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Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie (Great Discoveries) Paperback – October 17, 2005
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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.
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.
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The only thing I knew about Marie Curie, however, was that she discovered radium (which ultimately led to more experimentation in radioactivity) and that the majority of her notes and clothing ended up sealed in lead faults because they, too, were radioactive and dangerous. I decided Goldsmith's biography would be a good one with which to start, and I wasn't disappointed.
Goldsmith moves through Curie's life very well, explaining her scientific discoveries and experiments without bogging down the reader in a lot of scientific language. The author begins Curie's life from her girlhood in Poland, brings her to France and her marriage with Pierre Curie, the love of her life, and concludes the narrative with Curie's death, and how her eldest daughter, Irene, carried on her parents' work (and also died at an early age). The thing I really liked about this book was that the author kept her own opinions and feelings to herself -- as any good nonfiction writer should, she reported only the facts.
The book also shed some very good light on the huge lack of safeguards there were, at the time, in dealing with dangerous substances such as radium. I was appalled, for example, at the casual mention that the Curies handled this stuff casually, even using pipettes to suck up the substance to transport it to another location. I was further perplexed by the lack of safeguards -- I am a thyroid cancer survivor, and whenever anyone gave me radiation treatments (in the form of pills), these pills came in lead containers and were handed to be my radiation technicians who wore lead, before I, myself, was isolated from others. A picture in the book of Irene Jouliet-Curie, sucking up a radioactive substance through a pipette, had me baffled.
For me, personally, this book is just short of five stars because I am interested in context when it comes to major discoveries. Radium became a huge part of society for a long time because of its supposedly "curative" factors and the author does address this. But I would have been interested in learning about Curies' efforts to keep radium her own personal property, and how she addressed charlatans who were in competition with her for this substance. Again, Goldsmith addresses this, but I would have liked to have seen more.
Otherwise, the book did provide a very good overview of Marie Curie and her accomplishments. More importantly, it made me want to learn more about her and the times in which she survived.
Curie's story is about the inner workings of a scientist, sexism, duty/obligation in marriage, and how a woman lived her life. A wonderful insightful book!