Book Review: Radioactive (A Tale of Love and Fallout)

This book … is luminescent. I bet other reviewers have used that word because, well, the cover of the book glows in the dark. I tried it in the dark closet. The book glowed. ¬†Which is perfectly in tune with the theme of Radioactive: A Tale of Love and Fallout about the life and work of Marie Curie.

I’m not sure how to categorize this book by artist/writer Lauren Redniss, and maybe I shouldn’t bother. With a mix of some amazing artwork that uses chemicals and light (she explains her process at the end of the book) and an evocative narrative that shifts from Marie Curie’s life, and loves, to the impact of her work on radium and other radioactive elements in the modern world (hello, atomic bombs), this book is packed with insights and information that could be a neat mentor for non-fiction writing.

Like many, I knew of Marie Curie’s name in the field of Science and I was familiar with some of her work, but Radioactive gave me the fuller picture of a woman struggling against the confines of the male-dominated society, and how her love and partnerships with her husband — and then later, her lover — gave her freedom to change the way we see the world. Her children and many of her grandchildren, and others down the family line, apparently continue to work in the fields of science.

One of the saddest parts of this story is near the end of her life, as Marie Curie suffers from radiation exposure from her years touching and studying isotopes. She wanders through her lab like a ghost, nearly blind and in pain, touching tubes and checking equipment, and making lab notes on her slow cancerous death like the scientist she is. Her spirit inhabits this book, and now my mind. She lives on.

Peace (glowing with wonder),

PS — thanks to Andrea Z for recommending this book on Twitter. What a find. I borrowed it through my library, as the cost seemed steep to me. But it is the size of a textbook.

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