A Fierce Radiance

( 55 )


A Washington Post Best Novel of the Year
An NPR Mystery of the Year

In the anxious days after Pearl Harbor, Life photojournalist Claire Shipley finds herself covering one of the nation's most important stories. At New York City's renowned Rockefeller Institute, researchers are racing to save thousands of wounded American soldiers and countless others by developing a miraculous new drug they call penicillin. For Claire, a single mother haunted ...

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A Fierce Radiance: A Novel

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A Washington Post Best Novel of the Year
An NPR Mystery of the Year

In the anxious days after Pearl Harbor, Life photojournalist Claire Shipley finds herself covering one of the nation's most important stories. At New York City's renowned Rockefeller Institute, researchers are racing to save thousands of wounded American soldiers and countless others by developing a miraculous new drug they call penicillin. For Claire, a single mother haunted by the loss of her young daughter—a death the miracle drug could have prevented—the story is cuttingly personal, especially after she unexpectedly begins to fall in love with the shy and brilliant head physician, James Stanton. But Claire isn't the only one interested in the secret cure. When a researcher dies under suspicious circumstances, the stakes become starkly clear: someone understands just how profitable the new drug could be—and will stop at nothing to get it. Now, with lives and a new love hanging in the balance, Claire will throw herself into harm's way to find a killer—no matter what price she may have to pay.

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Editorial Reviews

Nancy Horan
“A FIERCE RADIANCE shines with fascinating detail about a moment in American history we have mostly forgotten, when penicillin was new, miraculous, and in short supply. Belfer’s powerful portrayal of how people are changed in pursuit of a miracle makes this book an especially compelling read.”
"Belfer combines life-and-death scenarios, romance, murder, and wartime reality at home and abroad, while taking a stab at industrialists who profit by dubious means and salve their consciences through philanthropy. . . . An engrossing and ambitious novel that vividly portrays a critical time in American history."
Booklist (starred review)
“Belfer combines life-and-death scenarios, romance, murder, and wartime reality at home and abroad, while taking a stab at industrialists who profit by dubious means and salve their consciences through philanthropy. . . . An engrossing and ambitious novel that vividly portrays a critical time in American history.”
Maggie Scarf
Belfer's first novel, City of Light, delineated the social and political tensions of Buffalo, N.Y., at the beginning of the age of electricity. A Fierce Radiance is similarly ambitious, combining medical and military history with commercial rivalry, espionage and thwarted love. Belfer clearly knows her scientific material. She also knows how to turn esoteric information into an adventure story, and how to tell that story very well.
—The New York Times
Maureen Corrigan
Belfer is adept at writing historical fiction that sizzles. Sex, spies, murder, big money, family betrayals, doomed romance and exotic travel are smoothly braided into her main narrative about the wartime race to make large quantities of penicillin.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Penicillin operates as the source of romance, murder, and melodrama in Belfer's (City of Light) evocative WWII–era novel. When Life magazine sends strikingly beautiful photographer Claire Shipley to report on a promising new medication made from green mold, Claire, 36, the single mother of a young son, who lost her daughter to blood poisoning eight years before, is moved by the drug's potential to save lives. She also becomes smitten with resident doctor James Stanton, a man with two interests: penicillin and bedding Claire. But as the war casualties pile up, penicillin becomes an issue of national security and the politics of the drug's production threaten to disrupt the pair's lust-fueled romance, especially when James is sent abroad to oversee human trials of the drug. The pharmaceutical companies—including one owned by Claire's father—realize the financial potential in penicillin, which leads to a hodgepodge of soapy plot twists: suspicious deaths, amnesia, illness, exploitation, and espionage. Belfer handily exploits Claire's photo shoots to add historical texture to the book, and the well-researched scenes bring war-time New York City to life, capturing the anxiety-ridden period. (June)
Library Journal
Thirty-six-year-old Claire Shipley is a most modern woman in 1941. A gifted, focused photographer for LIFEmagazine, a divorced single mother, and fearless in the pursuit of her career, she stumbles upon an enormous story when she is sent to cover the use of an experimental, hard-to-produce drug, penicillin, on infections. Having lost one child to septicemia, she is fiercely protective of her son. When her original story is killed, she is asked by the U.S. government to pursue it as a patriot, keeping an eye on the big pharmaceutical companies who are supposed to be mass-producing patent-free penicillin for use on the battlefield but are really working on the much more profitable cousin drugs. VERDICT With an exquisite artist's eye for detail that puts readers right in the middle of New York City and the World War II fronts and incorporating all the elements of a hot, sprawling, page-turning romance—not to mention espionage, murder, crime-scene deceptions, big business intrigue, and family estrangements—Belfer (City of Light) once again blends fiction and facts with riveting results.—Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI
Kirkus Reviews
A novel from Belfer (City of Lights, 1999) about the race to develop penicillin and other antibiotics during World War II. Claire, a photographer with Life magazine, is sent to cover a groundbreaking discovery by scientists at Manhattan's Rockefeller Institute. A mold seems to have generated a lifesaving drug, and doctors at the Institute are testing it on patients suffering from infections. Claire is deeply invested in her assignment-long ago, she lost a daughter to blood poisoning. She's drawn to Jamie, the handsome doctor administering the trials. Now divorced, single-handedly raising son Charlie and tentatively healing her long estrangement from her Wall Street kingpin father, Rutherford, Claire is shocked when patients on the verge of recovery die-supplies of penicillin, grown haphazardly in bottles and bedpans, are too sparse for a complete course of treatment. When the United States enters the war after Pearl Harbor, pharmaceutical companies, including some still-familiar players like Merck and Pfizer, compete to be the first to mass-produce penicillin. The success of the war effort and, of course, scads of money are at stake. Jamie's sister Tia, a Rockefeller mycologist, is investigating other antimicrobial agents found in soil, known as penicillin's "cousins." Tia has just isolated a particularly promising specimen when she falls from a cliff near the Institute-or was she pushed? The sample she was cataloguing, notable for its startling blue color, disappears. The government, with the cooperation of Life publisher Henry Luce, enlists Claire to document the progress Pharma is making on the penicillin front. Rutherford has an entrepreneurial interest in patentable antibiotics. When Nick, a doctor from an impoverished immigrant background, who had flirted with Tia, offers to sell Rutherford a strikingly cerulean "cousin," Rutherford bites, but now he's keeping secrets from Claire. Jamie, who's engaged to Claire, returns from service in North Africa to find his romance disrupted by the fact that his prospective father-in-law might have ordered his sister's murder. A ponderously paced historical thriller.
The Barnes & Noble Review

Light is central to Lauren Belfer's historical fiction: her titles attest to it. City of Light (1999), her impressive first novel, built its story around the development of electricity in turn-of-century Buffalo, New York. Belfer's new book A Fierce Radiance, set in Manhattan during World War II, focuses on the race to mass-produce viable antibiotics -- penicillin and its "cousin" molds -- not just to fight everyday illnesses, but as a strategic weapon against battlefield infections. Her appealing heroine, Claire Shipley, a Life magazine photographer assigned to document this quest, notes that "The ancient Greek derivation of the word photography was 'to write with light.'"

Claire's name, of course, is derived from the Latin for clarity, and as a photojournalist, it's her job to see, illuminate, and capture on film what ordinary mortals often miss. Belfer writes, "Claire's renowned colleague Robert Capa said that if you didn't take sides as a photographer, you were nothing but a voyeur."

As in City of Light, A Fierce Radiance mixes fact, fiction, romance, murder, and debates about who should profit from scientific innovation to create a capacious, sometimes melodramatic but always absorbing tale. Like the headmistress in Belfer's first novel, Claire is stalwart, independent, and beautiful to boot, a hard-working, proto-feminist, single parent in her late thirties.

The novel opens three days after Pearl Harbor. Claire has been assigned to shoot the first human test of penicillin at The Rockefeller Institute, a research facility funded, she reminds us repeatedly, with the ill-gotten wealth of robber barons. Claire witnesses the brief, miraculous revival of a 37-year-old banker dying of blood poisoning from an innocuous scrape -- the same sort of infection that killed Claire's two-year-old daughter nearly eight years earlier. Although the patient dies -- because they do not yet have enough of the medicine, laboriously produced by growing green mold in milk bottles -- the experiment is deemed a success, having proven that penicillin can suppress staphylococcal infections.

The physician in charge of this trial is James Stanton. It doesn't take a clairvoyant to know where the initially "diffident" (one of Belfer's favorite words) relationship between divorced Claire and unmarried Jamie will go. Belfer's otherwise workmanlike prose takes on purple hues and a peculiar fondness for the word "upon" when she writes about sex and romance -- "finally he found her lips upon his own" -- but, fortunately, this bug isn't fatal to her novel.

Secondary characters drawn from life, including Henry and Clare Booth Luce and George Merck, add texture to Belfer's tale, as does a somewhat forced intrigue involving competition over potentially lucrative drugs. Jamie's younger sister, a gifted researcher at the Institute, is on the brink of a major breakthrough when she dies under mysterious circumstances. Does Claire's long-estranged father, a sweet man but ruthless businessman -- who's bought a pharmaceutical company that's working feverishly to develop and patent new antibiotics -- have anything to do with her death? Is it wrong to seek profit from medicines? Is it possible to strike a compromise between idealism and practicality? Do different rules apply during wartime? Can Claire and Jamie's relationship survive the hazards of war and moral uncertainty?

These are just a few of the questions framed in Belfer's artful composition, which captures the fragility and anxiety of life in wartime New York in crisply developed shades of black, white, and gray.

--Heller McAlpin

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061252525
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/29/2011
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 560
  • Sales rank: 254,635
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.80 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Lauren Belfer

Lauren Belfer is the author of the New York Times bestseller City of Light. She lives in New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

A Fierce Radiance

A Novel
By Lauren Belfer

Harper Perennial

Copyright © 2011 Lauren Belfer
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061252525

Chapter One

Wednesday Morning, December 10, 1941
The Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, New York City

Claire Shipley was no doctor, but even she could see that the man
on the stretcher was dying. His lips were blue from lack of oxygen.
gen. His cheeks were hollow, his skin leathery and tight against his
bones. His eyes were open but unfocused, like the glass eyes in a box
at a doll factory she'd once photographed. Although his hair was full
and dark brown, not gray, Claire pegged him at over eighty. His head
swayed from side to side as the orderlies slid the stretcher out of the
ambulance and onto the gurney. Beneath the once-white blanket, his
right leg was grotesquely swollen.
Making a split-second appraisal of the scene, guided by intuition,
Claire crouched and pivoted until she found the best angle. Using the
35 mm lens, she stopped down on the Leica to increase the depth of
field. She took a quick series of photos, bracketing to guarantee the
exposure: the patient in profile and a half-dozen nurses, doctors, and
orderlies gathered around him, like a group portrait by Rembrandt,
their faces saying their thoughts. They knew he was dying, too. Out
here in the cold without their coats on, with the man looking dead
already and nobody else nearby but Claire, they dispensed with their
usual cheery and encouraging expressions.
The group proceeded into the hospital. Claire followed, the others
oblivious to her. She was like a spy, paid to fit in, to hide in plain
sight, her identity and her loyalties concealed. Her ability to hide in
plain sight was a paradox, even to herself, because she was physically
striking. Had the others taken the time to notice her, they would have
seen a thirty-six-year-old woman filled with the confidence and glamor
of success, tall, slender, strong, her arms and shoulders shaped
from carrying heavy photographic equipment. Her thick dark hair
fell in waves to her shoulders. Her face was broad, her features well
defined. She wore her usual winter uniform of loose navy blue trousers,
cashmere sweater over silk blouse, and a beige fleece-lined jacket
with eight pockets. It was a hunter's jacket, and she'd ordered it from a
specialty store. Claire Shipley was a hunter: searching and waiting for
the proper angle, the telling moment, for a narrative to give sense to
the jumble of existence.
Upstairs, the group crowded into a private room. In one coordinated
heave the orderlies shifted the patient from the gurney to a bed.
The man moaned. At least the orderlies were quick. The staff bustled
around the bed, taking the patient's pulse, drawing blood, rearranging
his useless limbs. In the enclosed space, the rotting stench he gave off
assaulted Claire. She felt a constriction of revulsion and forced herself
to ignore it, because the man's eyes were alive now. Golden brown
eyes, shifting slowly, their movement consuming his energy. His eyes
followed the voices of the nurses. When Claire's daughter, Emily, was
a newborn, her delicate face peering from a wrap of pink blankets, her
eyes had followed Claire's voice around the room just so while Claire's
husband held her.
Claire felt a piercing ache. Her daughter had died seven and a half
years ago. June 13 would mark eight years. Rationally, Claire knew
that seven and a half years was a long time. Nonetheless sudden,
intense memories jarred her, bringing Emily back with painful clarity.
Claire's husband was gone, too, although by now she could usually
keep a mental door closed on the anger and despondency that had
followed his departure. Automatically Claire did a maternal check-in:
her younger child, Charlie, was safe at school. Later he would be
at home following his usual routine with Maritza, their housekeeper,
who was like a grandmother to him.
At the recollection of tucking a wool scarf into Charlie's coat this
morning, Claire confronted the dying man before her. Outside, he'd
been easy to objectify. Here, with the movement of his eyes, he became
an individual. Someone's husband, dad, son, brother. His fate became
personal. Focusing on his eyes, Claire opened the camera's aperture to
narrow the depth of field. She wanted to portray the staff and equipment
as blurry and ominous, the way he must be experiencing them.
Claire couldn't help herself: there was Emily, lying on her bed at
home, too weak to fight on, lost to infection, strands of her curly, light
brown hair sticking to her cheeks. The well-meaning doctor who visited
each day couldn't help her. Claire held Emily's hand long past the
moment when Emily's spirit or soul or spark—whatever constituted
life—slipped away. In a wave of delayed recognition, Claire understood
that Emily was no longer simply resting after her terrible, twisting
struggle, but was lifeless. Without life. Dead. After a moment
Emily's eyes opened, staring at the ceiling without seeing it. Her pale
blue eyes seemed to turn white while Claire watched. Screams of torment
consumed Claire in waves, even though someone else seemed to
Claire to be screaming, a kind of ghost self within her.
Charlie woke from his nap in the next room. "Mama," he called.
Whom did he want? Claire wondered as she heard his cries. She
was immobilized by a dense weight within her chest. Then Claire
realized with a start that she was his mother. The "mama" Charlie called
for was her. She heard footsteps in the hallway. A voice hushed Charlie.
Comforted him. Took him from his crib. Claire's own mother,
here to care for them.
Ever so softly, with a lifetime's worth of gentleness, Claire pressed
Emily's eyelids shut. She kept her hand in place for long minutes.
Beneath her finngers, she felt Emily's brow, the tickle of her eyelashes, the
tender perfection of her eyelids, the softness of her eyebrows. Emily's
eyebrows were darker than her hair, and Claire's mother had predicted
that Emily's hair would turn dark as she grew older. Now they would
never know. Claire tried to collect within her hand a generation of
caresses, from the moment of Emily's birth to the point far in the future,
past Claire's own death, that should have been the natural course of
Emily's life. Emily's skin was still warm beneath Claire's palm.
Seven and a half years ago. Like yesterday. A cliché that was always
true. Claire picked up the chart from the end of the hospital bed and
read the history of the man lying helpless before her. Edward R. Reese
Jr. Age: 37. Height: 5'11". Weight: 175. Marital status: Married. Two
children. Address: 1020 Park Avenue, New York, N.Y. Profession: Banker.
Claire shuddered. He was only one year older than she was. She
imagined him holding his children on his lap to read them a story at
bedtime, the way she held Emily and Charlie. She saw him advising
clients in a wood paneled office.
He began to breathe in quick, choked gasps, as if the air were a
knife cutting his lungs.
Claire read on. Fever upon arrival at the Presbyterian Hospital on
Monday, December 8: 104.1. Fever upon transfer to the Rockefeller
Institute: 106.04. Bacterial level in his blood at 7 AM on December 10: 100
per milliliter. Claire didn't know what that meant but assumed it was
high. He'd been treated with two types of sulfa drugs, sulfadiazine
and sulfapyridine. Neither had worked. He'd had three transfusions to
try to clear the bacteria from his blood, to no avail. The infection had
entered his bloodstream from a skin abrasion at the right knee. There
were six abscesses in his right leg. His lungs were affected. Diagnosis:
Staphylococcal septicemia.
Blood poisoning. Emily had died of blood poisoning.
In one gliding motion, a stately, straight-backed nurse took the
chart from Claire's hand and reattached it to the end of the bed. Chief
Nurse Brockett, her identification badge read. Beneath her regulation
cap, her steel gray hair was pulled into a bun. Her aloof severity
reminded Claire of her high school headmistress, the type of woman
who could intimidate with a glance.
"You may not read the chart." Nurse Brockett enunciated each
word with precision, as if she suspected that English were not Claire's
native language.
"That's fine." Claire pushed her memories of her daughter out of
her mind and attacked the problem at hand. Nurse Brockett. Well,
Claire wasn't subject to this hierarchy, and Nurse Brockett didn't intimidate her. Through her years of work she'd learned to agree with
everyone in charge and then, when their attention was diverted, do
exactly what she needed to do to get the story. Bravado was a trait
Claire put on each morning with her silk blouse and tailored trousers.
Her boss had sent her here to follow the testing of a potentially revolutionary
medication, but already Claire knew that the real story, the one
with emotion and power, was about saving the life of Edward Reese.
To establish her prerogatives, Claire took her equipment bags to a
narrow table against the wall on the far side of the room. The table
held a blue-patterned porcelain vase filled with white, billowy
hot-house roses. Claire placed the vase on the floor. Sensing the nurse's
glare at her back, she slowed her movements, staking her claim. She
took off her jacket, folded it, and stashed it beneath the table. When
Claire heard the nurse's footsteps leaving the room, she felt relieved:
first skirmish won. She arranged her cameras and film on the table for
easy access. In her notebook, she wrote down the details about Edward
Reese. She checked the picture count on the cameras and sketched out
rough captions. Claire was working alone today, without a reporter
to take formal caption notes and help with the equipment. Ever since
the attack on Pearl Harbor several days before, the office had been topsy-turvy.
This assignment had come in unexpectedly, and with
staff heading to Washington and Hawaii, editorial had no reporters to
spare. Just as well. Claire preferred to work alone, without a reporter's
When Claire finished what she thought of as her housekeeping
chores, she looked around and was surprised to find herself alone with
Edward Reese. His eyes had settled on her. She felt self-conscious
and wanted to say to him, don't worry, I'll do you proud. Meeting his
gaze, she said nothing, but it was the vow she made to herself. With
her light meter in hand, she toured the room, taking sample readings
and orienting herself. Luckily the room was bright. She wouldn't need
artificial light or a tripod, at least not yet.
The setup here was a little strange for a hospital. She glanced at
Reese, who continued to watch her. She wondered if he'd noticed the
oddness. The spacious, high-ceilinged room looked like the reception
area of a private club, with floor to ceiling windows facing the river
and an arrangement of leather chairs and a sofa. Brilliantly colored,
semi-abstract seascapes decorated the walls, no doubt loans from Mrs.
John D. Rockefeller Jr., who collected modern art. Sunlight reflecting
from the river shimmered and trembled upon the walls and ceiling, as
if the hospital room were an extension of the paintings.
"Claire Shipley?"
Claire turned. A doctor in an unbuttoned white coat stood before
her. He was about six feet tall, lean, with brown hair brushed back,
and steel rimmed glasses. He wore a conservative tie, buttoned down
oxford shirt, and a dark suit beneath the white coat. A stethoscope was
draped around his neck. He held a clipboard and a three ring binder.
He was in his late thirties, Claire judged from the lines around his
eyes. His face had an open, boyish handsomeness, yet the hard set
of his shoulders revealed his disapproval. Nurse Brockett stood like a
sentinel behind him. In the light from the river, the doctor's eyes were
deep blue. At five foot eight, Claire could almost look him in the eye,
an advantage.
"I'm Dr. Stanton. The physician in charge of this case." As Claire
evaluated him, he evaluated her, and he was surprised. She was attractive.
A professional woman who paid attention to herself. He appreciated
hat. She wore red lipstick. Her clothes, clearly designed to be
comfortable for her work, nonetheless showed off her figure.
Claire understood his look and gave him time to indulge it. She
needed Dr. Stanton, because now her narrative had two protagonists:
the man dying on the bed, and this doctor, who might, or might not,
save his life.
"Would you kindly step outside?" he said.
"Happy to." As she followed him into the hallway, she sensed
Reese studying them. Dr. Stanton walked with a certain insouciance,
or maybe simply absolute confidence. Of course the confidence could
be a veneer forced upon him by his position. Whichever, Claire found
it stirring. The bottom of his white coat flicked backward with each
step. He turned to her when they were several yards down the hall.
"Dr. Rivers told me you'd be working here today." Dr. Rivers was
the director of the hospital. He was the one who'd contacted her editor
about the story, following up on a casual conversation they'd had over
lunch at one of their clubs. "Frankly it wasn't my idea to invite you, but
he's the one in charge. We don't have time for you, and we won't be
making allowances for you. I'd advise you to stay out of our way."
"Good. I'm hoping to stay out of your way, too. I'm hoping you'll
forget about me completely."
Frowning, James Stanton appeared at a loss for a response. Nothing
like agreement to diffuse an argument, Claire had learned long ago.
By necessity, she was an expert in the manipulation of her assigned
subjects. Stanton stared at her, and she stared back.
"Maybe you should tell me what you're dealing with here. So I can
work harder at staying out of your way," Claire added with a flirtatious
touch of irony.


Excerpted from A Fierce Radiance by Lauren Belfer Copyright © 2011 by Lauren Belfer. Excerpted by permission of Harper Perennial. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 55 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 57 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 18, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    One of the best of 2010!

    A front-runner for my #1 book of 2010!!

    A Fierce Radiance is an extraordinary novel which comes along once every few years. I absolutely fell in love with this book and can't stop talking about it!!

    A Fierce Radiance is set in the early 1940s during the first days following the attack on Pearl Harbor. The story follows the life of Claire Shipley, a beautiful and talented photojournalist for Life magazine, whose boss sends her to cover the testing of a potentially revolutionary new medicine made from green mold - penicillin. She is responsible for capturing the iconic images Americans look forward to seeing in Life Magazine. Living in New York City, Claire is a single mother to an 8 year old boy, Charlie. She lost her daughter, Emily, when she was only seven, from a scrape on the knee resulting in a blood infection. Emily's life would have been saved by penicillin. In 1941, the United States had just entered WWII, and "our boys" are dying on and off the battlefield from infection. The government pleads with the seven largest pharmaceutical companies to make penicillin their top priority. In the midst of this war-time drama, two people are brought together, fall in love, and are thrust into blackmail, espionage and murder, all of which revolve around the potential for mass production of a new blockbuster drug.

    Penicillin - the weapon of war.

    The words leaped off the page and came to life for me. Belfer's engaging writing transported me to war-time New York, the 1940s, an era that I'm already a bit obsessed with, and she got everything right. I feel like I'm describing a movie when I tell you the dialogue is engaging and fast-paced, the costumes are stunning, and the scenery is perfection. It may sound silly, but I loved that Belfer described all the women's clothes, hair and make-up. She was descriptive without taking away from the action and helped me to become even more absorbed into this important time in the world's history.

    I have read an abundance of books that have World War II as their back-drop, but this was my first perspective of the war from this angle. I also live in New Jersey, the home of several of the actual pharmaceutical companies mentioned in the novel, which gave me a whole new look at an industry of which I am already very familiar. There is so much on-the-edge-of-your-seat drama in this race to the finish. Which company will be first in discovering how to mass produce penicillin? Will they share their discovery for the good of the country? Will they be able to do it in time to save our soldiers? Will they be able to do it in time to save our children? How far are people willing to go to keep or steal secrets?

    This compelling novel was about loss, fear, hope, tragedy, war, suffering, government, corruption, fortune, greed and victory. For me, it was a love story. Claire Shipley meets Dr. James Stanton, a handsome doctor at The Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, and what follows is the kind of love story they make movies about.

    TO read more, visit my book blog: Alison's Book Marks (enter contest for a SIGNED book)

    8 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 29, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Engaging Historical Fiction

    A Fierce Radiance is an exciting piece of historical fiction where historical figures interact with fictional characters to tell a fast moving story of the meeting of industry, medicine, romance, family, and loss.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2010

    totally absorbing book

    I didn't think a story surrounding the WW2 development of antibiotics would hold anything beyond historical interest, but this narrative is absolutely riveting. It has everything: espionage, family, high finance, intrigue, love, medicine, mystery, Nazis, romance, sex. This novel also holds frightening relevance to the present, as the entire category of miracle drugs its story revolves around are now beginning to lose their effectiveness.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 17, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    completely engrossing from the very first page

    Lauren Belfer manages to combine wit, charm, romance, and rich historical atmosphere in this marvelous novel about war-time New York City. Most novels do not reach the level of true literature, but A Fierce Radiance DOES. Belfer is a gem of a writer and reading this book will engage you in ways that you have not imagined.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2010

    A good read, until the last chapter

    I enjyed this book. Ms. Belfer uses language to capture the reader. I could feel the snow and see the buildings. Those of us who live in New York City will feel right at home in these pages.

    However, I was unsatisfied with the ending. I felt like I was watching a watered down version of Casablanca. The medical aspect was also left me unsatisfied

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 25, 2010

    A Fierce Radiance

    A Fierce Radiance crosses genres as a historical novel, a love story, a crime thriller, and a murder mystery. It captured my attention from the very beginning and held it throughout. Claire Shipley is a fascinating character as a photo journalist dealing with situations in her job, her family, and her relationships. Claire is assigned to a local hospital to report on a still experimental drug, penicillin, but her interest was more than professional. Penicillin could have saved the life of the daughter she lost to an infection. Through her work she also meets her love interest, Dr. James Stanton.

    The author brings to life the promise and heartache of experimental drugs. Problems arise when they cannot create the drugs quickly enough to give the patient a complete series, and some of the drugs have unexpected side effects. Competition among drug companies, the Federal Government, and greedy business men round out this superb crime drama.

    I am very impressed with the author's depiction of a mother living with the grief of losing a child. In A Fierce Radiance, Lauren Belfer captured this aspect of Claire's life perfectly. I've read other books that do not come close to portraying this appropriately. All of the characters and their roles are clearly defined and developed. Claire is not always likeable, but she is always interesting.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2011

    A really good read!

    I like fiction that also contains a lot of factual historical information. This book is a good example of that. I knew that penicillin was discovered long before it was available as a practical medication but found the facts about its development and the government involvement during WWII fascinating.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 8, 2011


    Very unusual, great narrative and history. City of Light is one of my all time favorites as well.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 10, 2011

    Interesting Historical Fiction

    The story of penicillin is so interesting and this book really brought it to life. However, I had a hard time understanding some of the motivations of the characters. With that said, I really enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to fans of historical fiction.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 5, 2011

    Very Interesting!

    I was hooked by the end of the first chapter. I loved the subject. It was so heartbreaking how medical profession had to deal with the drug. With that being said - even though I really liked the story - I hated all the jumping around in time. I just felt the gaps in the characters' lives was really affecting the quality of the story. I still recommend this tale though!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 14, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Good read!

    I enjoyed this book and found it hard to put down. The plot was engaging, but at times events were disconnected until the end. I found the history of penicillin to be very interesting. The ending was not predictable, but not disappointing.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 24, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    This is an interesting look at historical industrial espionage and murder during WWII

    In Manhattans, Life Magazine sends photographer thirty something Claire Shipley to cover the report that medical scientists have developed an elixir from mold that looks like it will help with diseases. The single mom who lost her daughter years ago due to an infection/poison in her blood is exhilarated with what she hears at the briefing.

    Dr. James Stanton who heads the research is attracted to Claire; she reciprocates and soon they are engaged. As Pearl Harbor draws the United States into the war, the pharmaceutical giants want to control mass production of penicillin. At the same time James' sister mycologist Tia searches for relatives of penicillin, but something with promise vanishes from her lab. The Feds with publisher Henry Luce cooperating use Claire to help with their inquiry while her financier father wants control of the new industry. James, who was overseas helping with the deploying of penicillin, comes home believing that his future father-in-law had his sister murdered and her former boyfriend stole the promising antitoxin cousin from Tia.

    This is an interesting look at historical industrial espionage and murder during WWII. The story line effortlessly moves back and forth between New York City boardrooms, labs and battlefield medicine. Adding to the sense of being at the forefront of the antibiotic revolution is Life magazine photo ops (through Claire's camera lens). Although the personal relationships add depth to the lead couple, their estrangement and romance slows down an otherwise electrifying deep look back at a wild medical frontier.

    Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2015

    A good read.  I enjoyed this book.

    A good read.  I enjoyed this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 31, 2014


    Superbly written with facinating blend of characters, period, medicine,social classes - I looked at the length and thought no way could a book that long be this good but kept me enthralled
    from start to finish

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2014

    Great read and informative!

    The author writes history and fiction together to make a story I wanted to read to see what would happen next. I would recommend this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 18, 2014

    Highly recommended

    The story begins on December 10, 1941 as magazine photographer Claire Shipley prepares to observe and document the first use of penicillin on a human subject. The patient is dying of blood poisoning due to a small cut from a simple fall, a fact that brings back searing memories of Claire's own loss. A drug we take for granted is in its infancy - no one knows how much or how often to administer it, and the supplies are painfully small due the difficulties in its production. The well written story includes victims of disease and victims of corporate conflicts, dedicated medical professionals, and a touching love story. This plus a few surprises makes this a great summertime read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2014


    All young scientists go to "science" result one.

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  • Posted September 8, 2011

    Disappointing for me. Maybe ok for you

    I really expected to love this book. Historical info was interesting but wrapped in story of one dimensional characters who i found unsympathetic.

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  • Posted April 14, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    The Race to Produce Penicillin

    "A Fierce Radiance" by Lau­ren Belfer is a historical fiction book about the search for penicillin. The push came during World War II when the need for this miracle drug became as important as any weapon.

    Claire Shipley, a single mother and a photojournalist working for Life magazine gets a new assignment, to document an experiment doctors are doing on a patient in New York's Rockefeller Institute. Luckily for Claire, handsome doctor Jamie Stan­ton is on hand. Not so lucky is the patient.

    Not enough penicillin is yet avail­able to treat a patient all the way to a healthy life.

    As the romance between Claire & Jamie heats up, the race to produce penicillin goes into over­drive. An uneasy alliance between a government at war and private drug companies is forged - all for the common good (supposedly). The government wants the drug companies to stay focused on penicillin, they want to make a profit.
    Some­one is going to have to give.

    A Fierce Radiance" by Lauren Belfer is a well written book which is compelling and interesting. There are spies, sex, big money, scrupu­lous industrialists, incorruptible scientist as well as corruptible ones. The book is suppose to me a mystery, but the real mystery is how Ms. Belfer succeeded in making a book about penicillin so interesting.

    Ms. Belfer tells us that on "D-Day, in June 1944, every medic going ashore in France carried penicillin in his pack". That is an amazing achievement if you think about it. Before the abil­ity to tame penicillin one could day from getting scratched by a thorn - life was that fragile.

    I purposely used the word "tame" because penicillin's healing power has been known for ages, but only a Scottish scientist named Alexander Fleming is known for actually pinpointing, or discovering, the antibiotic.

    This book is historical fiction at its best. The storytelling is smooth and focused. Many historical figure make appearances, even though none of them are actually the center of the tale. The race to produce penicillin is described in a fascinating way and best of all, I learned some­thing.

    The ability to mass produce penicillin literally changed the world overnight. No longer does a parent fear that their child will die from scarlet fever, pneumonia or even a trivial scratch gotten during play.

    There is a murder somewhere in there, but the quest for peni­cillin is so engrossing that the mystery is almost a disruption. This digression, in my opinion, is actually the weakest part of this graceful book. However, the descriptions of war time New York more then makes up for that.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 16, 2010

    Loved it!

    I loved this book. It just got better the further into the story.

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