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Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie (Great Discoveries) Paperback – October 17, 2005

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Product Details

  • Series: Great Discoveries
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton; Reprint edition (October 17, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393327485
  • ISBN-13: 978-0739453056
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 0.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #137,509 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

So enduring is the reputation of Marie Curie that more than 100 years after she won her first Nobel Prize, for physics in 1903 (she won a second, for chemistry, in 1911), Curie (1867–1934) is still regarded by most as the pre-eminent woman scientist of the 20th century. Goldsmith's straightforward biography illuminates both the public Curie, a tireless scientist obsessed with work, and the private one, a woman who suffered bouts of severe depression, was distant from her children and scarred deeply by the accidental death of her scientist husband, Pierre, in 1906. Using long-sealed Curie family archives, Goldsmith offers a well-rounded view of her subject that makes good dramatic use of the considerable intrigue that surrounded Curie's scientific accomplishments and her private life. Goldsmith also reminds us, without belaboring the point, that Curie overcame obstacles, including pervasive sexism within the scientific community that almost cost her the Nobel. Goldsmith is also adept at demonstrating that for Curie the nexus of public accomplishments and private happiness was tenuous. Although Curie continued working after Pierre's death, Goldsmith says she never allowed his name to be spoken: "Never again would there be a sign of joy." Goldsmith, biographer of Gloria Vanderbilt and Victoria Woodhull, is weakest at explaining the theoretical basis for Curie's scientific breakthroughs, which set the stage for the exploration of the atom. B&w illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Best-selling historian Goldsmith incisively chronicles the intensely dramatic life of the first woman scientist to win the Nobel Prize, neatly explicating both scientific breakthroughs and complex personal and societal conflicts. Curie, born Marya Salomee Sklodowska, endured and triumphed over a tough childhood in Russian-occupied Poland as well as depression, sexism, and poverty. A brilliant and profoundly committed scientist who achieved many firsts, she found her soul mate in fellow scientist and maverick Pierre Curie, who helped her conduct the grueling experiments that enabled her to discover polonium, radium, and radioactivity, thus throwing "open the door to atomic science." A humanist who hoped that radiation would only be used for good, Marie Curie also invented a mobile X-ray unit that her courageous scientist daughter, Irene Joliot-Curie, who also won a Nobel Prize, operated on the front lines. Marie, Pierre, and Irene were all made fatally ill by their work with radioactive substances, and decades later, the Curie papers that Goldsmith has made such superb use of were still "hot." Marie Curie's life, Goldsmith concludes, was "tragic and glorious." Her powerful portrait reveals a woman of great passion, genius, and pain who changed the world in ways she would have deplored. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

Reading this book was extremely interesting for me.
Goldsmith's endless flow of insights into Marie's personal life as well as her scientific life illuminate her in a way that the science books fail to mention.
And that she literally gave her life so that others could truly benefit is and will continue to be her legacy.
Susan Reimers

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By B. Hardy on October 27, 2009
Format: Paperback
I'm working on a project about Curie, so I've read several biographies about her thus far. This book isn't absolutely terrible, but I think it handles Curie poorly. It underexplains much about her life and motivations, gives little due to the science behind her work, and goes out of its way to make her "inner world" excessively dramatic. Curie's story is amazing and fascinating, but this book sacrifices explanatory detail and historical context in favor of an emotionally simplified (and thus more boring) version of the person. Even the title is misleading -- Curie was dedicated to her work and slightly reclusive, but she was hardly an obsessive personality.

I encourage you to please check out the longer but much more engrossing biography by Susan Quinn (titled Marie Curie: A Life (Radcliffe Biography Series)), which provides the historical and scientific context necesssary to make Curie's story really come alive.
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30 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Wilkie Collins on November 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Obsessive Genius is an utterly fascinating portrait of a hallowed and difficult subject. If you are a fan of Goldsmith's work, (I am) you will immediately see that she is the perfect person to give Curie the complexity and dimension she deserves --as a scientist and as a woman. It's a short book which is by turns moving, informative, and intriguingly unexpected. I couldn't put it down.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By R. Boadway on December 23, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I learned of this book in the magazine section of my Sunday newspaper. I strongly doubted that a nonfiction book would be able to hold my interest for long as they can be so dry and tedious, but the topic sounded interesting, the review was promising and as I am a huge historical fiction reader I thought it might be worth a try. I am so grateful that I ran across that recommendation or I would have missed out on a real gem!

The story grabbed me in right from page one. I couldn't wait to find some free time to be able to get back to reading! While definitely written as nonfiction, the story at times reads like a simple novel with short dialogue, letter excerpts and diary entries. These personal touches add a wonderful element to the book. The scientific explanations were presented very simplistically and were easy enough to understand. They too, added a wonderful and important element to the story.

Marie Curie's life was fascinating: a woman of rare intelligence and genius, she was also plagued by severe depression (especially after the loss of her beloved Pierre) and faced the constant struggle to prove herself and receive her much deserved credit in what was a very male-dominated field. Yet despite these struggles, her devotion to science and her world-changing discoveries never diminished; they enveloped her very soul. I must admit that at times, when reading about her accomplishments and the ease at which science came to her, I felt alittle inadequate and less than intelligent. She was an inspiration!

I was very happy to discover the wonderful coincidence that while I was reading this book, the anniversary of Marie Curie's discovery of radium and radioactivity took place. I strongly recommend this book to anyone that has an interest in science, history, women's rights, medicine or just plain life!
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29 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Matthew B. Ellis on November 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The author has discovered the truth of Marie curie's impoverished, Dickensian , childhood, has read papers sealed for 60 years (some radioactive!) to get this incredible story, the truth behind the legend. Every library should have this sensational and deeply inforrmative book and so should book clubs and anyone who wants a great read. A bestseller for sure. If there were more than five stars that's how I'd rate it.

A must read!!!
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Thomas F. Folino on December 5, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Kudos to social historian and biographer Barbara Goldsmith for her newest achievement, the insightful and compelling "Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie." This is no dry scientific treatise merely listing Curie's accomplishments in science, but an in-depth study of the very human side of this extraordinary woman and subsequently, the coterie of family, friends and peers who entered her realm. Ms. Goldsmith does make complicated scientific material accessible, indeed, understandable; however, she goes much further, examining the forces which aligned to create the eponymous Curie's character and enormous drive to achieve, which directed every aspect of her life. Through access to Curie's personal diaries and papers, previously unavailable for the past 60 years, as well as copious additional material, Ms. Goldsmith has culled a most fascinating portrait of a most fascinating personality. This book demands that yet another feather be placed in Barbara Goldsmith's literary cap (her previous titles include: "Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism, and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull," "Little Gloria...Happy At Last," "Johnson vs. Johnson," and "The Straw Man"). I highly recommend this biography to anyone interested in science, women's struggle for equal rights, the psychology of genius.......in short, anyone interested in an informative and thrilling "read!"
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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on December 30, 2004
Format: Hardcover
It is difficult now to imagine that women were once regarded as categorically unable to fulfill certain careers. When there is a large scientific meeting now, no one is surprised that women should be in attendance, although it can be argued that women's participation in science is still limited or lacking in recognition. The archetypal woman scientist is the one who broke all the rules of her time, Marie Curie, but even so, she didn't win all her battles. When she and her husband Pierre jointly won the Nobel Prize in 1903, she was forced to sit among the audience while Pierre gave the lecture of acceptance. There were many such episodes in her life, and that she didn't furiously withdraw from her busy research due to such rebuffs is remarkable. There is certainly a feminist message in her story, and in _Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie_ (Atlas Books / Norton), Barbara Goldsmith has allowed the life to deliver the message, realizing that editorializing on the matter is unneeded. Not only did Marie overcome social obstacles, she overcame her own cycles of profound depression that troubled her throughout her life, to become an enormously productive scientist. Goldsmith's book is a welcome recall of an inspiring story.

Marya Salomee Sklodowska was born in 1867 in Russian-occupied Poland. Marie was an extremely bright student, and eventually was one of two women getting science degrees at the Sorbonne in Paris (Warsaw schools did not admit women). She had vowed never to let passion triumph over her research, but the two combined when she met Pierre Curie. He had also shared her attitude against falling in love, feeling that women "draw us away from dedication." The marriage was a strong one, but the scientific collaboration was nearly perfect.
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