must-read for anyone living in Colorado or interested in environmental justice. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Tracy | 2/5/2014

    " A somewhat long, sometimes confusing book about a nuclear plant in Colorado. Leaky barrels of plutonium, fires releasing chemicals in the air. A housing development downwind of the plant that most people believe makes cleaning supplies! Interesting read - could work for a nonfiction read for high school/common core. "

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