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A Fierce Radiance: A Novel Hardcover – June 15, 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 532 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (June 15, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061252514
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061252518
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (90 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #906,523 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Penicillin operates as the source of romance, murder, and melodrama in Belfer's (City of Light) evocative WWII–era novel. When Life magazine sends strikingly beautiful photographer Claire Shipley to report on a promising new medication made from green mold, Claire, 36, the single mother of a young son, who lost her daughter to blood poisoning eight years before, is moved by the drug's potential to save lives. She also becomes smitten with resident doctor James Stanton, a man with two interests: penicillin and bedding Claire. But as the war casualties pile up, penicillin becomes an issue of national security and the politics of the drug's production threaten to disrupt the pair's lust-fueled romance, especially when James is sent abroad to oversee human trials of the drug. The pharmaceutical companies—including one owned by Claire's father—realize the financial potential in penicillin, which leads to a hodgepodge of soapy plot twists: suspicious deaths, amnesia, illness, exploitation, and espionage. Belfer handily exploits Claire's photo shoots to add historical texture to the book, and the well-researched scenes bring war-time New York City to life, capturing the anxiety-ridden period. (June)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Through the story of divorced 36-year-old Life photojournalist Claire Shiply, Belfer blends fact and fiction to describe the development of penicillin as a weapon of war in the 1940s. Seeing an early trial of the green-mold medicine—in which a dying man is miraculously cured of his infection, then dies when the medication runs out—Shiply is drawn to the story because of the earlier death of her young daughter from septicemia. She is drawn, too, to head researcher Dr. James Stanton, who is soon tapped to be national scientific coordinator to provide penicillin to treat battlefield infections. While Stanton travels to war zones, Claire is asked by government officials to watch for pharmaceutical companies neglecting production of unpatented penicillin to develop “cousin” antibacterials, even after her wealthy father has taken over one of the companies involved. Belfer (City of Light, 2003) combines life-and-death scenarios, romance, murder, and wartime reality at home and abroad, while satirizing industrialists who profit by dubious means and salve their consciences through philanthropy; and she warns that resistance to antibiotics could return us “to the era when otherwise healthy adults died from a scratch on the knee.” An engrossing and ambitious novel that vividly portrays a critical time in American history. --Michele Leber

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Customer Reviews

This book is historical fiction at its best.
Man of La Book
It seems just a little confused about what kind of book it is and maybe, in trying to be too many things, falls just a little short.
I love Lauren Belfer's attention to historical detail, finely drawn characters, and well developed plotting.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 46 people found the following review helpful By cait VINE VOICE on June 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Most of us alive today can not remember a time when a small cut, a simple fall could be a death sentence, when a soar throat could turn septic, a case of pneumonia would leave a classmate's desk empty forever.
A time before penicillin.

It is just after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Claire Shipley, a staff photographer for Life magazine, is sent to New York's Rockefeller Institute to document the trials of a new experimental drug. But Claire's interest is more than professional, having lost her own 3 year old daughter to blood poisoning eight years before. Her own daughter is gone but Clair knows how many more might be saved if only a way can be found to produce this penicillin in sufficient quantities. Once the government realized the success of the trials, they also realize what the production of this drug to treat injured troops could mean to the war effort. Just as most of us do not remember a time before antibiotics, most of us also do not remember a time when many Americans though the Allies might lose the war and a time when the residents of NYC thought invasion was a real possibility. Penicillin could be a weapon that would change the outcome of the war, which at the moment was looking pretty grim.
The stakes are huge..power, money, the very outcome of the war. There is a suspicious death that strikes close to home, espionage and, on a more personal level, Claire's new romance with Dr. Stanton, to round out this epic story.

A Fierce Radiance is an historical novel, a thriller and a romance...and it succeeds in each to varying degrees.

I am not usually a fan of historical novels, but this book is an exception.
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Bonnie Brody TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover
'A Fierce Radiance' by Lauren Belfer is a compelling novel. Comprised of several genres, this is a book to pick up and savor. I was kept riveted by a combination of history, romance and mystery. This mix makes for athrilling ride that kept me enthralled throughout.

The era is 1941 through 1944. The book opens just after Japan has bombed Pearl Harbor. Our country has declared war and young men are being drafted or
signing up for the military. Some of us can still picture this era. For those of you who are younger, let me give you a taste. Disease is rampant. There is no cure for polio, streptococcus infections, pneumonia, sepsis, cholera,tetanus or scarlet fever. There is a season for every illness and parents are frightened all the time that their children will die. Adults are frightened for their own lives. On top of that, our nation is at war and, other than sulfa drugs, which have limited curative ability, the United States has no medications to halt infection or disease for its own military.

Claire Shipley is a successful photographer for `Life Magazine', the most popular news magazine in the nation. She has already lost one child to sepsis eight years ago. One day Emily fell on the sidewalk and cut her knee. A few days later she was dead. Her younger son, Charlie, is still living but Claire fears for his life at every turn. Claire is assigned to do a photo essay on penicillin, a new drug that is supposedly being developed. This miracle drug, developed from a green mold, is an antibiotic that is said to have the power to stop gram positive infections in their tracks.

Dr. James Stanton is a physician who is at the forefront of penicillin's development so, in a sense, he holds the key to life and death.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Patrick J. OConnor on August 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I read Lauran Belfer's debut novel, City of Light, because it was recommended to me by nearly every relative and acquaintance from my days up north. Like Belfer, my family hails from Western New York, where the winters are long, the wings are hot, and the beer is Canadian. I myself inhabited the hills and forests south of the Queen City (that's Buffalo for the uninitiated) until I reached the age of maturity, at which point I promptly pointed my '78 Chrysler Newport south and didn't stop until I reached the warm sands of South Beach. But don't get me wrong, I still love Western New York--especially its people, whom Belfer captured perfectly--and I will always consider it home. City of Light, then, is the fictionalized account of the social life of a young schoolteacher set against the backdrop of the development of electric power at the turn of the century and the political power struggles that surrounded it. I consider it to be the best work of modern fiction that has been written about the region or its history.

All of that is a buildup to my review of Belfer's new novel, A Fierce Radiance, which treats the development and mass production of penicillin during the opening days of America's involvement in World War II. Belfer truly has a gift for writing period pieces. I can only imagine the amount of detailed research that went into this account of New York City in the days after Pearl Harbor--her detailed descriptions of the architecture of the period is matched by her eye for social nuance among the medical professionals, captains of industry, politicians, and journalists that comprise the story's main characters.
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