Photo: Studio D
1. A Fierce Radiance is set in New York, at the onset of World War II. Talk about America during wartime. How was the war a part of the lives of Claire and Charlie Shipley, Jamie Stanton, Edward Rutherford, Bill Shipley, and other Americans? Did any of your relatives serve in the war? What about on the home front—do you know how your relatives' lives were affected during that time?
2. Contemporary Americans are also living during a time of war. How have the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq impacted Americans today? Contrast the two times. Do you think Americans today feel as part of the war effort as they did in the 1940s? Explain.
3. Wartime New York City is brought vividly to life in the novel. What were your impressions of the city? How do those impressions compare to your ideas of what the city is like today? What was the place you call home like during World War II? How does it compare to its contemporary version? Do you think we—as a society and a nation—have lost anything in the decades between then and now?
4. What is your opinion of Claire Shipley? Do you think she was like other women of her time? How did her background influence her choices, including her work? How did her career shape her outlook on the events that were happening around her?
5. Outside of her son, the most important men in Claire's life were her father, Edward Rutherford, Jamie Stanton, and Henry Luce. What did each of them mean to her? How did her relationship with each change over the course of the story?
6. Claire was a photojournalist for Life magazine. Have you ever seen an issue of that publication? What role did Life play in the national consciousness? Do we have anything like Life today?
7. Think about Claire's job as a photojournalist and her directives from her boss, Henry Luce. Did she see herself as part of the war effort or as an objective bystander covering events? What is the role of a journalist today? Might our outlook of the Second World War be different if Claire and her colleagues covered it following today's journalistic standards? What are the pros and cons of objectivity?
8. Before reading A Fierce Radiance, did you have any idea that penicillin and other antiobiotics were discovered less than a hundred years ago? How did these medical miracles change our lives? Are we too reliant on drugs like antibiotics as well as antibacterial household products today? Will these drugs always be as effective as they have been? How do you think can we extend the potency of the drugs we have available to us?
9. Do you think 21st-century Americans take their good health and advanced medical care for granted? Could you imagine living or raising a child when the simplest of conditions—a cold, a scraped knee, a cat scratch—could lead to death? How do you think you would cope living with such knowledge? Have we as a nation, forgotten the transformation that the discovery of antibiotics and vaccines have made in our lives?
10. The Rockefeller Institute followed the motto "for the good of humankind." The doctors, scientists, and researchers worked tirelessly in the name of science, not wealth. Does this kind of selfless humanity still exist? Should everything be done for profit? Why? Do you think we as a nation have lost our sense of shared commitment, of the "common good"?
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