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Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters 1st Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 61 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199855766
ISBN-10: 0199855765
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Editorial Reviews


Winner of the Ellis W. Hawley Prize of the Organization of American Historians
Winner of the Albert J. Beveridge Award of the American Historical Association
Winner of the George Perkins Marsh Prize of the American Society for Environmental History
Winner of the Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize of the Association for Slavic Studies, East European, and Eurasian Studies
Winner of the Heldt Prize in the category of Best Book in Slavic/Eastern European/Eurasian Studies from the Association of Women in Slavic Studies
Winner of the Robert G. Athearn Prize of the Western History Association

"Turning up a surprising amount of hitherto hidden material and talkative survivors, Brown writes a vivid, often hair-raising history of the great plutonium factories and the privileged cities built around them... Readers will squirm to learn of the high radiation levels workers routinely experienced and the casualness with which wastes poured into the local air, land and rivers... An angry but fascinating account of negligence, incompetence and injustice justified (as it still is) in the name of national security." --Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"An unflinching and chilling account." --Seattle Times

"Harrowing... Meticulously researched... Plutopia has important messages for those managing today's nuclear facilities, arguing for caution and transparency." --Nature

"The book tells two intertwined stories. One is an appalling narrative of environmental disasters... The second narrative is about the towns, the townspeople, and the creation of a spatially segmented landscape that enabled those disasters... This is admirable comparative history." --Carl Abbott, Environmental History

"Fascinating." -- Dissent

"One of the Cold War's more striking perversities never made it to public view. ... Brown is a good writer, and she describes with precision the construction of the two sites (a difficult process in the U.S. case, an unbelievably horrid one in the Russian case), the hazardous occupations undertaken by their inhabitants, and the consciously contrived bubbles of socioeconomic inequality both places became." --Foreign Affairs

"Brown's account is unique, partisan and occasionally personal in that she includes some of her thoughts about interviews she conducted... But because she is open and thorough about her sources, those are strengths to be celebrated, not weaknesses to be deplored. It also means her book is engaging, honest and, in the end, entirely credible." --New Scientist

"An amazing book... Brown found many parallels between Richland and Ozersk that disrupt the conservative Cold War dichotomy between the 'free world' and the totalitarian one. Her research included not only uncovering previously secret documents in both countries but also tracking down and interviewing old-time residents of Ozersk and Richland. Her picture of the treatment of plutonium workers on both sides of the Iron Curtain is enough to make you gnash your teeth or cry." --Jon Wiener, American Historical Review

"Arresting, engagingly narrated... Kate Brown skillfully mixes Cold War policy assessment and associated political intrigue with sociological study of the lives of those who lived and worked in those places... Plutopia is history told through the voice of drama and investigative reporting." --Stephen E. Roulac, New York Journal of Books

"Plutopia is reporting and research at its best, both revealing a hidden history and impacting the important discussions about nuclear power that should be happening today." --Glenn Dallas, San Francisco Book Review

"An untold and profoundly important piece of Cold War history, Plutopia invites readers to consider the nuclear footprint left by the arms race and the enormous price of paying for it." --H-Soyuz

"Kate Brown has written a provocative and original study of two cities -- one American, one Soviet -- at the center of their countries' nuclear weapons complexes. The striking parallels she finds between them help us -- impel us -- to see the Cold War in a new light. Plutopia will be much discussed. It is a fascinating and important book." --David Holloway, author of Stalin and the Bomb

"Kate Brown has produced a novel and arresting account of the consequences of Cold War Nuclear policies on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Interweaving documentary research in government archives, reviews and revisions of the public record, and a host of personal interviews with the citizens -- perpetrators, victims, and witnesses -- Brown's Plutopia makes a lasting contribution to the continuing chronicle of the human and environmental disasters of the atomic age." --Peter Bacon Hales, author of Atomic Spaces: Living on the Manhattan Project

"It may be the best piece of research and writing in the nuclear history field in the last 25 years - perhaps the best ever... Extremely impressive." -- Rodney Carlisle, Prof. Emeritus, Rutgers University, author of Encyclopedia of the Atomic Age

About the Author

Kate Brown is Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of A Biography of No Place: From Ethnic Borderland to Soviet Heartland, winner of the American Historical Association's George Louis Beer Prize. A 2009 Guggenheim Fellow, her work has also appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, American Historical Review, Chronicle of Higher Education, and Harper's Magazine Online.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (April 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199855765
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199855766
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 1.4 x 6.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #288,732 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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I have worked on Hanford issues for 25 years, helping whistleblowers, sick workers, and trying to influence the cleanup to go in a productive direction. I have also been to many of the former Soviet nuclear sites, including Mayak on five different occasions. Kate Brown's book captures not only the history, the stories, and realities, but poses some interesting and insightful perspectives on the two cities and bomb factories. She has pulled together a huge amount of information and distilled it into a readable, interesting book which all of us who live in the nuclear age should read.
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Format: Hardcover
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 dealing with waste management and containment. She then follows the outcomes of these uncertainties (to the extent they are known) through today. The desires of the citizens of Richland and Ozersk to remain separated from nearby communities and attempt to maintain a sense of independence while being completely dependent on temporary government projects are also discussed in detail.

While Dr. Brown does not have a background in science, she handles it pretty well. She presents the uncertainty of the specifics of radiation poisoning by presenting a huge amount of circumstantial evidence. I use the term circumstantial only because of the difficulty in correlating a specific ailment or death with a specific amount of dose. Through the telling of the story, Brown makes it clear that the affects of the radiation on the body depend both on the person, and the specific isotopes ingested - no small task even if excellent records were kept. She does not go into the possible chemical affects the waste (radioactive or nonradioactive) has/had on humans or the environment.

Overall a recommended read if you want to understand the plutonium production complexes from a the perspective of the people that worked there.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Kate Brown writes that radioactive material "migrated from industrial to residential zones, from soils into food, from air to lungs to bloodstream, bone marrow, and finally DNA, so bodies themselves now serve as nuclear waste repositories."

The medical section of the U.S. Army's Manhattan Project, the top-secret World War II machine that built the first atomic bomb, conducted human experiments that remained classified for 50 years. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co. played a major role in the Manhattan Project in 1943, designing, building and operating the massive U.S. plutonium-production complex on 780 square miles of land along the Columbia River at Hanford, Washington. Like miners' canaries, workers in the chemical industry are often the first line of exposure to environmental toxins.

"In the early thirties," writes Brown, "a DuPont chemical dye plant had an outbreak of bladder cancer among its workers. DuPont officials hired Wilhelm Hueper, a German scientist specializing in toxins, to figure out what was giving the workers cancer. Hueper isolated a new chemical agent, beta-napthylamine, used in dye production, which, he said, caused bladder cancer in rats. Rather than pull the chemical from the line, DuPont officials took Hueper off the research project, and when he refused to drop the issue, they fired him. Fearful that Hueper would broadcast his findings, they assigned another scientist, Robert Kehoe, at the company's Kettering Lab, to carry out research that would discredit Hueper's findings. For the next twenty years, DuPont workers continued to use beta-napthylamine, which caused bladder cancer in nine out of ten employees exposed to it.
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Since its inception, the hallmarks of the "nuclear industrial complex", which includes nuclear weapons and nuclear power, have been "secrecy, cover-up, and minimization. Plutopia is very well researched, beautifully written, and perhaps the most clear expose of the fundamental nature of this poisonous industry. The account of nuclear industry's birth and subsequent physical and social destruction in the US and USSR, is breathtakingly painful. It is particularly so because the devastation caused by the "splitting of the atom" continues today with further secrecy, cover-up and minimization as we watch the same process continue with small and large accidents, purposeful and accidental leaks and dumping, waste that we have no idea what to do with, and the duplication of the US/USSR's poisonous path by other nations around the world. If we are fortunate enough not to blow ourselves away with the over 20,000 nuclear weapons that remain active, our children and future generations will almost certainly curse us for the willful and immoral destruction of our beautiful planet through the virtually permanent pollution that this book so eloquently describes.

Everyone should heed the messages put forth in this book and become active in the process of ridding the world of nuclear weapons and nuclear power. Einstein was correct when he said "The splitting of the atom has changed everything save our mode of thinking, thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe". Read Plutopia and become an activist for the sake of future generations and our planet. This is the only way that we will gain the freedom from the "risk and contamination" of the nuclear industry , since, as Dr. Brown notes, "we are all citizens of plutopia."
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