A Fierce Radiance: A Novel

A Fierce Radiance: A Novel

3.7 55
by Lauren Belfer

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“An engrossing and ambitious novel that vividly portrays a critical time in American history.” — Booklist (starred review)

“Enthralling. A Fierce Radiance shines with fascinating detail.... Belfer’s powerful portrayal of how people are changed in pursuit of a miracle makes this book an especially compelling


“An engrossing and ambitious novel that vividly portrays a critical time in American history.” — Booklist (starred review)

“Enthralling. A Fierce Radiance shines with fascinating detail.... Belfer’s powerful portrayal of how people are changed in pursuit of a miracle makes this book an especially compelling read.” — Nancy Horan, author of Loving Frank

Set during the uncertain early days of World War II, this suspenseful story from the New York Times bestselling author of City of Light follows the work of photojournalist Claire Shipley as she captures America’s race to develop life-saving antibiotics—an assignment that will involve blackmail, espionage, and murder.

Editorial Reviews

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.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Meet the Author

Lauren Belfer’s novel A Fierce Radiance was named a Washington Post Best Novel; an NPR Best Mystery; and a New York Times Editors’ Choice. Her debut novel, City of Light, was a New York Times bestseller as well as a number one Book Sense pick; a New York Times Notable Book; a Library Journal Best Book; and a Main Selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club. She lives in New York City.

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Fierce Radiance 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 55 reviews.
alisons-bookmarks More than 1 year ago
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)
MattCH More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
AnnaPavlova More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Didge86 More than 1 year ago
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.
BeadQueen More than 1 year ago
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!
teacher47 More than 1 year ago
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.
timetravel More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A good read.  I enjoyed this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
All young scientists go to "science" result one.
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Barbara Young More than 1 year ago
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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