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May 9, 1986

Radiation and Life

JAMA. 1986;255(18):2502-2503. doi:10.1001/jama.1986.03370180128055

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Although many pollutants of our civilization are new, radiation has been experienced by living organisms since their very beginning. Human activity—most significantly in medicine—has simply added to the dose. In a concise and lucid fashion, Hall explains the physics and the biologic effects of radiation, and its uses and dangers. Although written for the layperson, the book is also instructive for physicians, most of whom are unfamiliar with the radiation hazards faced by astronauts (and possibly by travelers on the Concorde), the indoor radon problem in energy-efficient homes, and the technique of positron emission tomography.

The book is an antidote to the prevailing misinformation about the dangers of radiation. Hall continually emphasizes the need for perspective, ie, for balancing risks and benefits, and for comparing risks with the risks of practical alternatives (rather than with a utopian risk-free state). For example, Hall contrasts the relatively small public health problems resulting