Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss

Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss
Copyright 2011
Dey Street Books (an imprint of HarperCollins) - Graphic biography incl. notes, "Radioactive Bestiary and Garden" and more
205 pp.

I love what the National Book Foundation had to say about this book (from the book cover), so I'll open with their thoughts:

"Redniss's achievment is a celebration of the essential power of books to inform, charm, and transport. In marrying the graphic and visual arts with biography and cultural history, she has expanded the realm of nonfiction."

That is honestly a perfect description of Radioactive. The story of Marie and Pierre Curie's lives, Radioactive opens with an excerpt from "Lecture on Radium" by Loie Fuller that is almost a soliloquy to the magic of science. The word "magic" is used repeatedly. It's a scholarly work but it sets the tone brilliantly. This excerpt is followed by a bewitching 2-page illustration and then a simple line drawing with a single paragraph introducing each of the subjects: Pierre Curie and Marya Sklodowska (later Marie Curie).

I was a little stunned at the odd simplicity of the illustrations in Radioactive, at first. They seemed loose, almost childish. But, as the book progresses and Pierre and Marie's lives unfold and intertwine, the illustrations and period photographs combine to take on an eerie blend of professional artistry and simplistic genius. Between the text -- which is very informative if, at times, the science itself lost me -- and the unique illustrative style, the book has a magnetic appeal. By that, I mean I couldn't put it down till I finished. Too bad I started reading it at bedtime. The book is a quick read but I started it late enough to end up with a reading hangover.

Highly recommended - A unique, well-written biography that transports you to the world of Pierre and Marie Curie. I've always thought of both of the Curies in a distant, abstract way, but I came out of the reading with, I think, a well-rounded image of both as individuals, so they now seem more human and less like names from a list of scientists involved in important breaththroughs. Also of interest: I had no idea that after its discovery radium was touted as a bit of a cure-all. Horrors. I wonder how many people died because of that trend.

©2015 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


  1. I loved this book too. Did you know it glows in the dark? I left it on my nightstand and noticed that.

    1. No, I didn't notice that! When I'm reading an oversized book, I prop it next to the bed frame (on the floor) instead of putting it on the nightstand. Cool! I'll have to check that out. How fun!


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