Yellow Dirt: An American Story of a Poisoned Land and a People Betrayed

Judy Pasternak, Free Press, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4165-9482-6

Journalist Pasternak details the history of American uranium mining and its horrific consequences for the Navajo people in this stunning tale of deception, betrayal, and bitter consequences. Situated atop some of the richest uranium deposits in the country, the reservation covers parts of Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona and the area was instrumental in the building of the atomic bomb and, later, the cold war arms race. From 1930 to 1960, Navajo miners worked long days without ventilation or protective gear, while mining companies and government officials withheld from them information about the hazards of radiation. As birth defects and cancers became more prevalent than in the general population (residents of the reservation were 15–200 times more likely to contract stomach cancer), government agencies actively prevented the Navajos from connecting their illnesses to the uranium saturating their water, homes, livestock, and topsoil. The author brings half a century of deception to light and details the halting efforts to secure compensation for the victims. With nuclear power once more being discussed as a solution to America’s energy problems, Pasternak’s portrait of a devastated community and callous governmental indifference is crucial reading. (Sept.)