Customer Reviews: The Killing of Karen Silkwood: The Story Behind the Kerr-McGee Plutonium Case, Second Edition
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on October 17, 2003
I became interested in Karen Silkwood after watching the 1983 movie "Silkwood". The film seemed to suggest that Silkwood was murdered, but a number of reviews I subsequently read dismissed "Silkwood" as an irresponsible docudrama that was based on sensationalism rather than fact.
After reading Richard Rashke's "The Killing of Karen Silkwood", I'd have to say that the film didn't take its allegations far enough. Based on thousands of pages of court documents, including depositions, sworn statements, internal memos, and federal records, Rashke makes a convincing case for the following:
Silkwood was deliberately contaminated with plutonium by someone at Kerr-McGee, perhaps on several occasions. Had she lived, Silkwood had a good likelihood of developing cancer because of the significant exposure she experienced.
Silkwood was most likely carrying important documents the night she was murdered; among other things, she had proof that 42.5 pounds of plutonium was missing from K-M's Cimarron plant, which is enough to make three or four nuclear bombs.
Security at the Cimarron plant was dangerously lax, as were safety measures. Workers received little education in regards to nuclear energy or the safety risks that accompany it, and consequently contamination was not taken seriously by employees.
Union members' (and particularly Karen Silkwood's) rights were repeatedly violated by K-M officials, who continually interfered in union activities and even began to spy on Silkwood.
However, the conspiracy surrounding Silkwood's death became even more heinous and inconceivable as Silkwood's side investigated in preparation for trial. Though the truth will probably never be known, Rashke lays out a compelling - though sketchy - account, involving the FBI, the CIA, the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), the National Security Agency (NSA), the Justice Department, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), and a shadowy network of Iranians, Russians, and Israelis. Rashke hints at an international plutonium smuggling ring, and supplies evidence that the FBI was responsible for illegally and covertly spying on a number of organizations as late as the mid-1970s, including various labor unions and their members - and Silkwood was one of their targets.
Rashke's story might sound unbelievable, but most of it is based on public court documents. His interviews with the assorted players in the case may be less trustworthy; yet, many statements are corroborated by court papers. Also lending credence to the Silkwood camp's version of the story is the fact that several significant witnesses died, disappeared, or were threatened during the investigation and ensuing court case. Additionally, the Silkwood lawyers and investigator received death threats and were followed and even assaulted - one must wonder why, if the Silkwood case was wholly without merit. Especially appalling is the federal government's role in the affair, and their failure to cooperate with the civil case.
"Who Killed Karen Silkwood" reads like a novel - it's a compelling book that's hard to put down. Indeed, I expect that I won't soon be able to forget about Silkwood's story and its larger implications. I'm far from what you'd call a conspiracy nut (though I love the X-Files, I identify with Scully as opposed to Mulder!) - yet, the evidence in this case is as convincing as it is frightening. The final two pages will simply blow you away.
My only gripe - Rashke's update to the 2nd edition of the book (released to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Silkwood's death) was sorely lacking. He made no mention of what's become of those involved in the case; of any information, either directly or indirectly related to the case, that's been discovered since the end of the investigation; or of the movie, which was a critical and box-office success. Rashke coins the newest section "The Legacy", but he doesn't discuss Silkwood's legacy even briefly. The new chapters focus on the court battles since May 1979 and K-M's troubles with and termination of their nuclear program, but speak little of Silkwood.
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on November 16, 2001
I have yet to encounter a non- fiction piece so captivating and hard to put down as The Killing of Karen Silkwood. This book goes far beyond her life as depicted in the movie, and the story behind all the people who believed in her and sacrificed tremendous amounts of time and energy at great personal danger to themselves after her death is phenomenal. What really amazed me was the sheer number of government agencies that were involved in spying on and covering up evidence as revealed through depositions, leaks, and court ordered documents. So many that no one seemed to be able to link them together (not even among themselves) except Silkwood's legal and investigative team. I had no idea so many police type agencies existed. It really is unsettling. The research this author did feels exhausting it is so through. The story goes on for over 10 years after her death, and it is well worth reading. It is alot more than just a private citizen (survivors) suing a private corporation. This book is reprinted after many years since it's original publication with several follow-up chapters added. The added chapters really tease you especially where the author indicated that a confidential inside source revealed that they saw a file that documented that the FBI knew very clearly who killed Karen Silkwood.
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on May 19, 2005
Here is a story that has probably been largely forgotten, of a young woman who fought a powerful corporation and an inept government (and very likely died for her efforts), and the idealistic and courageous people who came together to discover the truth.

If you were alive in the 70s you might remember Karen Silkwood, her mysterious death, and the court case that went on for years. At least two movies were made about her, but movies scripts can seldom tell the whole story or portray history with accuracy because of the demands of drama and story arc. So while I thought that I had a fairly good understanding of the events of Karen Silkwood's death, I have learned from reading this book that there was so very much more to the story. Not only was Silkwood incredibly brave, but the lawyers who took on her case were equally so. In more than one instance, Dan Sheehan, the lead attorney, must tell his investigator, "You're about to be killed. I've been contacted by the White House..."

From rural Oklahoma and an undereducated young working class woman whose cause was simply to improve the working conditions for the employees in a Kerr-McGee plutonium plant, arose what was possibly a conspiracy that could rival any international spy network: FBI, CIA, NSA, the White House, double agents, foreign powers, death threats, and more. How could such a simple woman as Karen Silkwood become involved in this level of intrigue? Richard Rashke did a masterful job of research, presenting the evidence in such a way that the reader can evaluate the evidence himself.

If Silkwood's story were not true, this book would stand as spirited fiction and would make better reading than many a spy novel; but Silkwood's story is true and this book exposes the depth of corruption, greed, cover-ups, and abuse of power that our government practiced in the 60s and 70s, and probably still practices today. The difference then though, is that exposing the government's actions led to reform-today, no one seems to care.

For updated information about Karen Silkwood, read Kirk Ward Robinson's "Founding Courage."
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on November 1, 2013
I don't remember what prompted me to read this, but I'm glad I did. I passed it along to a coworker. The book gives a very in-depth look and each page made me want to read another. Don't get me wrong, the actual tone is very dry, a lot of court records/transcript snippits... like reading your washing machine manual, but the subject matter kept me riveted. The possibilities the author exposes were fascinating. I loved the photos -- wish there had been more. I can best summarize this book with the adage, "leave them wanting more." Reading this book made me want to know what happened next to some of the key players... so I Googled -- but that left me wondering who was tracking me! Really made me think twice about the current allegations of the government spying on people -- powerful world leaders down to John Q Public. Would definitely recommend this book.
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on June 8, 2015
Thorough and credible dissertation on the murder of Karen Silkwood, who worked in a plutonium plant at a time when safety controls and other measures were rather volatile. This book talks about Silkwood the person, then Silkwood the employee. She uncovered serious violations of safety and quality control protocols in her plant. She worked closely with her union and she tried to communicate via news media what was happening. After contaminating her deliberately with radioactive material, the powers that be eventually cause her to wreck her car while she was on her way to delivering the evidence to the media. This is followed by an intense and convoluted cover-up. The book is lengthy and filled with amazing and frightening evidence of abuse of power to make sure this woman's testimony never saw the light of day. An interesting read about an event that took place nearly 40 years ago. Some things never change like Corporate immunity and government corruption.
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VINE VOICEon June 5, 2006
This book is not easy but it is readable if you pay attention to details about the nuclear industry. I suspect Karen's death was murder because she was getting too involved in trying to protect her colleagues and herself from getting cancer. Although the movie version changes the relationship between she and her housemate, this book explains so much more. It is a must have book involving a conspiracy that has never truly gone away. Kerr-McGee is still alive and well and thriving but Karen Gay Silkwood was an important and tragic heroine who died risking her life. She may not have been mother of the year to her three children but her contributions and searh for the truth about nuclear contamination is admirable. I know more about her and I like her. Of course, she is not flawless but human like the rest of us.
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on May 31, 2015
the author was consistant with other writings about the corruption of the a.e.c. , n.r.c. the f.b.i. as well as the company she worked talks - guilty walks ! the question of right or wrong never entered because of the judges restrictions placed by the judges and the aggressive though "bulls*** " presentation by the defending high priced lawyers especially in appeal. too many unanswered questions not properly investigated by local as well as state and federal orgs overly interested in covering everything up . a lot of money spent do'en it which should have gone to the slikwoods and others
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on January 24, 2016
The movie was a touch of the story to peak my interest but I knew something was missing. I began research on google and found this book that seems to match several of the missing pieces in the movie . I also learned that there may other reactors appear to lack proper regulation. I read the book more as a reference book to fill in the gaps such as Silkwood was an honor student. When too many incidents occur at once with Silkwood and the power plant, it is hard to make a smooth transition in a book so I knew it would bounce from one area to the next and what to expect.
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on November 1, 2014
This is perhaps the best research into the Silkwood case ever. I was unable to put this down once I started reading - it has everything to please everyone: conspiracy theories, espionage, cover-ups and behind-the-scene deals that are eye-opening. What a fascinating read - even more so because it's real.
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on December 16, 2012
Richard Rashke has the very unusual ability to make non-fiction read like fiction - fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat page-turners. I literally could not put this book down until the last page. If you're addicted to novels, like I am, "...Karen Silkwood" will hold your attention and you'll be trolling the Internet for more info on her situation. Better yet, if you like this one, read "Escape From Sobibor." It's just as good.
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