Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout Hardcover – Dec 21 2010
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“[An] excellent new book.” (Robert Krulwich, NPR)
“[A] sumptuously illustrated visual biography….Radioactive is an incisive look at science’s greatest partnership.” (Vogue)
“One of the most beautiful books-as-object that I’ve ever seen.” (Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love)
“[Radioactive is] a deeply unusual and forceful thing to have in your hands. Ms. Redniss’s text is long, literate and supple…Her drawings are both vivid and ethereal…Radioactive is serious science and brisk storytelling. The word ‘luminous’ is a critic’s cliché, to be avoided at all costs, but it fits.” (New York Times)
“Radioactive is quite unlike any book I have ever readpart history, part love story, part art work and all parts sheer imaginative genius.” (Malcolm Gladwell)
“Absolutely dazzling. Lauren Redniss has created a book that is both vibrant history and a work of art. Like radium itself, Radioactive glows with energy.” (Richard Rhodes, author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb, winner of the Pulitzer Prize)
“Radioactive offer innumerable wonders. Colors suddenly bloom into tremendous feeling, history contracts into a pair of elongated figures locked in an embrace, then expands again in an explosive rush of words. In this wholly original book about passion and discovery Lauren Redniss has invented her own unique form.” (Nicole Krauss, author of The History of Love)
From the Back Cover
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.See all Product Description
Inside This Book(Learn More)
Top Customer Reviews
Radioactive is one of those rare books that capture a difficult subject well through an unusual approach. In this case, Ms. Lauren Redniss alternates charming drawings with chilling implications from scientific research into radioactivity . . . and painful personal details about the lives of Marie and Pierre Curie.
Some people have likened scientific work on radioactivity to opening Pandora's Box: Evils flew out, but hope remained. Radioactive captures that ambivalence very nicely so that youngsters can appreciate the difficulties and questions associated with new knowledge.
Marie Curie didn't want to be assessed for her private life . . . and with good reason, as this book demonstrates. Ms. Redniss does a nice job of pointing out that many people have skeletons in their closets . . . including those who condemn others or who are upheld as paragons of public virtue.
If you are a parent or a grandparent, I suggest you read the book before presenting it to a youngster. This book is for older, more mature young people.
Brava, Ms. Redniss!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
First, the little things: the author created her own type based on the title pages of the New York Public Library; through evident hard work and determination, she tracked down astonishing anecdotes, photographs, gravestone rubbings, x-rays, and little known facts; the bibliography includes a breathtaking spectrum of sources, from interviews, lectures, biographies (in English and French), scientific journals, classified documents, correspondence, maps, notebooks, newspapers, scientific society proceedings; the illustrations are stunning. What unfolds on pages 83 - 85 is profoundly affecting and viscerally unforgettable. I am embarrassed by the number of superlatives in this paragraph.
Now, the big thing: this book, like the story it tells, is a miracle.
The reviewer below is entitled to his opinion. But may I offer a counterpoint. On page 94 Marie recalls a day in the meadows with her family, picking flowers. And there is an illustration of buttercups. Pages later, when Marie learns that Pierre is dead: "The flowers he had picked in the country remained fresh on the table." And then, let's say for curiosity's sake, you flip to the Notes and see this citation: "flowers...on the table." Curie Archives, microfilm, 4300.
Perhaps you will "learn" "more" from a Wikipedia article. But I have rarely encountered a book that has made me feel so strongly and care more deeply about a topic (an entire world, really) that, prior to opening the cover, I had little interest in. Buy this book at once if you are a humanist; if you know anyone -- a journalist, artist, doctor, scientist -- looking for inspiration; if you believe in the confounding collision of serendipity, discovery, destruction and love; if you've never read a graphic novel; if there is a curious young woman in your life who you suspect might one day change the world with her intellect, or desperately wishes to. This book earns and deserves the attention of those of us who live beyond Wikipedia where stories are told, hearts swell and break, the buttercups matter (No. The buttercups are essential.), and man discovers a way to make mutant roses and glowing tubes of fairy light that change the course of history.
The first half is filled with excitement and discovery - new elements and new romance.
The second half is much more somber, to put it mildly.
Last night, I put the book down, turned off the lights and discovered: The book GLOWS IN THE DARK!
(An extra star for that)
I love science, love the stories of scientists and their lives and was given this book for Christmas 2011 after a review on NPR. I found the book hard to read - disjointed. The book is about 8.5 x 11, is large and is as much about some very creative artwork as it is about the Curies. The font used has an in interesting story behind it, again creative, but not the most legible. The actual text could be crammed into about 20 pages with a 12 pt. Garamond font. The book is beautifully published here in the USA! I know, I know - I'm not being very creative and perhaps missing the point when I view this as strictly a book about two of my heroes and their science. I would strongly suggest using the look inside feature on Amazon to get a sense of the layout of the book before buying.
"Radioactive" glows in the dark.
And that's just the start of the charm and beauty and high intelligence of an oversized book that mixes text and art, documents and narrative, to tell a story that starts with the story of the Curies and then radiates outward.
Image-and-text --- like a non-fiction graphic novel?
Sure, if the non-fiction graphic novel had been drawn by Matisse and Warhol and researched and written by John Didion. The author's description should be the start of you moving closer to the screen and reading more slowly: "a visual book about invisible things --- in this case, radioactivity and love."
"Radioactive" is such a bitch slap to traditional thinking about books and biography and the subject of radiation that --- the metaphor is inevitable --- it really has no half-life. This is a reading/viewing experience you'll never forget. And when you need to give a book to someone who has "everything," it's the obvious choice.
The subtitle --- "love and fallout" --- is the hint that this is a book of mystery and magic, for Marie and Pierre Curie, though two, shared a love so deep they lived and thought and worked as one. And then, as we consider what happened to them, and what their discoveries have meant to the planet.....
But the core of the book is the story of these two great scientists. Marya Sklodowska, a brilliant student from Poland, came to Paris to study at the Sorbonne. In 1894, she met Pierre Curie, an iconoclast who taught physics and chemistry. How deep was their love? As Pierre wrote to her, "It would be a fine thing ... to pass our lives near to each other, hypnotized by our dreams; your patriotic dream, our humanitarian dream, and our scientific dream." The Curies discovered radioactivity and, in 1903, won the Nobel Prize for Physics. Much excitement followed about its uses. And so it makes a kind of sense that the Curies would carry radium around, unaware that it causes radioactive poisoning and cancer. (Even now, some of their notebooks must be stored in lead boxes.) Pierre died in 1906. Marie carried on. In 1911, she won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry; she's one of only two scientists to win the Nobel in a second field. Eventually, radiation killed her.
It's a great story, often told and memorably filmed. For Lauren Redniss, a professor whose sketches-and-text pieces have been featured on the New York Times Op-ed page, the attraction was larger:
"I was drawn to Marie Curie's story because it is full of drama --- passion, discovery, tragedy and scandal. But I also thought the story was an interesting way to look at questions that affect our world right now. Since Marie Curie coined the word "radioactivity" in 1898, we've struggled with nuclear-weapons proliferation, we've debated the role of radiation in medical treatment, and we've considered nuclear energy as an alternative energy source to counter climate change. These questions all have roots in a love story in turn-of-the-century Paris."
Her research was vast:
"I traveled to Hiroshima to interview atomic bomb survivors, to the Nevada Test Site outside of Las Vegas to talk with weapons specialists, to Warsaw to see the house where Marie Curie was born, to the Curie Institut in Paris to interview the Curie's granddaughter. I spoke with an oncologist exploring innovative radiation treatment in San Bernadino, California and the Idaho National Laboratory's Director of the Center for Space Nuclear Research about how nuclear power and propulsion can enable space exploration and crystal cities built on the moon."
And what do you get? Two hundred pages that bear re-reading. I, for one, didn't immediately notice how the book begins: the stories of Marie and Pierre, before they met, on facing pages, with black-and-white drawings that look as if they were done by pre-pop Warhol. They get together --- and although the background switches to pastels, there's a red heat field between them. Clever!
With their great discovery, the story widens. First, of course, there's the commercial exploitation; there are radium-laced "toothpaste, condoms, suppositories, chocolates, pillows, bath salts and cigarettes." The author's comment: an image of a woman sitting in a room lit by radium. It glows.
There's a mandatory stop at the Nevada Test Site where, in just a year, our government exploded almost 1,000 nuclear bombs under ground. Just as spooky: the depths of the Merry Widow Health Mine in Montana, where some desperately ill Americans went to breathe radioactive air they thought would cure them. And there's an account of the Hiroshima bombing I've never read or seen.
You can't experience this book without thinking of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima. But it's not, in the end, a downer. "One of the things that links the Curies' scientific work to their passionate love affair is their curiosity --- that ability to make a leap of imagination and to look into the unknown," Redniss has said. "If there's an idea central to the book, it's that intellectual adventurousness."
How adventurous are you?