Review: Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie, a Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss

  • Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie, a Tale of Love and Fallout
  • Lauren Redniss
  • 208 pages
  • Publication Date: December 2010
  • Publisher:  Harper Collins
  • Source: Library

Three times before her death, Marya Sktodowska would find, then swiftly lose, a cherished lover. The gray-eyed girl was born in Warsaw on November 7, 1867, the year chemists and orchid cultivator Alfred Nobel patented dynamite. She would become famous as Marie Curie, twice winning the prize Nobel established with his explosive fortune.

After reading Radioactive, I’m starting to realize that I don’t read enough books about truly great people. There are lots of non-fiction books that are published every year about great events that happen to people but after reading about all the things that Marie Curie did in her lifetime, I’m starting to think I need to change what type of non-fiction I read.

Marie Curie was an amazing person. As a child she lost her eldest sister and mother to typhus and tuberculosis. At the age of seventeen she left home to become a governess so she could save money to further her education in Paris. As an adult she was a dedicated wife, mother, and scientist spending hours in her lab every day. She was awarded the Nobel Prize twice in her lifetime, first in physics with her husband then in chemistry. She was a curious and determined person who spent her lifetime learning and also helping others.

Readers also learn about Pierre Curie and his childhood as a dreamer who many people thought wouldn’t amount to much. The older Pierre became, the more he focused and by the time he was seventeen he had graduated from college. Throughout the book Redniss goes back and forth between the two as they become collaborators in every aspect of their lives and how the couples’ discoveries changed humanity forever.

Not only does the author give readers a biography about the two Curies but she also tells us how the Curies’ discoveries play a role in life since then. There are accounts by people who survived the atomic bombings at Hiroshima, quotes about Irving S. Lowen who worked on the Manhattan Project for a short amount of time and then died mysteriously, information about the atomic testing done by the U.S. government in Nevada along with the craze going on in that same area by people who would throw parties to watch the bombings from nearby cities.  Add all of this information in with the Curies and their life and you have one hell of a biography that’s the perfect blend of biography, history, art, and science.

A quick word about the art featured in this book. Much of the artwork used in Radioactive is made by a cyanotype printing process that gives a haunting look. It’s pretty different from what you would normally find in a graphic novel but works though it takes time to get used to the style.

The great thing about Radioactive is that it’s a book that would fit a diverse audience: the reader who loves comic books, the nonfiction junkie, or just a reader with an interest in science. My Goodreads rating for Radioactive is 5 out of 5 stars. It’s easily one of the best nonfiction reads of 2011.

Yes I know that the quote at the beginning of my review leaves you wanting to know more about the three loves of Marie Curie’s life, but I refuse to spoil the story. 

About Vasilly

Mother, daughter, sister, college student, bookworm, lover of chocolate and coffee.
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14 Responses to Review: Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie, a Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss

  1. Lu says:

    You make this book sound so good! I’m definitely going to have to read it. Thank you for posting about it, because I don’t think I ever would have found it otherwise.

  2. This sounds great! When I was growing up I loved to read biographies of great people (Curie, Eleanor Roosevelt, etc.). I’ve gotten away from that as I’ve gotten older, and I do think I’m missing something! Thanks for this!

  3. zibilee says:

    When I was reading The Emperor of all Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, a lot of pagespace was given over to Curie and her discovery of radium, and her eventual radium poisoning. When I read that, I knew that I wanted to find out more about her life, so I think this would be an amazing read for me. I am glad that you loved this one, and that you gave it such high marks. I must look for this book!

  4. Kailana says:

    This sounds really interesting. Thanks for the review!

  5. BermudaOnion says:

    As a child, I devoured biographies, especially of women, and I’m wondering why I’ve abandoned them. This sounds excellent!

  6. Carrie K. says:

    I’m going to request this one from inter-library loan – it sounds so good!

  7. Akilah says:

    I’m starting to realize that I don’t read enough books about truly great people. There are lots of non-fiction books that are published every year about great events that happen to people but after reading about all the things that Marie Curie did in her lifetime, I’m starting to think I need to change what type of non-fiction I read.

    Point. I tend to enjoy memoirs, so I should do the same. Adding this to the list. Great review.

  8. Christy says:

    This is the second great review I’ve heard for this book. Will hopefully check it out sometime! I don’t tend to be attracted to biographies, but the graphic novel format makes it more appealing to me.

  9. Wow, best of the year! That’s pretty awesome, I will have to try to check it out.

  10. Wow this looks so good! I love the subject and the format. The cover is stellar, too!

  11. Kathleen says:

    I don’t read enough books about great people either and this one sounds really good. I read a mystery this past year that had a brief appearance from Marie Curie in it. I was really interested in her after reading it but never followed up by reading anything else. I will have to add this one to my list.

  12. Gavin says:

    Oops! I thought I commented on this one. I have added it to my hold list at the library.

  13. Alyce says:

    I absolutely love biographies, and I haven’t heard of this book before. I’m going to track this one down for sure.

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