The love, life, and work of two brilliant scientists, Marie and Pierre Curie, are woven together in this highly artistic biography. The book has passages that read like a scientific journal, some that feel like an artist’s notebook, and others that feel like a love story told in a novel. Redniss’s work definitely sheds a new light, perhaps one that glows in the dark*, on this famous couple and the complications of their love and their lives’ work. Although the work does focus on both scientists, Marie is at the forefront through much of it. Her identity of scientist, lover, and mother is examined in a soft and artistic way.
*The cover of the book does actually glow in the dark. Turn the lights out and see for yourself!
— Alison O., DC Public Library
In 1891, 24 year old Marie, née Marya 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.