Angela Creager

Life Atomic

A History of Radioisotopes in Science and Medicine

University of Chicago Press 2013

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Angela Creager‘s deeply researched and elegantly written new book is a must-read account of the history of science in twentieth-century America. Life Atomic: A...

Angela Creager‘s deeply researched and elegantly written new book is a must-read account of the history of science in twentieth-century America. Life Atomic: A History of Radioisotopes in Science and Medicine (University of Chicago Press, 2013) traces a history of radioisotopes as military and civilian objects, for experimentation and therapeutic use, from the 1930s through the late twentieth century. Creager follows the emergence of a political and economic market for radioisotopes, looking carefully at their use as controversial political instruments, as representations of the benefits of atomic energy for US citizens, and as commodities.

After six chapters that trace these broader contexts of the production and circulation of radioisotopes, the second half of the book offers a set of fascinating case studies that explore representative users and uses of the technology in biochemistry, molecular biology, medicine, and ecology. Aspects of the story touch on the history of scientific and medical research using human and animal subjects, the early history of radiation therapy, and the history of ecology and environmental science. Not only is it a historiographically important and meticulously crafted work based on exhaustive research, but it’s also a great set of stories. The pages of Life Atomic are full of guinea pigs, scientific vaudeville, and stories and characters from many different fields of the modern life sciences, expertly weaving them together into a compelling set of arguments. Enjoy!

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