K. Bird Lincoln's Reviews > Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout

Radioactive by Lauren Redniss
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Mar 22, 2012

it was amazing

Bravo, Lauren Redniss. Not since Sam Kean's "Disappearing Spoon: And other true tales of madness,love and the history of the world from the periodic table" have I been so engrossed while digesting history and science simultaneously.

But while Kean's book details the minute and anecdotal history of how each element in the periodic table was discovered and how politics and personal loves influenced those discoveries, Radioactive focuses on the Curie's work with Radium and Polonium.

And Radioactive uses haunting, luminous, cyanotype drawings mixed with photos to convey a silent, inevitable sense of melancholy. The sadness of Marie's lost loves. The doomed scientist's love letters and scientific writings; the snippets of information about the Manhattan Project, Hiroshima, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, all combine to convey a sense of despairing wonder at what humans can make of nature's gifts.

The author intermingles illustration and text on each page; in fact my daughter accused me of reading a graphic novel when she saw me with the book, and in some ways it acts as a graphic novel, the illustrations as much a part of the story as the texts. But it would be a mistake to categorize it with graphic novels. This is more of a multi-media history.

Make no mistake, this is a well-researched book with plenty of original sources from which the story of Marie and Pierre Curie's work and life is drawn from. In the end, though, it is mostly about Marie and her loves; both human and scientific.

Read this book and appreciate Marie Curie's drive, the greater danger of human scientific accomplishment, and marvel at how small, personal tragedies and scandal can influence human history as much as the bombing of Hiroshima.

Bravo.

This Book's Snack Rating: A bitter chocolate cake from an expensive patisserie with shaved chocolate curls and edible gold flakes on top for the at once visual and visceral enjoyment of the text, images, and history that comes with every bite.
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