cover image Strange Glow: The Story of Radiation

Strange Glow: The Story of Radiation

Timothy J. Jorgensen. Princeton Univ, $35 (496p) ISBN 978-0-691-16503-5

Jorgensen, a radiation biologist at Georgetown University, walks readers through the history of humanity’s interaction with radiation in order to help them understand and evaluate current risks. As he mixes science, history, and biography, Jorgensen runs through a roster of early radiation-related deaths, including those of Marie Curie, the “radium girls,” and Manhattan Project scientists. He also covers more recent incidents, such as the Fukushima meltdown and other nuclear-related accidents. Jorgensen’s emphasis on health leads him to shine some positive light on human uses of various forms of radiation, including cancer treatments, and the role that radioactivity plays in understanding DNA. He introduces a few basic mathematical formulae, but ably explains concepts and allows lay readers to easily follow along. In the third part of his book, Jorgensen examines some specific threats—radon in homes, cell phones, and nuclear power plants, for example—and assesses their risks. Threats from cell phone usage and tuna irradiated after Fukushima, it turns out, are basically nonexistent, but he is not so sanguine about nuclear power plants or weapon security. This is a solid, accessible work, but perhaps its most beneficial aspect is that Jorgensen equips readers with enough knowledge to make their own risk assessments, whether it is of a potential medical diagnostic test or a particular consumer decision. (Mar.)