> Skip to content
About the book
  • Published: 15 July 2013
  • ISBN: 9780099571858
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 416
  • RRP: $27.99

Full Body Burden

Growing Up in the Shadow of a Secret Nuclear Facility

This is a book about secrets: family secrets and government secrets. An incredible memoir and exposé about growing up next to America's most important nuclear facility of the Cold War era.

It is the early 1950s. Kristen Iversen is enjoying a carefree childhood surrounded by desert and mountains. But just a few miles down the road, the US government decides to build a secret nuclear weapons facility at Rocky Flats.

Kirsten and her siblings jump streams, ride horses, live a happy outdoors life. But beneath this veneer her family is quietly falling apart. Her father drinks, her mother copes.

And in a series of fires, accidents and other catastrophic leaks, Rocky Flats nuclear plant is spewing an invisible cocktail of the most dangerous substances on earth into this pristine landscape. The ground, the air and the water are all alive with radiation.

The years that follow will bring protests, investigations, denials, cover-ups, threats and lies. And then, one after another, people start to fall ill.

  • Pub date: 15 July 2013
  • ISBN: 9780099571858
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 416
  • RRP: $27.99

About the Author

Kristen Iversen

Kristen Iversen received a Ph.D. in English from the University of Denver. She is Director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at The University of Memphis and also Editor-in-Chief of The Pinch, an award-winning literary journal. Kristen Iversen has two sons and currently lives in Memphis.

Praise for Full Body Burden

“A shocking and salutary coming-of-age memoir, Kristen Iversen has produced a meticulously researched and compelling narrative of growing up in the “sacrifice zone” of America’s nuclear weapons programme… Full Body Burden is one of those rare, life-changing works whose quiet, insistent moral authority commands us to read on and to remember”

Melanie McGrath, Sunday Telegraph

“Full Body Burden is one of the most important stories of the nuclear era. It’s an essential and unforgettable book that should be talked about in schools and book clubs, online and in the White House”

Rebecca Skloot, author of 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks'

“As [Iversen] and her primary school classmates were being taught to duck and cover pathetically when the Soviets finally struck, they were all along coming under silent attack from their own government. Against a bracingly realised backdrop of the rural American mountain west, Iversen recounts a superficially untroubled childhood of horse-riding, jumping in lakes and kissing boys. Yet it is turned chilling by our steadily mounting knowledge, and her happy ignorance at the time, of what was going on just a few miles upwind without the consent of those being polluted”

Jon Swain, Literary Review

“An intriguing mix of memoir and first-class investigative journalism, a sort of Mad Men meets Erin Brockovich”


“Superb... her prose combines perceptive lyricism with stark brutality”

New Scientist

“Part personal memoir, part polemic; wholly memorable (4 stars)”


“News stories come and go. It takes a book of this exceptional caliber to focus our attention and marshal our collective commitment to preventing future nuclear horrors”


“Gripping... exquisitely researched... A superbly crafted tale of Cold War America’s dark underside”

Kirkus Reviews

“This terrifyingly brilliant book - as perfectly crafted and meticulously assembled as the nuclear bomb triggers that lie at its core - is a savage indictment of the American strategic weapons industry, both haunting in its power, and yet wonderfully, charmingly human as a memoir of growing up in the Atomic Age”

Simon Winchester, author of 'The Professor and the Madman' and 'Atlantic'

“In this powerful work of research and personal testimony, Iversen chronicles the story of America’s willfully blinkered relationship to the nuclear weapons industry through the haunting experience of her own family in Colorado”

Publishers Weekly

“A classic horror tale: the charming nuclear family cruising innocently above the undercurrents of nuclear nightmare. But it's true and all the more chilling”

Bobbie Ann Mason

“What a surprise! You don't expect such (unobtrusively) beautiful writing in a book about nuclear weapons, nor such captivating storytelling. Having read scores of nuclear books, I venture a large claim: Kristin Iversen's Full Body Burden may be a classic of nuclear literature, filling a gap we didn't know existed among Hersey's Hiroshima, Burdick and Wheeler's Fail-Safe and Kohn's Who Killed Karen Silkwood?”

Mark Hertsgaard, author of 'Nuclear Inc.' and 'HOT'

“With meticulous reporting and a clear eye for details, Iversen has crafted a chilling, brilliantly written cautionary tale about the dangers of blind trust. Through interviews, sifting through thousands of records (some remain sealed) and even a stint as a Rocky Flats receptionist, she uncovers decades of governmental deception. Full Body Burden is both an engrossing memoir and a powerful piece of investigative journalism”


“A tale that will haunt your dreams”

John Dufresne

“Kristen Iversen's prose is clean and clear and lovely, and her story is deeply involving and full of insight and knowledge; it begins in innocence, and moves through catastrophes; it is unflinching and brave”

Richard Bausch

“An enjoyable and powerful read”

Rosie Kinchen, Sunday Times

Related titles