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on March 4, 2002
Growing up in Poland, being interested in science and scientists and loving biographies "made me" reach for Susan Quinn book, Marie Curie: A life. A life,...what an accurate title! The book is about one of the scientists of its (and even current) times, but it is titled modestly, "...:A life". This means, Susan Quinn introduced this intriguing woman as a normal, day to day character. Such "normalcy" did not take away my admiration and inspiration in my own professional pursuits. She, the author, simply presented an extra-ordinary woman in a very ordinary way, just as if she, Maria Sklodowska-Curie, were your or mine neighboor.
The language of the biography is percise but also nostalgic. Susan Quinn proved to be excellent researcher and "mood creator". She was able to write as if she was walking in Sklodowska-Curie shoes. She captured non-essential detail that took a reader right in the middle of the action. The details she used were accurate and true. It brought a Polish reader back to Warsaw. There, the streets were just as she described them, the smell and noise and politics of XIX and XX c Poland were so accuratly painted that as I continued reading it I could no longer remember I was in USA. I thought I were at Nowolipki street or Saxon Garden. Memories of my country history and history of scientific world were rekindled in my heart.
This is a very rich book. It will bring memories or create some for those who are not familiar with scientific revolution of Europe in late XIXc and early XXc. It is a book about heroism, loyalty, determination, passion, love and friendship. It is also a book about rejection in professional world. But most of all, this book is about victory of one extraordinary woman. This is the only woman ever who received two Nobel Prizes. And she happened to come from a country that was constantly occupied by its oppresors, from Poland. Both the author and the heroin did a fantastic job.
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on January 5, 2008
I've admired Marie Curie (born Maria Sklowdowska in Russian-occupied Poland) longer than I can remember, quite literally. I first read her biography in a "written for children" edition while I was in grade school - Grade 5, perhaps? When I sat in my first day of Laboratory Chemistry class, as a high school junior, I bit my tongue half off as the teacher included this gem of wisdom in his opening remarks: "I know you girls are only taking this class because you need it to get into college. I'll go easy on you. After all, there are very few Marie Curies in the world!" I still wish I'd had the guts to be sent to the office for saying the words that rose up without my bidding them: "And just as few Pierre Curies, Mr. ****."

Anyway, perhaps that anecdote offers a clue as to how much Madame Curie's biographies have meant to me as I've read them over the years. This most recently published one draws on materials not available to previous biographers, letters and journals that were sealed until 1990. While it's hard to beat Eve Curie's 1937 biography of her mother (after all, who knew the woman better?), Susan Quinn's scholarly work adds illumination in plenty because of those additional resources.

This biography tries to be all things to all readers, and that may be cited as a flaw although it's also clearly a virtue. Readers who are primarily or entirely interested in Marie Curie, the individual human being, are likely to slog through the lengthy and detailed descriptions of scientific work while yawning. Readers who want to know about Marie Curie, the scientist, are apt to be bored or even annoyed by the passages that concern her relationships with parents, siblings, husband, children, and (once, during her widowhood) lover. For me, though, it all fit together beautifully. Madame Curie was all of those things, after all. Scientist, daughter, sister, wife, mother, and friend. I'm interested now, just as I was at age 10, in all those aspects of her life.
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on September 28, 1998
As a woman scientist myself, and a long time admirer of the work of the Curies, I was struck by how much this book allows us to see beyond the legend, to the heart of Marie Curie. She emerges as a fascinating, brilliant individual of great depth, and a woman who endured great losses and emotional trials. Her character, emotional depth and her ability to follow her own moral code are what struck me most deeply. While her work has been greatly appreciated in the latter half of the 20th Century, the neglect and condemnation heaped on her in her day is not well known. It makes her accomplishments all the more remarkable and due our respect. This very fine biography should be on every scientists' bookshelf.
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on November 27, 2005
I had mixed emotions on this book and so did many of the numerous reviews I read. While trying to celebrate Marie Curie in light of our feminist times - a motivating factor in the book's writing, I'm sure - the author spends far too little time on the actual physics of Curie's accomplishments and instead dwells on her love affair with a married collegue, on household matters, trivial matters of her everyday life that may make her seem more approachable to the book's readers, but do nothing to clarify her position in historical physics or her winning, jointly, the Nobel Prize, admittedly then in its infancy. I felt Curie to be an extremely passionate woman, both in her work and in her bed. But I wanted much more detail of the physics than was given.
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on February 8, 2014
This long and detailed biography of Marie Curie is well worth the time put into reading it. Susan Quinn is an excellent writer who is able to combine original quotations with narrative in a smooth, flowing style. Transitions are clear, chapters are divided extremely well, and the large amount of material is well-organized. For a book with this much detail, it would have been easy for the book to run off the tracks and become a listing of data or a disorganized mass of material. But Quinn's book never does that. It is easy to read and hard to put down. Quinn knows her physics; she goes into some detail about the ground-breaking discoveries of Marie Curie. The author then moves easily into the personal dimensions of her subject's life. This change of topic is an organizational challenge and Quinn does a fine job.

Several scientists in history had to deal with oppressive and dangerous environments. But it is unlikely that anyone in the history of science had anything quite like the struggles with their surrounding society that Marie Curie had. Her genius in knowing what to study and how to do it put her in the top echelon of physicists. Quinn details her productive relationship with husband Pierre and how each reinforced the other's work. But Quinn also details the vicious character assassinations that Marie endured because, and for no other reason, she was a woman. Some of these were endemic to "old guard" society like never being allowed entry into the French Academy of Science despite two (that's TWO) Nobel Prizes. She was frequently referred to by both the press and other male scientists as a "helper" or "assistant" to Pierre when it is clear from all the evidence that Marie was personally responsible for the discovery of radium and much critical information about the effects and processes of radiation. Moreover, when they did work together, all the evidence again suggests that it was a genuine partnership (e.g., the discovery of polonium), not a scientist-assistant relationship. But the greatest injustice came from the double standard in traditional French society between what men could do privately with what women could do. Some years after Pierre's devastating death in 1906 (by being hit by a large horse-drawn wagon in the street), Marie began a relationship with the mathematician Paul Langevin, a married man in what Quinn documents was a highly dysfunctional marriage. The French press trashed Marie's personal reputation, downgraded her scientific work, and severely frightened her with rabble-rousing language against this Polish "foreigner." Crowds gathered; verbal abuse followed her around. She was forced to travel under assumed names and left France for some time to stay with friends in order to be safe. While anyone familiar with science today knows of Marie Curie's scientific achievements, her courageous personal struggles to continue her work within the injustices of her society are today much less well-known. Quinn spells all this out and gives an excellent overall picture of this pioneer in physics.

Quinn does not leave out what many considered the "difficult" aspects of Marie Curie. But these traits - coldness and aloofness at times, certain authoritarian tendencies, etc. - arose primarily after her partner Pierre's death and the reader cannot help but also wonder what the effect of being shunned and verbally persecuted by her society had on her personality. The fact that she carried on so productively after the scandal, continuing her work and establishing the Radium Institute, is rather incredible. Most of us would have thrown in the towel; Marie built up her defenses and carried on with her love - science. It is also interesting to note that what some at the time considered negatives would have been viewed differently if displayed by a male in the early 1900's. Marie Curie is an absolutely unique figure in the history of physics. Quinn does an excellent job of spelling out for the reader the overall picture of her life. I highly recommend the book.
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on May 3, 2016
Her and her husband, Pierre Curie, serve as a great inspiration to me. And not just for me, but for anyone giving themselves totally to their work and craft, breaking barriers in the process. She should be spoken of WAY more often than she is currently - completely underrated. The Curies, they're basically a family of geniuses.
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on February 7, 2000
Her story seems but simple, yet her life is quite compelling. The story of a human-being living poorly, yet still remembering education, remembering that education would hold her together. Her brilliant mind kept through life and her husband taught her to love science more so. She grew up in Poland and never lost faith in what she believed. In the 430 pgs this book tells about the human spirit and how the mind is what keeps you going. It is detailed, telling about events going on during that time, especially very useful because of its index. Her life was a true science, that you must read to explore!
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on June 25, 2013
I really liked the way this biography placed Marie Curie in the context of Poland and Frances in the late nineteenth century and into the twentieth century. Hers was a fascinating life on many levels - pursuing excellence in science, finding a soulmate who was tragically killed, being a mother, having an affair that shocked France - as well as winning two Nobel prizes. Curie is put into context and the reader feels they understand her triumphs and despair.
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on April 9, 2011
This biography of Maria Sklodowska Curie and her husband Pierre Curie is one of the most detailed I have ever read. In addition to the fascinating stories about their scientific discoveries, it presents intimate information about their lives taken from letters, diaries, and other historical documents. Author Susan Quinn did a remarkably thorough job of research into the personal lives of these scientists as well as to recount the many scientifc discoveries made around the turn of the 20th century. This book is a "must-read" for anyone interested in the history of some of the most important scientific discoveries that were made more than a century ago.
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on March 31, 2005
Marie Curie A Life by Susan Quinn takes you on a journey as you discover the life of Marie Curie. From her difficult days under the Russian repression in Poland, to the sexism she faced in Paris, her two Nobel Peace Prizes, and the scandal that almost lost her everything. I especially liked this biography because it was to the point and it did not over glorify Marie's life. The fact of the matter is that Marie's life was full of hardships and this book depicts all of them. I think the author wanted to write this story because she wanted to depict the life of Marie Curie who was an inspiration to several women, and who contributed a great deal to the scientific community. I believe that the author however, wanted to portray her in a real light, so while other biographies might be a little bit more glamorous this one is more realistic. This is an extremely fascinating biography and you should read it because it shows how Marie's life was filled with obstacles, and how she overcame them all.
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