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Madame Curie: A Biography Paperback – March 6, 2001
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"The actual record of Marie Curie's life is epic. Eve Curie writes that epic movingly."―Chicago Tribune
About the Author
Eve Curie Labouisse (1904--2007) was the daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie. After a career as a journalist and author, she worked tirelessly with UNICEF, helping children and mothers in developing countries.
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Like other 19th century's pioneering scientists, which include Faraday and Cajal, Marie Curie was a self-educated visionary scientific genius of the first order, but was unique in overcoming the obstacles of poverty, social and political oppression, isolation and finally deprivation of opportunity and recognition due to the misogyny and xenophobia of her time and location. Her research was done without salary or funding, four years in the mud on the floor of a shack into which the rain poured through a leaking roof, separating milligrams of radium from tons of pitchblende, using an iron rod as pounding tool to crush the ore, as similar to the technology of Amazon Indians. In France she went unrecognized for many years even after two Nobel prizes in physics and chemistry and she was still referred to (e.g. in the New York Times during the 1920's) only as "Pierre Curie's wife". She refused most honors and offered the gold of her Nobel medals to be melted down to aid the war effort. She had her wedding dress made out of blue cotton so that afterwards it could serve her in the laboratory. During World War I she outfitted 200 mobile radiological units, constructed some 20 hospitals, and of the former, drove one of the cars herself (or with a driver), serving in turn as driver, crank operator, mechanic, tire changer, nurse at the front lines and radiological technician. According to her biographer, Eve Curie, this was the only recognition she hoped for - but never did receive. Because she refused to patent the chemical processes she discovered in the separation of polonium and radium (for which she received her Nobel Prizes) she remained relatively poor to the end of her life. In photographs of participants of the world-famous Solvay Conferences (funded by a Belgian industrialist of that name), she was always in the place of honor next to Einstein, Lorentz and Poincare. Einstein said of her that she was the only person he had ever met, "who was totally unaffected by fame", and he referred to those who tried to defame or refuse her the recognition she deserved as "reptiles".
While the author was not a scientist (I believe she was trained as a musician) her descriptions of the science are surprisingly accurate and complete, if not insightful enough that I can recommend the book to any student of physics or chemistry, or for that matter of the social sciences. Just as Santiago Ramon y Cajal demanded of his students that they be familiar with all the original works of the great scientists of his age, no matter what their field, he placed psychology first on his list, so one cannot but be impressed by the relevance of this book to the status of women in society and also the importance of science generally in a world of climate-change deniers and universities (some, anyway) where denial of the existence of an objective reality is taught to the masses.
This is one of, if not THE best biographies I've ever read, and I've read many. It not only told about the scientist, it also told about her personal life. I was absolutely fascinated that from her beginnings of being born and raised in Russian oppressed Poland, daughter of two intellectuals that were nonetheless forced into menial teaching jobs, they were poor, the Polish people were not allowed to learn their history or speak their language. Even so, her parents made sure that she and her siblings received a high level of education by actually sneaking around to do so, in hiding. Her eldest sister wanted to be a doctor, women could not go to a university in Poland, teen aged Marie worked as a governess and helped her sister go to France to medical school. After she graduated, Marie went to France to the famous university there.
From these meager beginnings, she continued to endure hardships, fainting from lack of food, living in poor conditions, but she continued on. She met and married her husband, also a scientist, who lo and behold, respected her and encouraged her and admired her for her gift of intelligence and endurance. They had a wonderful life and loved each other greatly. However, tragedy stuck and she was left alone to raise her small children. But she did and she was amazingly a good mother all the while being a great scientist. She was the first woman to win a Nobel prize and the only person at that time to win 2 Nobel Prizes, one in Physics, one in chemistry. She received her Phd.
In WW1 she unselfishly put her lab work on hold and contributed to the war effort by putting together the first portable x-ray machines carried by car and also installed many x-ray machines in hundreds of hospitals, and worked with them in the field. She often drove herself with these machines to the battle fronts. She did this for 4 years.
I took away from this biography a great respect and admiration for this woman of genius, who never gave up at and accomplished so very much in a time where women hardly ever even went to college. It just amazes me. Another amazing thing is, she could have been a wealthy woman after the discovery of Radium if she had only put a patent on it. But she refused to do this because she said that was not in the scientific spirit. She always avoided wealth and was really uncomfortable receiving so much overwhelming fame. She never did what she did for fame, she only wanted, more than anything since she was a child, to be some good to the world. And she did.
My most admired person in history.
This book was not dry in the least. It was written so well and flowed like a novel. I was interested in it from the first word, to the last sentence when I cried. Her daughter Eve was amazing at giving a personal, and factual biography of her mother who she admired and loved so much. The book was written from going over letters to and from Madame Curie to many people, memories of people that knew her, her lectures, her speeches,and her memories (Eve and her other daughter Irene). Nothing was fictionalized or made more than what is was, it showed this great lady in a very human light. It had enough personal parts in it and just enough scientific subject in it to make it interesting to anyone.
What a great woman, what a great story. I will read no other books on her, this is the most perfect book that could have been written about her. Who could have known her any better than her own daughter? What an inspiration!