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The Plutonium Files: America's Secret Medical Experiments in the Cold War Paperback – October 10, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

As World War II reached its climax, the U.S. push to create an atomic bomb spawned an industry the size of General Motors almost overnight. But a little-understood human dilemma quickly arose: How was all the radiation involved in building and testing the bomb going to affect the countless researchers, soldiers, and civilians exposed to it? Government scientists scrambled to find out, fearing cancer outbreaks and worse, but in their urgency conducted classified experiments that bordered on the horrific: MIT researchers fed radioactive oatmeal to residents of a state boys' school outside Boston; prisoners in Washington and Oregon were subjected to crippling blasts of direct radiation; and patients with terminal illnesses (or so it was hoped) were secretly injected with large doses of plutonium--survivors were surreptitiously monitored for years afterward.

It was these plutonium guinea pigs that set journalist Eileen Welsome on her decade-long search to expose this grisly chapter of America's atomic age, a feat that would earn her the Pulitzer Prize. In the impressively thorough and compelling Plutonium Files, Welsome recounts her work with a reporter's gift for description, characterizing early radiation researchers as "a curious blend of spook, scientist, and soldier," tirelessly interviewing survivors and their families, and providing social and political context for a complex and far-reaching scandal. Perhaps most damning is that not only did these cold-war experiments violate everything from the Hippocratic Oath to the Nuremberg Code, Welsome reveals, they were often ill-conceived, inconclusive, and repetitive--"they were not just immoral science, they were bad science." --Paul Hughes --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In a deeply shocking and important expos?, Welsome takes the lid off the thousands of secret, government-sponsored radiation experiments performed on unsuspecting human "guinea pigs" at U.S. hospitals, universities and military bases during the Cold War. This riveting report greatly expands on Welsome's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1994 articles in the Albuquerque Tribune, which told how 18 men, women and children scattered in hospital wards across the country were injected with plutonium by U.S. Army and Manhattan Project doctors between 1945 and 1947. As Welsome demonstrates, the scope of the government's radiation experimentation program went much further. She documents how, between 1951 and 1962, the army, navy and air force used military troops in flights through radioactive clouds, "flashblindness" studies and tests to measure radio-isotopes in their body fluids. Additionally, she reveals that cancer patients were subjected to total-body irradiation, and women, children, the poor, minorities, prisoners and the mentally disabled were targeted for radio-isotope "tracer" studies, frequently without their consent and in some cases suffering excruciating side effects and premature deaths. In 1993, Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary launched a campaign to make public all documents relating to the experiments, which had been kept secret. Welsome cogently argues that O'Leary's efforts resulted in a Republican vendetta that led to her ouster. Written with commendable restraint, this engrossing narrative draws liberally on declassified memos, briefings, phone calls, interviews and medical records to convey the enormity of the irradiation program and the bad science behind the flawed and dangerous testsAand to document the government's systematic cover-up. Anyone who cares about America's history, moral health and future should read this book. 8-city author tour. (Sept.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Delta; 1 edition (October 10, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385319541
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385319546
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #823,032 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

51 of 54 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 29, 1999
Format: Hardcover
As a physicist, I learned early on in my education about the dangers of radioactive materials -- sadly, at the time I did not know that the information we had was gained through these heinous human experiments. This book, meticulously researched and believably written, is a convincing expose of the US Army's and the Federal Government's callous attitudes towards the people these two serve and are financially supported by -- the citizens of the US. It is also a history of atomic development. The author delves into the Manhattan Project and into the founding of Los Alamos. The entire book is written in an easy to understand style, with excellent explanations where explanations are needed, so that anyone could read this comfortably. The discomfort is in what was done to the victims, and the continuing publicity and attitude that the American government is the only MORAL government on earth. It is a very sad thing when the Federal Government shows itself to be dangerous to its citizens, but these experiments add to a growing mound of evidence. The author has done a thorough, dedicated, and compassionate job of investigating and documenting. We should be stirred into anger and action by the book, but it is a sad thing too that the American people can't be roused -- it is as if we are more interested in the fictional lives we see on our favorite TV shows than in our own, and our children's, lives. In a way, too, anyone downwind of the above ground nuclear tests (just about all of us, even the unborn and the unconceived) were guinea pigs of airborne radiation, and we are to this day from fallout. This book is about specific people who were directly injected or who ingested radioactive materials, but it is actually about all of us.Read more ›
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By T.W Trotter on November 22, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The release of Eileen Welsome's book "THE PLUTONIUM FILES- America's Secret Medical Experiments in the Cold War" in paperback will hopefully make this important book more accessible to the general public.
Detailing the effort of the US government to test the effects of Plutonium and other radioactive substances on people, the book outlines first the creation and evolution of the nuclear program that created the need for such testing, and then the US government's attempt to conduct such testing on its own citizens without their knowledge or informed consent. On strictly a superficial level there is much here which will attract the "x-files" crowd: Super-secret installations, eccentric scientists and far-fetched experiments on unsuspecting citizens. The kind of information that makes conspiracy theorists sit back from their computers in darkened little rooms, pump their fist in the air and utter that now-hackneyed phrase: "The truth is out there"
Fortunately for the reader, Welsome assiduously avoids such sensationalism and instead draws a largely compassionate picture of the US government's program and of the people who perpetrated it and who participated in it. Welsome's well structured and organized account of the growth of the plutonium testing programs involving critically ill persons across America during the Cold War years teems with information and insight, yet it manages to treat victim and perpetrator alike with a measure of respect and empathy that places this book well above the level of the standard "Shocking Expose". To her great credit Welsome goes beyond merely packaging the results of her extensive research and alarming discoveries in a "tell-all" book.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Eugene Mah on August 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover
One of the first emotions this book elicits from readers is indignation and shock that physicians and government agencies could let the kind of experiments described in this book occur, and the treatment the patients received. This book will no doubt attract significant attention because of the radiation experiments described, but the book seems be more about the prevailing attitudes of physicians and scientists towards patients and research at the time. The activities that take place in the book occur during a time when science and medical research came first, and the patient second, and when physicians seemed as gods to their patients. As with other stories of "medical guinea pigs", emphasis is placed on those scientists and physicians for whom the patients just happens to be a convenient vessel to carry out experiments on. It ultimately boils down to a question of whether or not the means justifies the ends. Some of the experiments performed did provide useful information about the effects of radiation on humans, which produced significant advances in diagnostic imaging and radiation therapy and has helped to save and prolong the lives of countless others. Other experiments described sound poorly designed, and seem like they were performed just for the sake of seeing what would happen.
The book starts out with a descriptive history of the atomic weapons program and the Manhatten project, both on the weapons side and the medical side. Focus shifts to the human experiments conducted in the earliest days of atomic weapon research up until the 1970s. The author manages to provide a fascinating insight on the attitudes of the researchers as well as providing a description of the patients experimented on. Read the book and decide for yourself. Those were different times, different attitudes.
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