Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie--A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss

Okay.  I've been thinking about this blog for months.  I've been tweaking all the different blogger design elements trying to get the layout just right.  But, I've been putting off that terrifying first post.  Well, no more.  Here it is.

I just read the best book!  No really.  I did.  Good enough to make me finally take the leap into posting.  And despite my header that reads "literary fiction to set your heart ablaze," we will be dealing with the parenthetical non-fiction today.

So, I'm sitting at the Reference Desk listening to hold music when my eye catches a book on the "new" shelf that I hadn't seen before.  It's big, it's yellow, it looks interesting.  (You can tell it doesn't take much in the marketing department to peak my curiosity.)  As soon as I get off the phone, I meander over and start flipping through it.  First thing I notice, it's soooo pretty.  There are pictures on every page.  Oooh.

Then, I start dipping into the text (surreptitiously, of course, I'm supposed to be working, not reading).  Right away, I can tell this is going to be unputdownable. I checked it out and stowed it away in my bottom desk drawer so I wouldn't be tempted.  And that night, after the kids went to bed, I read it cover to cover.

It's a biography of the Curies but also a work of art.  The illustrations tell their own narrative as beautifully as the text. It truly made me care about the Curies and their era in a way that I wouldn't have normally. In addition to the gorgeous pictures, the author includes stories you probably would never had heard anywhere else. For example, she tells about all the young women in New Jersey who were hired to paint watch dials with the "undark" paint that was made from radium, who subsequently came down with all sorts of horrible symptoms (up to and including death) from twisting the paintbrushes between their lips to keep the tip sharp. She also tells how the Curies were so fascinated by their new-found element that they would take it home in a jar and show it off at dinner parties--in fact, Marie even used a stick of radium as a nightlight for a while.  And, get this, after Pierre's death, Marie took up with a married man and her lover nearly fought a duel to defend her honor against a newspaper columnist (take that 20th-century TMZ). All the while, Redniss is paralleling the lives of the Curies with the "life" that radium takes on.  There are interviews with cancer survivors whose lives were saved by radiation.  There's an interview with a survivor of Hiroshima.  And I have to admit, the bit about the buttercups made me cry.  You'll see what I mean.

I haven't decided whether or not I am going to give books some sort of numerical rating on this blog, so suffice to say:  It was awesome.  I bought it.  Then, I forced my mom, husband and co-workers to read it (still working on my dad).  It's that good.

Added hilariously appropriate bonus. . .it glows in the dark!

<I checked this book out of my library. Then bought it.>


  1. Congratulations! What a great review on a book about a woman that has always interested me since I was 8 or 9! I remember reading a Scholastic book purchase about Marie Curie, mostly because we shared the first name but also because my mother said I should read about this extraordinary women! After your review I really want to go and check it out! Thank you and best of luck on your new venture...it will be great!

  2. Thank you for posting the very first comment on my new blog! (YAY!) It really is a neat book. I think you'll like it.