THE PLUTONIUM FILES by Eileen Welsome

THE PLUTONIUM FILES

America's Secret Medical Experiments in the Cold War

KIRKUS REVIEW

A fierce exposÇ of governmental duplicity and dangerous science. A decade ago Welsome, a reporter for the Albuquerque Tribune, happened upon a reference in an air force report to a nuclear waste pile that contained the carcasses of several animals that had been used in testing the effects of radiation. The report hinted that animals were not the only subjects. Intrigued, Welsome began to sift through a mountain of official documents, discovering that, from 1945 to 1947, 18 unsuspecting civilians——men, women, and even children scattered in quiet hospital wards across the country——had been injected with plutonium to test the effects of radioactive materials on the human body. Such testing formed part of a federal program that employed, in the words of a government film narrator, “every angle and every gadget we can to find out what really happens when an atomic bomb kicks out fiercely at the world around it.” In a tour de force of investigative reporting, Welsome tracked down some of these subjects; and she weaves their stories into a larger narrative, one that tells the story of US government Cold War medical experimentation as a whole. Much of this testing, it appears, was unnecessary—after all, the government had thousands of preexisting subjects, the Japanese victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Some of it, Welsome suggests, was done at the behest of US atomic scientists at Los Alamos, N.M., who were worried about their own health. Those physicists, as scientist Arthur Compton wrote, “knew what had happened to the early experimenters with radioactive materials. Not many of them had lived very long.” Neither did many of those 18 victims, and neither did thousands of soldiers and civilians exposed to atomic-bomb blasts in the deserts of the Southwest, all in the name of delivering the world from Communism. The literature on the official crimes of the Cold War era is large and growing. Welsome’s stunning book adds much to that literature, and it makes for sobering reading.

Pub Date: Sept. 7th, 1999
ISBN: 0-385-31402-7
Page count: 576pp
Publisher: Delacorte
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1999




SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

NonfictionAGAINST THEIR WILL by Allen M. Hornblum
by Allen M. Hornblum