An examination of the nature of radiation and the history of our understanding of the process.
In this spirited, thorough investigation into radiation, molecular radiation biologist Jorgensen (Molecular Oncology/Georgetown Univ.), chair of Georgetown’s radiation safety committee, delivers narrative science at its best, providing a propulsive story, each piece building on the next in a series of progressive revelations. Though the author is happy to steer readers away from nonessential dark matter—“the physics of wave polarization is quite complex and we don’t need to know anything more about it here”—he brings them deep enough into the science to ensure a comfortable grip on what radiation is and how it both helps and harms our health. “This book seeks to both convince people that they can be masters of their own radiation fate,” writes the author, “and empower them to make their own well-informed decisions about their personal radiation exposures.” Jorgensen accomplishes his goal by running through the human experience with radiation. This tale includes the scientists, of course, some of whom gave their lives to the study, as well as a plenitude of human-interest stories—e.g., the watch-factory workers in the 1920s whose job was “to paint the numbers on watch dials with a fluorescent paint that contained radium,” a task that often required them to sharpen the brush points in their mouths, resulting in the ingestion of radium. Throughout the book, Jorgensen keeps the science brisk—“radiation is energy on the move, be it through solid matter or free space”—and to the point: “it is the breaking of biological molecules that results in radiation’s adverse biological effects.” With a deft touch, the author delves into risks, statistics, and cohort studies (“the gold standard” of scientific studies, as opposed to the less reliable “small case-control studies”), and he displays a soft sense of humor while covering a serious topic.
A seismic piece of scientific inquiry, top shelf in narrative style and illumination.