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Radioactive:  Marie & Pierre Curie book cover

Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie

A Tale of Love and Fallout

Book by Lauren Redniss, reviewed by Melanie Kodalak

Castastrophism is a geological theory which holds that time lurches forward in sudden disasters. This theory is demonstrated in Radioactive, a biography of Marie & Pierre Curie, their personal life and their work, and its effect on the future of the world.  Artfully rendered, this book is part history, part love story and illuminates an era of scientific discovery.

A woman ahead of her time, Marya Sklodowska became famous as Marie Curie, twice winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for science.  In Warsaw as a student, she joined the Flying University, a clandestine network of a thousand women who met in secret and defied the Russian grip on education.  As the first female professor in its 650-year history, she met Pierre Curie in Paris at the Sorbonne where they bonded on similar interests of the symmetry of crystals.  Their work, establishing a link between heat and magnetism, the Curie Point, is used today in studying plate tectonics, treating hypothermia, measuring caffeine in beverages, and understanding magnetic fields.  

Radioactive undulates between the Curie's most famous discovery, radium, and its future effects: 1945 at Hiroshima, 1979 at Three Mile Island, (where mutant plants still grow),  and 1986 at Chernobyl- whose surrounding toxic land known as the Zone of Alienation has created an inadvertent wildlife refuge; among many others.   This book also contains a Radioactive Bestiary and Garden list including Spiderman, Godzilla & the Hulk; the cockroach-which is mythologized as the lone survivor of a nuclear holocaust; the zinnia & rose from Three Mile Island which are sterile plants; and Brazil nuts which are the world's most naturally radioactive food, to name a few. 

The author uses drawings, transparencies, cyanotype prints and hand-colored cyanotype prints to illustrate this graphic personal, political, historic and scientific biography.   These illustration methods are what Redniss uses to create what Marie Curie called radiums's “spontaneous luminosity”.  The books glows with imaginative genius.  Redniss even created her own font for Radioactive, Eusapia LR, based on title pages of manuscripts she found at the New York Public Library.  Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout, is a great read for those interested in science and art.  It was a  National Book Award finalist.  

Radioactive is available at Nantucket Bookworks here.

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