The Woman Who Knew Too Much

Alice Stewart and the Secrets of Radiation
Gayle Greene
Foreword by Helen Caldicott
The life story of the epidemiologist who discovered the harmful effects of fetal X rays and other radiation exposure


This biography illuminates the life and achievements of the remarkable woman scientist who revolutionized the concept of radiation risk.

In the 1950s Alice Stewart began research that led to her discovery that fetal X rays double a child's risk of developing cancer. Two decades later—when she was in her seventies—she again astounded the scientific world with a study showing that the U.S. nuclear weapons industry is about twenty times more dangerous than safety regulations permit. This finding put her at the center of the international controversy over radiation risk. In 1990, the New York Times called Stewart "perhaps the Energy Department's most influential and feared scientific critic."

The Woman Who Knew Too Much traces Stewart's life and career from her early childhood in Sheffield to her medical education at Cambridge to her research positions at Oxford University and the University of Birmingham.

Gayle Greene is Professor of Women's Studies and Literature, Scripps College.

Praise / Awards

  • "For those who are intrigued by others' life experience, this book has all the necessary ingredients: loyalty; love and a life that has been lived to the full [sic]. For those who relish the triumph of tenacity over adversity, this story illuminates the fight of those who believe that science may do harm as well as good and those who think that too rigid an application of regulation may stifle research which is contrary to received wisdom."
    —Carol Barton, Medicine, Conflict and Survival, April-June 2001
  • ". . . a compelling portrait of the twentieth century, and an inspiring tale of what can be achieved through brains and determination."
    —Tom Schouweiler, Ruminator Review, Spring 2002
  • "The book is valuable for highlighting the ways in which radiation risks have been defined politically and socially, and how the bearers of bad tidings have been marginalized by powerful vested interests, their research frustrated and their findings discredited."
    —David Cantor, National Institutes of Health, Medical History, October 2001
  • ". . . an amazing book about an amazing person. . . . What a read! What a human being! A real hero of our time."
    —Alan Dalton , Hazards Magazine, January/March 2001
  • ". . . an excellent account of [Alice Stewart's] life and work and how the nuclear industrial complex has sought to marginalize her."
    —Don Hancock, Voices from the Earth, Winter 2000
  • ". . . provides some shrewd insights into [Alice Stewart's] personality and methodology."
    —Matthew L. Wald, New York Times Book Review, March 5, 2000
  • ". . . a fascinating mixture of biography and oral history. "
    —Janet Golden, Women's Review of Books, June 2000
  • "This story of Dr. Alice Stewart, an audacious, insightful medical researcher, stands as a monument to the grit that allowed her to challenge tenets of mainstream scientific opinion."
    —Stewart Udall, former Secretary of the Interior and author of The Myths of August: A Personal Exploration of Our Tragic Cold War Affair with the Atom
  • "A vivid portrait of Alice Stewart, a much underestimated scientist who has been an indomitable challenger of the establishment and a thorn in the flesh of the nuclear industry."
    —Joseph Roblat, physicist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, 1955
  • "Gayle Greene's Woman Who Knew Too Much seeks to trace Stewart's unconventional approach in investigating the effects of man-made radiation. It provides some shrewd insights into her personality and methodology."
    New York Times Book Review
  • ". . . a fascinating mixture of biography and oral history. . .. Stewart's scientific passion, her feistiness, her political naivete and her wit shine in each chapter."
    Women's Review of Books
  • "Stewart's story is one of perseverance, ingenuity, compassion, independence, and integrity, a noble tale in the checkered history of science."
  • "A spirited biography [of a] blunt, feisty woman's career."
    Publishers Weekly
  • ". . . an estimable book about the life of Alice Stewart and her role in the long, painful effort to understand an control the health effects of radiation."
    —Tara O'Toole, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July-August 2000
  • ". . . a sympathetic perspective about [Alice Stewart's] long career, and about her role in the ongoing controversies about the carcinogenic risks of exposure to low-level ionising radiation."
    —James E. Till, University of Toronto, Lancet, July 15, 2000
  • "Part biography and part a sort of personal memoir, the book presents an informative and sympathetic portrait of the life of a rather unconventional and determined physician-scientist, whose world was shaped by the prejudices against women of an earlier day. . . . The real strength of this book, however, lies not in its discussion or understanding of science, but rather in its presentation of the trials and slights and obstructions and impediments placed in the path of a woman who dared to enter the male-dominated world of medical science in 10th-century Britain and the United States. It is thus a very good personal and social history, and certainly of some value from that standpoint."
    —Ronald L. Kathren, Nuclear News, September 2000
  • "Greene calls her riveting portrait a 'collaborative memoir,' and, indeed, Stewart's voice is heard almost as frequently as her biographer's as she recounts her unusual life with verve and humor. . . . Greene enthusiastically chronicles Stewart's fascinating family history . . . and demanding private life, and perspicaciously examines the 'visions and doggedness' that characterized Stewart's pioneering and invaluable work. . . . Stewart's story is one of perseverance, ingenuity, compassion, independence, and integrity, a noble tale in the checkered history of science."
    Booklist, December 1, 1999

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Copyright © 1999, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 336pp.
  • 32 photographs.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2001
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-08783-9

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  • $21.95 U.S.



  • dangers of nuclear radiation, x-rays and childhood cancer, Hanford downwinders, whistle blowers, William Empson, George Kneale, Oxford Study of Childhood Cancers


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