Full Body Burden

Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats
Length: 13 hrs and 53 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (158 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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's 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 28 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.

©2012 Kristen Iversen (P)2012 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

" Full Body Burden is one of the most important stories of the nuclear era - as personal and powerful as Silkwood, told with the suspense and narrative drive of The Hot Zone. With unflinching honesty, Kristen Iverson has written an intimate and deeply human memoir that shows why we should all be concerned about nuclear safety, and the dangers of ignoring science in the name of national security. Rocky Flats needs to be part of the same nuclear discussion as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. So does Full Body Burden. It's an essential and unforgettable book that should be talked about in schools and book clubs, online and in the White House." (Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks)
"What a surprise! You don't expect such (unobtrusively) beautiful writing in a book about nuclear weapons, nor such captivating storytelling. Plus the facts are solid and the science told in colloquial but never dumbed-down terms. If I could afford them, I'd want the movie rights. Having read scores of nuclear books, I venture a large claim: Kristin Iversen's Full Body Burden may be a classic of nuclear literature, filling a gap we didn't know existed among Hersey's Hiroshima, Burdick and Wheeler's Fail-Safe, and Kohn's Who Killed Karen Silkwood?" (Mark Hertsgaard, author of Nuclear Inc. and HOT)
"This terrifyingly brilliant book - as perfectly crafted and meticulously assembled as the nuclear bomb triggers that lie at its core - is a savage indictment of the American strategic weapons industry, both haunting in its power, and yet wonderfully, charmingly human as a memoir of growing up in the Atomic Age." (Simon Winchester, author of The Professor and the Madman and Atlantic)

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A story that no one else wanted to tell.

What made the experience of listening to Full Body Burden the most enjoyable?

Relevance.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes.

Any additional comments?

If you live near ANY government facility that is surrounded by a fence, this is a MUST-read. If you live near any of the government facilities that are discussed - by name, this is an actionable-read.

Two criticisms:
1. The audio quality of the first 45 minutes (...or so) is sub-standard. Don't be discouraged by this: keep listening.
2. The ending could have included more detail about the blitzkrieg-cleanup of the buildings and soil.

P.S. The local-alternative newspaper she mentions is named Westword. It has a web site where archival issues can be viewed. About 10 years ago, they did an investigative series on Rocky Flats that is thorough and provides supporting data/viewpoints to Ms. Iversen's material

5 people found this helpful

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Important Information Every One should Know

At First I was not impressed with the story. The authors family is clearly dysfunctional.
It was hard to be sympathetic. The continuity was not the best. However the information
about our Nuclear program in Colorado was unbelievable . Rocky Flats was and IS one of the HOTTEST areas in the United States with plutonium pollution. Over all the information is compelling and a good "read" The narrator is very good.

4 people found this helpful

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Believable Disclosure

Would you listen to Full Body Burden again? Why?

I have listened to Full Body Burden several times. Each time I relate and tie more facts to other books, such as Area 51.

What did you like best about this story?

The story was methodical and easy to follow considering all the details.

Have you listened to any of Kirsten Potter and Kristen Iversen ’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I have listened to every non-fiction book available by Kirsten Potter. Her voice has a soothing vibration which makes for easy listening. The tone of her voice keeps my interest. She speaks at a rate of speed that is easy to follow with clear enunciation. Kirsten has done a fabulous job of fine tuning her skills.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Once again I felt deep betrayal by the government with a resentment toward the Department of Energy. I feel sad for all of those effected by the officials lying and withholding vital information. The DOE is stealing taxpayers money to create dangerous materials that are no longer necessary because of the immense quantities of manufactured plutonium.

Any additional comments?

I applaud Kristen Iversen for recording the events throughout her life, then writing such tell it all book.

3 people found this helpful

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Creative Nonfiction at its Best

What made the experience of listening to Full Body Burden the most enjoyable?

Kristen Iversen gives an intensely personal story of growing up next to Rocky Flats, a factory that made fusion bomb triggers and living with plutonium pollution. Iversen makes a great case that Rocky Flats is America's Chernobly catastrophe that was covered up by the U.S. government.

What other book might you compare Full Body Burden to and why?

I found Full Body Burden equal to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, and The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson.

3 people found this helpful

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Great book!!

What made the experience of listening to Full Body Burden the most enjoyable?

I liked the investigative journalism aspects and her "primary" source experiences in and around Rocky Flats. I found the government coverup disconcerting to say to least and I was appalled at the apparent lack of compassion and understanding the government displayed with respect to the numerous cancer and other radiological illnesses that occurred as a result of Rocky Flats.

What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

The coverup

What does Kirsten Potter and Kristen Iversen bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

I recently got an electric car, so having a quiet vehicle on my way to work really allows me to enjoy audio books. Before this, the drumming of the engine would make listening difficult, but now, it's crystal clear and I think enhanced the experience.

Any additional comments?

The only issue I have is I would have loved for her to dive deeper into the fires that happened at Rocky Flats. What did they do to clean up these problems, and what happened to all those men who fought those fires. I would have liked to know more about her Father and his drinking and maybe some background on what may have caused his alcoholism, that would have been something I would have enjoyed learning more about.

2 people found this helpful

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Eye opening and personal

Very well written. She makes the story "real". Must read if you are interested in our nuclear history. I had no idea how poorly managed and dangerous the place was when I lived in Boulder.

1 person found this helpful

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Horrifying Secrets of Nuclear Exposure

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's 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- 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 28 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, the best wages around, and a denial of the safety risks. This book ends with a poem about nuclear bombs by Allen Ginsburg. Very good and very hard to read.

1 person found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Who knew Nuclear Weapons were still killing?

What did you love best about Full Body Burden?

The way she wove her life's story with the events elsewhere (elsewhere being literally down the road) at Rocky Flats.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Full Body Burden?

The occasions when her father was trying to have a well dug and they were continually unable to succeed.

What did you like about the performance? What did you dislike?

That the author was able to convince how you clueless the neighbors (and ultimately most-affected) were by the ongoings at Rocky Flats.

Didn't exactly like the way the story was "wrapped up."

If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

How much do you trust your government?

1 person found this helpful

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An incredibly well done memoir mixed with news

I didn't realize before reading this that just outside of Denver lived another world full of toxic waste and plutonium polluting the land and the water. This story could not have come together without both pieces - the investigative journalism and the dysfunctional family dynamic. This isn't a book I would have picked up on my own - in fact, I had to read it for a class, but I'm thankful for the experience of reading this book. The narrator was perfection, and I felt like it was the author telling her tale.

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The Shadow Lengthens

Rocky Flats is with us still, a burden on the earth, a burden on our bodies, a burden on our psyches. This horrific story is the telling of innocent encounters with government treachery that spell eventual early death to many unsuspecting citizens of the United States of America. Is it acceptable to moral upstanding citizens to allow our political and corporate “servants” to make decisions secretly that may result in our death? No. What recourse do we have when evidence is sealed that would reveal the true culprits of these deadly decisions that result in the death of innocents? Our recourse is the internet social media platforms, the uberpowerful communications networks to which every citizen has access. I urge readers to push for justice, to spread this heretofore low-keyed but shocking story outward to global citizens. Let the world see our so-called leaders and corporate giants and courts who espouse profits over human lives and let them be seen as emperors who have no clothes. We will not be silenced. How many other plutonium producing sites in this world have similar horror stories that have been suppressed? Beware and be activated - go online to bring justice for those who have unknowingly been exposed to radiation and then been left to bear the expense of their own failing health.