Shannon Cram’s Unmaking the Bomb named one of the Best Books of 2023 by Kirkus Reviews

Kirkus Reviews web home page featuring "Unmaking the Bomb" by Shannon Cram

Shannon Cram’s new book, Unmaking the Bomb: Environmental Cleanup and the Politics of Impossibility, was named one of the ‘Best Books of 2023 by Kirkus Reviews.

Unmaking the Bomb investigates the politics of waste, exposure, and cleanup at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, a former weapons complex in Washington State. Once the heart of American plutonium production, Hanford is now engaged in the nation’s largest environmental remediation effort, managing toxic materials that will long outlast their regulatory containers. This book blends ethnographic research with personal narrative to examine cleanup’s administrative frames and the stories that exceed them. It describes how the body-at-risk became a waste management tool, and how reckoning with contamination informs the very definitions of health and hazard in the United States.

Books about nuclear weapons production often position cleanup as the end of the story—the coda to decades of atomic violence. Unmaking the Bomb resists such narrative closure through close attention to remediation’s embodied uncertainties and structural impossibilities. In particular, this book investigates both the material challenges associated with nuclear cleanup as well as the normative categories that inform atomic impact. It recognizes that multi-millennial waste will inevitably exceed its institutional containers, and that administering eternity has unthinkable, science-fiction-like qualities. But it also explores the powerful conditions and contexts that define unthinkability itself—the social politics that designate some impacts as reasonable and others inconceivable allowing cleanup to distribute survival unevenly. Thus, it considers both the concrete and constructed realities of contaminated life, and the oft-blurred boundaries between the two.

Though it takes impossibility seriously, Cram does not make a case for inaction. Instead, she argues that improving the terms of cleanup means addressing its uneven social relations—and recognizing that unmaking the bomb will never be complete.