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Radiation: What it is, What You Need to Know (Vintage) Paperback – 26 Nov 2013

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books (26 Nov. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307950204
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307950208
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 1.5 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 640,087 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By F Henwood TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 8 Mar. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Virtually everything is radioactive, including us. It is ubiquitous but it inspires fear. The purpose of this book is not to belittle those fears but to get things in perspective. Radiation is a natural phenomenon and resource. Like all resources, it has costs and benefits and this book sets out to equip people with the necessary understanding to think clearly about the subject. I can only offer a sample of sorts of understandings I have derived from this book.

Just to take a couple of examples: Chernobyl in 1986 and the atomic bombings in Japan in 1945. How many people did the Chernobyl disaster kill? We can say with absolute certainty 29 deaths. That’s right – 29 confirmed deaths. There will have been others. But how many? There may have been thousands of additional cancers, maybe many tens of thousands, but the exact figure can never be known. Of the millions of people in the path of the radioactive plume in 1986, many of these would have developed cancer anyway, accident or no accident. Background rates of cancer are already naturally high (most of us have a 38 to 45 per cent lifetime chance of getting it). In the former Soviet Union, background rates are elevated by known lifestyle risks like excessive drinking. But even a large number of radiation-caused cancers (100,000) would only elevate the baseline incidence of cancer by 0.1 per cent.

But in Japan, where the fate of survivors of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombs has been closely tracked and monitored, we know a lot more. While ‘radiation exposure from the atomic bombs unquestionably increased cancer risk in the survivors, the proportion of cancer deaths attributed to A-bomb radiation is only 8 per cent of all cancer deaths over the past 65 years (about 550 out of 6,300 cancer deaths) P165.
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0 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Mr. David M. B. Jones on 14 Feb. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
One day soon, you are going to need to know this stuff, & how to combat the worst effects of an unseen killer.

Its out there, & it could be on your doorstep sooner than you think !
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Amazon.com: 27 reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Accessible and Even-handed Book 8 April 2013
By Book Shark - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Radiation: What It Is, What You Need to Know by Robert Peter Gale, M.D., and Eric Lax

"Radiation" is an even-handed, educational and accessible book on radiation. The book covers many forms of radiation like microwaves and radio waves which have insufficient energy to alter cells to the more energetic forms known as ionizing radiations that can alter the structure of atoms. Scientist, physician, and author of twenty-two medical books, Robert Peter Gale, has teamed up with accomplished author Eric Lax to produce a readable and interesting book on an often misunderstood topic, radiation. This enlightening 288-page book is composed by the following nine chapters: 1. Assessing the Risks, 2. Radiation from Discovery to Today, 3. The Nature of Radiation, 4. Radiation and Cancer, 5. Genetic Diseases, Birth Defects, and Irradiated Food, 6. Radiation and Medicine, 7. Bombs, 8. Nuclear Power and Radioactive Waste, and Summing Up.

Positives:
1. A well-researched, well-written and even-handed book. Accessible for the masses.
2. An excellent educational tool that addresses a much misunderstood topic, radiation. "The specter of radiation is so frightening to many people that it eclipses reality."
3. Understanding the main differences between the two main type of radiation: ionizing (which can cause cancer) and nonionizing (generally little harm with the exception of ultraviolet radiations).
4. The main focus of the book is to reduce the gap between what we fear and what is real about radiation. Mission accomplished.
5. The book is full of interesting facts, "Radon-222 and related radionuclides are estimated to be the most common cause of lung cancer deaths in nonsmokers."
6. The book examines some of the cancers that ionizing radiations can cause: lung, breast, thyroid, and leukemia to name a few. "Cells in the bone marrow are especially sensitive to cancer-causing mutations from ionizing radiation."
7. There are many examples provided throughout the book. The two main examples are the Chernobyl reactor building and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility. "The Chernobyl reactor building was destroyed by a steam explosion, and part of the Fukushima reactor building was destroyed by an explosion of highly flammable hydrogen gas.
8. How radioactivity interacts with humans (dose). "Scientists agree that above a certain dose (usually about 50 or 100 mSv) there is a linear relationship between radiation dose and cancer risk: the higher the dose, the greater the risk."
9. The authors seamlessly provide historical scientific context into the narrative. "In 1914 Rutherford would prove that gamma rays were a form of light similar to X-rays but with a far shorter wavelength and thus penetrated deeper than the other rays or particles."
10. The difference between fission and fusion. "The difference between fission and fusion is that fusion requires a great deal more energy to start the chain reaction, but fusion also yields vastly more energy--a hydrogen (fusion) bomb is roughly one thousand times more powerful than an atomic (fission) bomb."
11. Thought-provoking issues, "people concerned about global warming are often firmly opposed to nuclear energy, yet it is the only immediately available energy source able to substantially reduce carbon dioxide emissions, albeit with some inherent but potentially solvable problems."
12. Chemistry plays a pivotal role, "All elements with a higher number in the periodic table than thallium (atomic number 81) have radioactive isotopes, and all isotopes of elements from polonium (number 84) and higher are radioactive".
13. The authors did a good job of establishing what we know to a high degree of certainty in some areas and where lack convincing data. "Finally, we lack convincing data that early detection of thyroid cancer results in a health benefit."
14. Putting the number of deaths that can be attributed to radioactive releases in perspective. "radiation-induced genetic abnormalities are not passed from the affected persons to their children, as studies of exposed Japanese mothers and their children make clear."
15. Some of the well known causes of cancer, "But smoking a cigarette is, in some regards, like intentionally inhaling a small nuclear weapon into your lungs. Cigarette manufacturers have known about the presence of polonium-210 in tobacco since the 1960s." And some factors that don't cause cancer, "Nonionizing radiations, like those associated with microwaves and cell phones, are not convincingly associated with an increased cancer risk."
16. The difference between genetic disorders and birth defects. "Changes in the number of chromosomes are also important. For example, children with Down syndrome have an extra chromosome 21, whereas girls with Turner syndrome are missing one X-chromosome."
17. And what's not to love about evolution, "We may wonder why whales and dolphins living in water have their bone marrow stem cells in bone cavities. This is because they derive from terrestrial ancestors."
18. Interesting topic of food irradiation. "Food irradiation has the potential to save millions more lives than it harms, especially since it very probably does no harm."
19. Medical applications of radiation, "The conclusion that people at high risk for lung cancer should have screening radiological studies remains controversial but presently favors screening."
20. A look at nuclear weapons. "About 50 percent of the energy released by the A-bombs was blast energy, about 35 percent was thermal energy, and only about 15 percent was radiation, most of it neutrinos that did not contaminate the area."
21. An excellent summary chapter, an engaging Questions and Answers section.
22. Bibliography provided.

Negatives:
1. The book warranted more charts and diagrams within the narrative of the book.
2. Intended for the masses the book lacks depth.
3. The book needed more citations.
4. Free radicals is a fairly hot topic and warranted at the very least a citation.

In summary, I enjoyed reading this book. It's well-written, well-researched and it takes a complex topic such as radiation and makes it not only accessible but quite enjoyable to read. The authors treated the topic even handedly and really did a good job of educating the public of what to fear and what is real about radiation. The book lacks depth, warranted more citations and would have been better served with more diagrams as part of the main narrative of the book. That being said, this book achieved its main goal of closing the gap between fear and knowledge. I highly recommend it!

Further recommendations: "Nuclear Energy: What Everyone Needs to Know" by Charles D. Ferguson, "Energy for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines by Muller, Richard A." by Richard A. Muller, "Clean Break: The Story of Germany's Energy Transformation and What Americans Can Learn from It" by Osha Gray Davidson, "The Crash Course: The Unsustainable Future Of Our Economy, Energy, And Environment" by Chris Martenson, "The Making of the Atomic Bomb: 25th Anniversary Edition" by Richard Rhodes, and "The Manhattan Project: The Birth of the Atomic Bomb in the Words of Its Creators, Eyewitnesses, and Historians" by Cynthia C. Kelly.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Balanced and informative 30 Jun. 2013
By Andrew Charig - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Lax and Gale are to be applauded or their clear explanations and thoroughly objective assessment of relative risks and benefits - the exact opposite of the many hysterical books on the subject.

However, the book is sprinkled with quite a number of small errors:

p. 66 There are known radioactive isotopes of EVERY element, not just those above thallium.

p. 89 Doctors use I-125 to scan thyroids, not I-127; I-127 is stable.

p. 142 Charcoal is not a hydrocarbon.

p. 186 How do VOCs produce ozone and sulfur dioxide (a water-soluble gas) produce solid particles? If this is right, it deserves an explanation.

throughout, they need to pay better attention to discriminating between radiation, radioactivity, and radioactive materials.

I'm sure these are just slips that better proofing would have caught.

So hats off to Gale and Lax for their objectivity, but back on again for their editing.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
The best available facts at this time on the true risk of radiation 29 Mar. 2013
By Michael Mallary - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book puts the radiation health risk of nuclear power in perspective. It points out that the the risks of climate change from fosil fuel burning out weigh the potential health risks associated with nuclear power. This is a sorely needed message in that the public thinks that nuclear power is a thousand times more dangerous than coal burning but the data shows that the oposite is in fact the reality.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Absolutely Excellent! 25 Mar. 2013
By G. Poirier - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book is a major and important contribution to the growing library of books aimed at explaining complex scientific issues to the general reader. But more than that, the authors have picked a field that sparks fear in the minds of many and that is also plagued by controversy.

Remaining strictly objective and adhering to nothing but the facts and the observed data, the authors have done an absolutely wonderful job in explaining, in plain language, the history, nature, sources, uses and (particularly) biological effects of radiation as well as the terminology used. Although non-ionizing radiation and its sources are briefly covered, the book is mainly concerned with the ionizing variety. One of the authors, Dr. R.P. Gale, is a world-renowned medical expert in this field and several experiences from his career are described.

The prose is a model of clarity, quite lively, clearly authoritative and highly engaging; I found the play-by-play description of the Goiania incident to be particularly gripping. Ending with a useful question and answer section and amply referenced, this is a book that should appeal to anyone, especially those concerned about all aspects of ionizing radiation.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Radiation Fear Mitigated. 20 Mar. 2014
By D. Wayne Dworsky - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
The question that most surfaces when the topic of radiation comes up is, “Will it cause cancer?” Ironically, we use radiation therapy to help cure cancer! Nevertheless, to address the cancer issue of radiation properly, it entails reading the chapter on cancer. It seems that the nature of radiation and its action on cells and DNA is so complex that only the chapter can clarify its place. And even then, much can slip by the reader. This is not the fault of the writers of this volume, but it is instead the number of different topics that radiation involves and the incredible number of ways in which radiation works.

The authors want us to understand that the normal exposure that represents daily life is no more risky than any other danger in the world. It’s only when we work with it or live in an environment that is subject to radiation blasts, such as the International Space Station.

At the end, the reader has a good sense of what radiation is and how it is dangerous even though he may not easily explain this to another person. That is because the concept is complex. It’s not that it’s too difficult for the average person to understand, but rather the nature of radiation is complex and far-reaching.

Overall, the authors have done a spectacular job at organizing the material and found a clear, streamlined way of presenting it. Great summer reading.
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