Book: Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie

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Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout

Author: Lauren Redniss
Publisher: It Books

In 1891, 24-year-old Marie Sklodowska moved from Warsaw to Paris, where she found work in the laboratory of Pierre Curie, a scientist engaged in research on heat and magnetism. They fell in love. They took their honeymoon on bicycles. They expanded the periodic table, discovering two new elements with startling properties, radium and polonium. They recognized radioactivity as an atomic property, heralding the dawn of a new scientific era. They won the Nobel Prize. Newspapers mythologized the couple’s romance, beginning articles on the Curies with “Once upon a time…” Then, in 1906, Pierre was killed in a freak accident. Marie continued their work alone. She won a second Nobel Prize in 1911, and fell in love again, this time with the married physicist Paul Langevin. Scandal ensued. Duels were fought.

In the century since the Curies began their work, we’ve struggled with nuclear weapons proliferation, debated the role of radiation in medical treatment, and pondered nuclear energy as a solution to climate change. In Radioactive, Lauren Redniss links these contentious questions to a love story in 19th Century Paris.

Radioactive draws on Redniss’s original reporting in Asia, Europe and the United States, her interviews with scientists, engineers, weapons specialists, atomic bomb survivors, and Marie and Pierre Curie’s own granddaughter.

Whether young or old, scientific novice or expert, no one will fail to be moved by Lauren Redniss’s eerie and wondrous evocation of one of history’s most intriguing figures.


Amazon Best Books of the Month, December 2010: Lauren Redniss’s brilliant biography-in-collage is an astounding portrait of Marie and Pierre Curie, the husband-and-wife team who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903. Broken into seven chapters (introduced with scientific terms that hint at the stories to come), Radioactive fuses quotes from the scientists themselves with ones from the Curies’ own granddaughter, engineering and weapons experts, and even atomic bomb survivors that form a most interesting and informative narrative. Redniss’s styling doesn’t end with the way she tells the story: Radioactive is as visually stunning as it is factually rich. She jumps from black-and-white sketches to vibrantly colored depictions of the young couple’s courtship, collaborations, and eventually Pierre’s unexpected death. Within the stark pages of the chapter titled “Isolation,” the reader feels Marie’s loss; then in “Exposure” we watch as she falls in love again—this time under more controversial circumstances. Despite personal challenges, Marie continued to be ambitious and eventually became the first female professor at the Sorbonne, winning a second Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In Radioactive, Redniss shows a similar determination. Through her moody, evocative collages, she captures the drama of the Curies’ lives and their contributions to science and medicine, sending the reader on a one-of-a-kind historical and biographical journey that any curious mind will appreciate. —Jessica Schein }}

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