Book: Marie Curie

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Book:

Marie Curie: A Life

Author: Susan Quinn
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Publisher: Addison Wesley Publishing Company

In this richly textured new biography, Susan Quinn presents us with a far more complicated picture of the woman we thought we knew. Drawing on family documents, Quinn sheds new light on the tragic losses and patriotic passion that infused Marie Sklodowska Curie’s early years in Poland. And through access to Marie Curie’s journal, closed to researchers until 1990, we hear in her own words of the intimacy and joy of her marriage to Pierre Curie and the depth of her despair at his premature death.

The image of Marie Curie as the grieving widow, attired always in black, is familiar to many of us. Much less well known is the affair with a married colleague that helped her recover from her loss. The testimonials of friends, hitherto unavailable, lend this love story a sometimes painful immediacy. Marie Curie’s public triumphs are well known: she was the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize and one of the few people, to date, to receive a second. Unknown or barely known are the defeats she suffered: her rejection by the French Academy and her public humiliation at the hands of the French press over her love affair.

As a scientist, Marie Curie has always been associated with the discovery of radium and polonium. But in fact more important than her work in isolating new elements was her idea that radioactivity was “an atomic process.” Susan Quinn’s biography provides a closer look at Marie Curie’s work, and at the discoveries that led up to it and flowed from it. We come away understanding that Marie Curie was important but not singular: one of a small group of brilliant scientists whose combined efforts brought us to our current understanding of the material universe.

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